Petulant neighbourliness


SINCE the middle of December 2020, which marks the start of the festive season, the situation at our land borders was characterised by chaos, suffering, misery and even unnecessary deaths. The visuals on our TV screens were at times too distressing to watch, especially at the Beitbridge, Lebombo and Maseru Bridge borders with Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho, respectively.

To see these masses of people, most of whom are the poor, packed close to one another in snaking and almost stagnant queues in the scorching sun, is uncalled for. In the majority of cases, people had no ablution facilities, water or access to shops for food.

The congestion persisted for days on end, forcing throngs of travelers to sleep rough at the border posts. It was extremely unconscionable.

Although these are the scenes almost every festive season and Easter weekend, the just past holiday period was out of the ordinary. The requirement for the presentation of negative Covid-19 certificates to immigration authorities at the borders proved to be a headache for all concerned.

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It is not hard to imagine that those conditions were exactly right for people to infect one another with the coronavirus.

Apart from the fact that this should have been foreseen and planned for, the absence of meaningful consultations and cooperation among the neighbours was glaringly obvious. Instead, we were treated to some petulant barbs among some of the neighbours that had nothing positive to contribute to the solution of problems at the borders.

One cannot but conclude that the decision by South Africa on Monday, the 11th January 2021, to close its land borders with its neighbours was necessitated by lack of proper consultations, engagements and cooperation with its neighbours regarding the movement of their citizens in the face of the pandemic. 

It seems some of the neighbours, especially Zimbabwe, have become inured to the suffering of their people. Due to the dire economic situation in that country, Zimbabweans, apart from those coming to South Africa in large numbers to seek employment, there are those that have been crossing the border illegally to buy necessities and go back home.

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Why can’t appropriate arrangements be agreed between South Africa and Zimbabwe for a special dispensation for such people so that they can come into South Africa in an orderly, dignified and legal manner, buy their necessities and go back home? Why should they run the gauntlet of crocodiles in the Limpopo River and other animals in the bush when these sister republics can make the necessary arrangements? It is a humanitarian situation that cries out for attention by caring neighbouring countries.

South Africa is the biggest economy in Southern Africa and it follows that it would attract many in the region to enter it for business or employment. We all have to behave in a manner that recognizes this fact.

In addition to being neighbours, these countries are members of the Southern African Development Community, SADC, which obliges them to cooperate in the facilitation of the movement of goods and people in the region. How do they reconcile what is happening at the borders with these SADC obligations?

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The African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, has just come into operation this month. This is a powerful instrument meant to facilitate intra-African trade on a scale never seen before on the Africa continent.

The smooth and seamless movement of goods and people across borders on the continent are essential for the AfCFTA to succeed. It should worry all concerned to see trucks and people stuck at our borders for days.

So, for the economic and social development of the African continent, the wellbeing of its people, neighbours need to work on their relations and behave in a manner that benefit all their citizens.

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