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OVERSIGHT VISIT

Mending fences — Sihle Zikalala probes gaping safety gaps at Beitbridge border post

Mending fences — Sihle Zikalala probes gaping safety gaps at Beitbridge border post
The Damaged border fence was inspected on 4 April, 2024. Photo: Rudzhani Tshivhase

The new Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure conducted an oversight visit to the Beitbridge port of entry along the Limpopo River ahead of the Easter weekend.  On his radar was the controversial and flawed 40km fence along the border line outside Musina in Limpopo. 

A big hole in the newly erected border fence is a sign that all is not well, with smuggling rife and Zimbabwean border jumpers still making a precarious, exploitative, corrupt and often risky dash into South Africa.

border fence

The costly, poorly constructed and damaged border fence, 2 April, 2023. Photo: Rudzhani Tshivhase

In the Public Works and Infrastructure department’s own words, the fence “caused a big uproar when it was found to be of an unacceptable quality”. 

Beitbridge border post is the second biggest port of entry after OR Tambo International Airport. 

The controversial 40-kilometre fence was erected during the tenure of then Minister of Public Works Patricia Delille in 2020, in a bid to secure the border between  Zimbabwe and South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic. The two construction companies that were awarded the tender installed a low-quality fence that could not perform its task. The fence, completed in 2020, is flimsy and the razor wire can easily be folded over by hand.  

The project cost R40-million and according to Minister of Public Works Sihle Zikalala, R14-million had been paid to the two contractors. The expenditure was described in 2021 by members of Parliament’s public accounts committee Scopa as unfit for purpose. Not only was the razor fence too weak to prevent the movement of people, but criminals were also stealing it. 

Zikalala, who during his visit also inspected the border fence, said it was clear that a shoddy job had been done, but he stressed that the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) had taken the matter to the Special Tribunal court to recoup the money paid to the two contractors.

The SIU had found several procurement and other irregularities, with allegations of fraud by officials and border fence project service providers. 

“Through the SIU this matter was taken to the tribunals  and we support the ruling that said that the government must recoup the money that was spent, it is fair the money that was spent given to these two constructions is above R14-million and therefore that should be returned.”

During his visit, Zikalala admitted that the project was not progressing properly and it was one of his priorities as the new minister. 

“It is one of those projects that have not gone correctly for the government, we have said we are not going to accept any wrongdoing we are going to attend to failures and if they are failures we are going to improve but where there is wrongdoing people must be punished.”

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Director of Ports of Entries in the Department of Home Affairs Stephen van Neel said since the deployment of 40 armed trained patrollers last year, incidents of smuggling had reduced. This had shifted the movement of smugglers to ports of entry to South Africa and Botswana.” 

Trucks queue up at the border, 4 April, 2024. Photo: Rudzhani Tshivhase

A struggle to survive

An undocumented Zimbabwean, 35-year-old Jelous Moyo, described to Daily Maverick the perilous journey he took weekly to put food on the table back home. 

He has been feeding his family by smuggling basic food back home from South Africa. He crosses the crocodile-infested river to Musina once a week to stock up his mall shop.  

He said the fence, armed soldiers or even a flooded river would not stop Zimbabweans from entering SA as it was a matter of survival. 

“It’s not like we are coming to South Africa to steal,  I buy lots of things ranging from rice, cooking oil and soup to sell back home. Some of us travel to towns such as Louis Trichardt and as far as Pretoria and Johannesburg to stock there, we cross through the river using small canoes when the river is full,” said Moyo. 

He said they get transport to their destination and back, including for their goods. Moyo indicated they offload their cargo from vehicles by the river banks where they pack it onto small canoes to cross the river.

“We pay R100 to R200 to cross over depending on the amount of the goods, some people carry goods on their heads and take it across the river,” he said.

 

Canoe operations load boxes of goods into a rubber duck. Photo: Rudzhani Tshivhase

Smuggling syndicates, collusion and corruption

Residents of Musina who spoke to Daily Maverick said they are concerned about cigarette smuggling operations which are often reported by the border fence. A criminal syndicate called Maguma Guma comprises South Africans and Zimbabwean nationals. They operate by the river, and target undocumented foreigners. There have been numerous reports of rape and theft. 

Watch this Carte Blanche report one on border bribery from November 2021 here:

Late in February, the Hawks arrested five suspects after discovering illicit cigarettes worth about R30-million on a farm between Musina and the Beitbridge border late in February this

Some residents told Daily Maverick they were optimistic that the introduction of the Border Management Authority at Beitbridge may help the fight against crime and corruption that take place around the border-controlled area and in the bushes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabweans trying to exit SA turned back by armed guards at Beitbridge border 

Read more in Daily Maverick: No warm welcome from Home Affairs at Beit Bridge

The SANDF said last month a 38-year-old member of the defence force, Kedibone Langa, who was posted at the borderline, was arrested for allegedly shooting at police officers transporting prisoners. Langa was arrested in Musina early last month. The suspect was part of a group travelling in two cars who shot at the police van and subsequently freed six prisoners awaiting trial. He is still in police custody.

Minister Sihle Zikalala conducted an oversight at Beitbridge border on 4 April, 2023. He was taken to the border fence that is damaged and full of holes. Photo: Rudzhani Tshivhase

In 2021, seven SANDF soldiers were arrested for alleged corruption at the border post, accused of aiding a vehicle theft syndicate in smuggle vehicles across the border, according to News24. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Welcome to our Trumpian world!
    Had Zimbabwe been properly managed we wouldn’t be mending any fences!
    I wonder if the majority government in SA has learnt a lesson from this?? I fear not- the irony is
    hilarious! A failed State trying to stop access from another failed State and failing dismally at it!

  • Nic Bosveld says:

    No fence will ever be able to keep them out, away from their homeland but with dreams of a potential better future. These are the desperate people whose actions can be understood.
    But then there are those that see SA as an easy go-to to commit crime and slip back home through this farce of a “fence”.
    Aunty Pat messed up big time. What a disgrace.

  • Bick Nee says:

    Please get your dates right on the photos. Two of them say 2024.

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