Zimbabwean travellers are alleging repeated harassment by South African immigration officials and police at Beitbridge border post.
The number of people crossing into South Africa has increased in recent months due to the economic crisis that followed the 2013 elections. The South African head of immigration at Beitbridge, who identified himself as Mavhungo, said that they were handling up to 20,000 travellers per day.
Most of the visitors are regular cross-border traders who travel to South Africa to buy basic commodities, electrical goods and clothes for resale in Zimbabwe.
“The police and immigration officials have become very rude. Once they suspect you of jumping the queue, they can even beat you up. A lot of innocent people have been assaulted by the immigration officials,” said Theresa Mugari, 30, a trader from Chitungwiza, who travels to Musina every two weeks to buy clothes for resale.
Zimbabweans blamed the SA officials for causing disorder. “These people take their time and they are always shouting at us. It is now common to wait for four to five hours before they start processing your passports, especially when you are travelling as a pedestrian. We are too afraid to complain,” said one visitor who identified herself as Mai Tadiwa.
“The people who stamp your passports treat you like animals. Sometimes they doze for about 10 minutes while holding your passport. You can’t complain because, if you do, they will order you to go to the back of the queue or even ensure that you are barred from entering South Africa,” she added.
In some cases, the officials demand R50 in order to stamp passports. Those who pay the bribes are separated from the rest and enter the departure rooms through the back door.
A reporter from The Zimbabwean witnessed the harassment on July 9, during a personal visit to South Africa. A senior immigration official resorted to throwing stones at women and snatching their handbags and passports, accusing them of “disorder”.
He also manhandled a pregnant woman who had asked for preferential treatment. “Pregnancy is not illness!” he shouted as he shoved the woman, who burst into tears.
Mavhungo professed ignorance, saying: “I have never received reports of harassment and it is difficult to verify the allegations if I am not approached. It is not true that my officers deliberately delay serving visitors from Zimbabwe or take bribes.”
He advised victims of harassment to approach him, other supervisors or shift managers with their complaints.