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Zimbabwean government announced a phased re-opening of borders however, under strict health and safety measures. Image by Tourism Update
Cross border traders were hoping the re-opening of borders would be the beginning of business for them, unfortunately the costly and mandatory COVID-19 certificates are out of reach for many.
BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — After hearing about reopening of borders last week, Sibusisiwe Dube of Bulawayo boarded a bus to Victoria Falls with the intention of crossing into Zambia to buy goods for resale.
Dube (25) is one of the many cross border traders who stock clothes, toiletries, sanitary wear and hair products for resale in Bulawayo and other towns.
Among the goods are also banned substances such as skin lightening creams and some drugs which Dube, like many other cross border traders, smuggle into the country with the help of touts popularly known as omanyamula in Victoria Falls.
Unfortunately for Dube, border authorities are strict in enforcing COVID-19 protocols as one should possess a valid passport and COVID-19 negative certificate valid for 48 hours.
“I travelled overnight and arrived in Victoria Falls in the morning as I intended to cross to Livingstone and buy my goods and travel back to Bulawayo on the same day. I got the shock of my life when I got to the border and was told that I should have a valid COVID-19 negative certificate besides the passport. When I inquired how I could get one I was told I should pay US$60 for tests whose results will be out in four hours or go to a government hospital where results will be out after a week. I didn’t have the money and all I could do was prepare to go back to Bulawayo,” Dube says.
Zimbabwe closed its borders in March when the country announced the first 21-day lockdown which was subsequently renewed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Government last month announced a phased reopening of borders starting with the busiest ones namely Beitbridge, Plumtree, Kazungula, Victoria Falls, Chirundu, Nyamapanda and Forbes on December 1.
The closure of borders affected a majority of Zimbabweans who survived on cross border travel to buy goods and groceries for resell.
Residents of border towns such as Victoria Falls were the worst affected as they were used to crossing the border at any given time using one-day get passes to buy groceries at a time when prices of goods are generally beyond the reach of many in local shops.
The re-opening of the Victoria Falls border brought hope albeit short lived as only those with a valid Covid-19 certificate and passport are allowed to cross.
It costs US$60 for a single test which is valid for 48 hours at a private laboratory. Government tightened security at the border with more soldiers and police deployed.
A port health desk has been set up where every traveler is directed to for screening before going through immigration processes.
Hand washing basins, footbaths and temperature check points are put in place while a sanitizer booth is also fixed at the entrance of the Rainforest, which is Victoria Falls’ tourist drawcard.
Government recently said it had stepped up efforts to ensure that all necessary WHO protocols are enforced at all the borders.
Beitbridge border post
Dube ended up getting a pass only. “I ended up getting a gate pass so I could go as far as the bridge just to view. I cannot afford to pay US$60 whose certificate would only be valid for two days,” she says.
Zimbabweans with no COVID-19 clearance can only exit the border up to the bridge but cannot cross into Zambia. Those from Zambia were also turned back as they could not produce COVID-19 certificates.
Scores of Zambia vendors had also thronged the border anticipating to cross to sell farm produce and clothes in Victoria Falls but failed to cross because of the strict protocols.
Since the start of the lockdown, Zambian hawkers have been crossing the Zambian side of the border to sell their goods to Zimbabweans closer to the Zimbabwean border.
“They denied us entry saying only those with passports and COVID-19 certificates can cross. No-one can pay that much just to go and sell these few things.”
Caroline Mumba, a Zambian hawker
Matabeleland north regional immigration officer Vincent Mukombero says there is no compromise on enforcement of regulations.
“Travellers should have a valid passport and valid COVID-19 negative certificate. We used to attend to more than 1 000 travellers per day and a majority of them were Zambians who were using one day gate passes which are however not acceptable this time,” Mukombero adds.
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