Human rights activists have said the Zimbabwe and South Africa governments must be held accountable for the congestion and the unfolding humanitarian crisis at the Beitbridge Border Post.
Thousands of travellers descended on the border in an effort to cross to South Africa before the new Zimbabwe Level IV national lockdown regulations came into effect on Tuesday.
Images and videos, circulating on social media, show stressing scenes of thousands of Zimbabweans desperately trying to legally and illegally cross into South Africa.
South Africa’s Home Affairs minister, Aaron Mostoaledi told the media in his country that a humanitarian crisis appeared to be unfolding, attributing it to “people trying to escape the Zimbabwean hard lockdown and the curfew there.”
But human rights activists believe the two governments have been “careless” with peoples’ lives especially with the fast-spreading virus taking its toll on both countries.
“Both governments are careless to the point where everybody needs a particular service but they go and enforce a curfew for those people travelling, causing them to sleep in the open, where they don’t have adequate ablution and sanitary conditions.
We have seen huge numbers at the border and possibly an unabated spread of Covid-19 because once there is one affected person in that vicinity, it means we may have thousands of people who may probably be infected,” said Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, leader of the African Diaspora Global Network, which is a migrant rights organisation based in South Africa.
Dr Sibanda urged the two governments to act fast and safeguard the human rights of travellers, who are trying to go back to work after ‘rightly’ visiting their families.
“People should be allowed to go back to their various places where they are naturally habitant or residing. The hard lockdown in Zimbabwe and the one we have in South Africa is quite a good move for purposes of making sure we don’t have a further spread of Covid-19 but the timing is ill-prepared and inappropriate. Instead, the lockdown is going to put more lives in danger,” he said.
“When people find themselves locked down yet want to go back to work, they end up taking the risk of crossing the border illegally so authorities are actually forcing the people’s hand to act in an illegal manner because their primary responsibility is to look after their families. If you close them out they will have to do something illegal for them to go back and work.”
The human rights activist appealed to the Zimbabwean government to be sensible in its actions and to the South African government not to completely shut its gates to Zimbabweans.
“Shutting them out is tantamount to saying those people must perish with no hope. Zimbabwean lives do matter. Unfortunately, the South African government has not been helpful in resolving the problems that Zimbabwe is currently facing for over 20 years so it has become a problem in that regard,” he said.
Dr Sibanda said both governments needed to be held to account in as far upholding rights of Zimbabwean people.
“Zimbabweans have the right to employment, right to health, choice of occupation and to be treated as human beings. Their basic fundamental rights need to be upheld, even the right to pursue happiness even in life,” he said.
“We are closely watching if need be to work with various organisations to take this matter to courts. Both governments are currently culpable in as far lives that are lost due to fatigue and other related causes waiting at the border, also people are forced to cross borders illegally and perish in the Limpopo river, where there are crocodiles.”
ZAPU’s South African based Deputy Secretary for International Relations, Future Msebele told CITE that what was happening at Beitbridge was a microcosm of the socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe.
“The situation at the border is the microcosm of Zimbabwe’s crisis. The Zimbabwe economy has collapsed and the leadership is in denial. Closing borders or deploying the army to patrol the Limpopo river will not stop our people from entering South Africa. A permanent solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis is needed” he said.
Msebele said ZAPU had engaged the ANC leadership and submitted its proposed solutions to Zimbabwe’s crisis and now believed it was time to implement those solutions without delay.
“In August last year we met for an agenda on the Zimbabwe Crisis and submitted our proposed solutions, calling on all stakeholders Indaba on the Zimbabwe Crisis. South Africa as an affected neighbour must facilitate the talks. We also saw South African ministers entering to the border and trying to come up with a solution, while their Zimbabwean counterparts are not showing any signs of concern,” he said.
“A humanitarian crisis is unfolding at the border and we call upon President Emmerson Mnangagwa to cut short his holiday and attend to this crisis, he can’t continue burying his head in the sand when our people are in such a calamity.”