By Mosibudi Mangena
Johannesburg – Since the middle of last month, which marked the start of the festive season, the situation at our land borders was characterised by chaos, suffering and unnecessary deaths.
The visuals on our TV screens were at times too distressing to watch, especially at the Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe, Lebombo with Mozambique and Maseru with Lesotho.
To see people, most of whom are 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, forcing throngs to sleep rough at the border posts.
Though these are the scenes almost every festive season and Easter weekend, the past holiday period was out of the ordinary.
The requirement of a negative Covid-19 certificate to immigration authorities at the borders proved to be a headache for all concerned.
The 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 countries was glaringly obvious. One cannot help but conclude that the decision by SA on January 11 to close its land borders 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, some Zimbabweans, apart from those coming to SA in large numbers to seek employment, have been crossing the border illegally to buy necessities and return home.
Why can’t appropriate arrangements be agreed between SA and Zimbabwe for a special dispensation for such people so that they can come into SA in an orderly, dignified and legal manner to buy necessities and go back home?
Why should they run the gauntlet when these sister republics can make the necessary arrangements? It is a humanitarian situation that cries out for attention by caring neighbouring countries. SA 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 recognises this fact.
In addition to being neighbours, these countries are members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that 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? 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 continent.
The smooth and seamless movement of goods and people across borders on the continent is 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 continent and the wellbeing of its people, neighbours need to work on their relations and behave in a manner that benefits all their citizens.
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