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Are you planning to take your child into neighbouring South Africa, but cracking your head, clueless as to how you are going to do it since he or she does not have a passport?

No need to lose sleep over the travel conundrum.

For as little as R100 you are assured of a safe passage for your child across the border – without a passport.

Contrary to the belief that you have to be a deft who can outpace crocodiles in the Limpopo River, your child can actually pass through the immigration offices of both countries in broad daylight and under the “watchful eye” of police and immigration officers. With a report from the International Organisation for Migration (Zimbabwe) saying that over 5 000 children from districts near the Beitbridge border post crossed into South Africa illegally last year, I decided to find out how that was possible, considering Zimbabwe’s stringent immigration laws.

I undertook a trip south of the border to find out first-hand how hundreds of Zimbabweans, Zambians, Malawians and other nationals are conniving with middlemen and bus crews who ply the Harare-Johannesburg route to slip through customs and immigration check points, cross the border daily without proper travel documents.

Having convinced my 15-year-old daughter to undertake the trip without proper documentation in return for a shopping trip replete with trinkets, we left Harare on Tuesday afternoon aboard a Johannesburg-bound long-distance coach.

Equipped with information from friends and colleagues on how to execute my plan, we got into the luxurious coach and occupied the last seat.

As the bus rolled out of Harare, I tried to piece together the clutter of information I had, but could not come up with a plan on how I was going to illegally cross into South Africa without putting my daughter in danger.

With more than six hours to kill before getting to the border town, I dozed off, while my daughter – who was making her debut into South Africa, feverishly compiled the list of things she wanted to buy once she got to Mzansi.

She did not appear worried about the mission we were undertaking, let alone the dangers that lay ahead.

At exactly 10pm, the luxury coach arrived in the bustling border town of Beitbridge. The conductor immediately asked everyone to produce their passports, disembark and go through the immigration processes. All the courage I had summoned fleeted away.

After glancing at my daughter it dawned on me that passing through the Zimbabwe and South Africa borders was not going to be a stroll in the park.

Although I had planned to cross the same night, having paid my negotiated rite of passage fee of R700 to the bus crew, I deferred the plan when I heard the conductor asking those who did not have passports to remain in the bus in a hushed tone.

“Zvidhuura zvese sarai henyu makagara. Motombomira zvekuweta kune vamanikidzika.” (Those who do not have passports should remain in the bus please. Let’s limit our movements) I gestured to my daughter and we immediately disembarked from the bus.

We got a taxi and looked for a lodge where we could put up for the night while I strategised. Realising that we would still need to cross into South Africa, I immediately started making phone calls to a list of middlemen known as omalayitsha that I had been referred to, so that I could make an arrangement for the following day.

As early as 5am, were up and flagging down a taxi to the border to meet up with a malayitsha known as Fisherman who was going to take us to the other side, south of the border, for a fee.

Although it was still dark, Fisherman who was driving a battered truck, approached us and introduced himself. He wasted no time in mapping out the game plan as to what was to happen until we got to Musina.

As soon as he finished he literally dragged me towards the Zimbabwe immigration offices and ordered my daughter to wait for us in the truck.

Although there was a long winding queue of travellers at the Zimbabwe Immigration officers, I had my passport stamped within minutes, and we made our way back to the truck. I sat in front together with my daughter as Fisherman drove slowly towards the Zimbabwe exit point. He immediately demanded his dues, R400, facilitation fee. He got it. When we got to the exit point, Fisherman exchanged pleasantries with the security personnel manning the gate, before driving off. He joined a long winding queue of cars that was driving at a snail’s pace towards the South African side.

As we got near the South African security check point, hordes of pedestrians, mostly middle aged men, were retreating from the security check point.

“Nhasi chakachaya. Pane bhunu ririkuvava. (Today things are little bit difficult. There is a white guy who is breathing fire),” said one young man, as he retreated to join his colleagues.

“Passports! Passports!” the white security officer screamed. With only one car ahead of us before we could get to the security check point, I was numb with fear, while my daughter, probably sensing danger for the first time, was now holding on to my hand tightly. However Fisherman appeared unfazed by the commotion around.

Fisherman handed the alert security officer three passports, his, mine and the expired one for my daughter.

He brusquely went through the passports, returned them and immediately waved us off.

There was no need to ask Fisherman if he had waved a magic wand to the security officer. Fisherman had put R100 in my daughter’s expired passport – securing her passage, and it took less than two minutes to be attended to – far less than the time one would need to go through immigration procedures either side of the border.

“There is nothing to be afraid of if you want go to South Africa and you don’t have a passport, we will do it for you,” Fisherman boasted, as he parked his ramshackle truck at the South African immigration offices.

This time, Fisherman didn’t escort me to the South African immigration offices.

“Amai, imi nevamwe venyu varisure, chisarai muchidhindisa mapassport, tonosangana pa SA Supermarket, ku Musina,” (Finish your immigration procedures, I will wait for you at the SA Supermarket in Musina,)” he said before driving off with three other people – including my daughter.

Soon after having my passport stamped, I immediately jumped into a taxi, heading to Musina, where I found my daughter seated in a coffee shop, munching sandwich in preparation for a long shopping day ahead.

Provincial Head of Communications for Limpopo Province (South Africa) Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the rate of illegal crossings taking place at the Beitbridge border post was disturbing.

“We have heard a lot of reports on the activities, which is a serious attack on the police and violation of immigration laws of this country,” he said.

He said a number of people have over the years been arrested for facilitating illegal entries.

“If a journalist like you can sneak into the country so easily, it means the border is also open to enemies who can bring in all sorts, including dangerous drugs while our people watch. Although there could be rotten apples among the force, it is not everyone who is doing it and we will continue to strengthen our operations and flash out the perpetrators,” he said. Illegal crossings for people without proper travelling documents are a common feature at the Beitbridge border post, as most people go to the neighbouring country in search of employment.

With an ordinary passport taking up to a month to be processed, most people end up illegally crossing into South Africa or other neighbouring countries, putting their lives at risk, while flouting immigration laws in the process.

Although some border jumpers may opt to cross through the crocodile-infested Limpopo River where they pay as little as R50 to middlemen known as “amaguma guma”, the majority prefer to pay off the immigration officers.

It’s faster and less risky.

“I have been going to South Africa for the past six months to buy things for resale without a passport. I always make use of the malayitshas to facility my entry into South Africa,” said Doreen from Chinhoyi.

According to malayitsha called Maputo, he facilitates an average of 10 illegal crossings a day. The number sometimes can be as high as 20, especially during the holidays.

“We usually assist children even as young as five to cross illegally, and we usually charge more than that when dealing with adults,” he said.

Contacted for comment Zimbabwe’s Assistant Regional Immigration Officer, Mr Francis Mabika was however at pains to explain the influx of illegal border jumpers through the Beitbridge Border Post.

“We have been receiving reports of illegal immigrants using our exit and entry points to get into South Africa, but we have been working hard to contain the problem.

“However, let me hasten to say if such incidents are taking place, it could be one or two rogue officials,” said Mr Mabika.

In February police arrested seven men in Beitbridge believed to be part of a syndicate, who are believed to have kidnapped 30 illegal immigrants, including three children.

Source : The Herald