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TRAFFIC in the border town of Beitbridge is expected to increase, far more than in previous years, as the festive season sets in. Assurances by Pretoria that Zimbabwean nationals could travel back home for the Christmas and New Year holidays on their current documentation without running the risk of being denied re-entry, is seen increasing traffic volumes during the festive season.

“During the festive season, Zimbabweans qualifying for this process will be able to travel home and return to South Africa without any challenges. Their applications will be available to us electronically, enabling us to verify whether they have been captured properly,” South African Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba was quoted saying recently.

Over 190 000 Zimbabwean nationals have applied for new permits under the Zimbabwe Special Dispensation as they wait for new permit applications to be processed by South African authorities. The high number of applicants signals the reluctance by many to return home where an acute economic situation has increased unemployment to over 80 percent.

Beitbridge is the busiest inland border post in southern Africa and over the years has gained a reputation for its heavy flow of traffic during the Christmas season. Thousands of travellers, mainly locals who work in neighbouring South Africa, make the journey back home each year to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays with their families.

During last year’s festive season, the Beitbridge border handled 612 773 travellers at the onset of the festive season, up from 484 307 in the comparative period the previous year. To cope with the increased traffic volumes, immigration officials are likely to maintain a system used last year whereby authorities on both the Zimbabwean and South African sides create separate queues for commercial traffic and buses to ease congestion.

Plumtree border post, which straddles Zimbabwe and Botswana, is also expected at this time of the year to have increased traffic. Last year, the border post operated 24 hours a day during the festive season. Officials at the point of entry say they are currently handling almost 12 000 travellers a day.

Scores of travellers now prefer to come into the country from South Africa via Plumtree due to the relative speed of processing their documents in comparison with Beitbridge border post. Deputy Health Minister Paul Chimedza recently said the porosity of the country’s ports of entry was a major concern in light of the Ebola epidemic. Health officials, he said, do not have the capacity to deal with those who enter the country illegally, should they carry the Ebola virus.

Source : Financial Gazette