- Published on 28 November 2014
- Written by Chronicle
ZIMBABWE temporarily shut down its border with South Africa in Beitbridge yesterday after a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) warehouse caught fire.
Impounded goods worth millions of dollars went up in flames in the inferno.
The blaze exposed Beitbridge's lack of fire preparedness with officials having to ask South Africa to help. Beitbridge town has no fire engines.
The fire started shortly after 5PM and caused a power outage at the busy border post, Zimbabwe's gateway to its biggest trade partner, South Africa.
The warehouse was used to keep smuggled goods such as television sets, electrical gadgets, blankets and groceries whose customs duty value was estimated at just over $1 million by the spokesperson for the Beitbridge Civil Protection Unit, Talent Munda.
Munda said the cause of the fire was yet to be established although it was suspected that it could have been caused by an electrical fault.
"The fire destroyed property worth $5 million and the cause is not known for now. When the incident occurred, there was no-one inside and it was locked. Most of the goods that went up in smoke were smuggled goods and those impounded by Zimra and nothing was recovered as everything was burnt to ashes," said Munda.
Stanbreck Horita, a Harare truck driver who witnessed the incident, said the blaze resulted in border authorities temporarily suspending movement of travellers.
"I had parked my truck at the Zimra yard waiting for my vehicle to be cleared when fire started and everyone was scurrying for cover as the raging fire started spreading. It destroyed the entire building," said Horita.
Another witness, Dumisani Mudau, a clearing agent, said: "I was busy processing papers for my clients when I heard people raising alarm and the next thing everyone was rushing to the scene where there was a huge fire at the Zimra warehouse. The fire was spreading fast such that even when fire fighters arrived at the scene they could not contain it."
Buses carrying travellers who were bound for either South Africa or Zimbabwe were delayed as a result of the fire.
Beitbridge town secretary Loud Ramakgapola said they had to collaborate with the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM) who sent their fire trucks to the border post.
"We tried to send our tenders to the border post but unfortunately our fire fighters could not contain the fire because it was too strong. The other problem is that there are no fire hydrants at the border making it difficult to deal with such disasters," said Ramakgapola.
Fire fighters from South Africa's Musina Fire Station arrived shortly and teamed up with their local counterparts in trying to put out the fire to no avail.
Ramakgapola said Beitbridge had no fire station and the local authority relied heavily on Musina Municipality in the event of similar disasters.
"Beitbridge is a very busy border post which handles a huge influx of travellers especially as we approach the festive season. We therefore need a proper fire station in Beitbridge so that we're able to deal with such situations. This is wake up call and we need to look into that issue as a matter of urgency," said Ramakgapola.
Beitbridge border post is the busiest inland port of entry in sub-Saharan Africa, handling an average of 10,000 travellers daily and the number doubles during peak periods such as the festive season.