POLOKWANE, SOUTH AFRICA, Dec 16 South African Home Affairs (Interior) Minister Malusi Gigaba has made a fact-finding mission to the Beit Bridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe in Limpopo Province after travellers complained to him about delays to get their papers processed, saying they have to wait for about six hours to be processed.

Gigaba, who visited the border post, located some 500 kilometres north of the country’s financial and administrative capitals, Johannesburg and Pretoria, on Monday, interacted with both staff members and travellers.

Staff members told him they lacked manpower and space to deal effectively with the high number of people crossing the border as Beit Bridge is one of the busiest ports of entries in the country, second only to Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport.

During peak times like the current period leading to the year-end festive season, about 40,000 people go through the border daily. More staff members have been brought in to assist travellers and the contingency plans include a bypass for small vehicles, dedicated lines for trucks, additional staff members and service points.

Travellers told Gigaba that these measures are not enough as they still have to wait for many hours to be assisted. He heard that the immigration section needs at least 60 staff members each shift as opposed to the current situation of 35 workers per shift.

Home Affairs Department provincial manager Florence Motsepi told Gigaba that lack of space was the biggest problem. “If you say we need to increase human resource, by how much? … I think we need another building where we will attend departures and arrivals in separate buildings. People complain when they are in one building. There is congestion. It becomes hot,” said Motsepi.

Gigaba said he sympathised with both the travellers and the workers. He said the whole system needed to be improved. “There should be a separate building dealing with departures and another building dealing with arrivals,” he said.

The minister said the increasing cases of corruption, crime, smuggling drugs and human trafficking at the border could be stopped if working conditions were improved.

“The border post is seriously challenged particularly in terms of physical and systems infrastructure. With better coordination and an overhaul of its design it can function much more effectively than it presently functioning. This is going to pose an enormous challenge for us during festive season and it usually does. The challenge that we have to face such as an increase in corruption, crime, human trafficking and traffic flow which means we have to engage more staff in order to manage those volumes of people.”

Gigaba praised the staff at the border for working hard under difficult circumstances. “The challenges which are faced here I’m not happy about. But I’m happy that the personnel and all the departments that are working here under the present circumstances. We need to come with a medium and long term solution to improve the situation because if we don’t, the system will collapse.”

Meanwhile a number of joint roadblocks and police check points have been set up along the N1 between Pretoria and the border. Overloaded bakkies (pickup trucks used as taxis) and taxis pulling trailers have always been a challenge on the road during the festive season.