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Close the border

Last weekend I made my customary annual road trip up north to Zambia through Zimbabwe.

Starting off at the crack of dawn, it was a glorious drive on the N1 during that time of early morning when the breaking light of a new day slowly takes over a landscape wrapped in the fading darkness. With my niece and her baby in tow, we reached Louis Trichardt/Makhado in no time, where we stopped for a rushed breakfast.

Thus far, everything had been spot on schedule until we reached Musina border post to be greeted by the sight of a mass of travellers queuing outside the immigration buildings. It was a scene from a Nazi movie, the hordes of travellers resembling prisoners at a concentration camp. The time was 10am when I drove through to the parking area at the border. We quickly established that the South African immigration officials were on a go-slow and resigned ourselves to a long wait in the frustrating heat. What we did not know was that it was going to be another six hours before we would be processed through the South African side and then cross over into Beitbridge on the Zimbabwe side.

It was a terrible ordeal. The queues stretched for tens of metres on end, meandering around the buildings. All in all, there were three queues: one for South Africans; the second for those in transit; and the longest for Zimbabwean passport holders.

Scanning the weary crowd, I saw women and children being jostled by haughty South African police officers and immigration officials. As the queue heaved and shuffled inch by inch, I listened to personal accounts of women and children who had been waiting in the queues from the night before for more than 10 hours, pleading to the officials for passage. All of a sudden there was a stampede at the front of the queue, with terror-stricken women fleeing a policeman wielding a sjambok. The woman who had been whipped was sobbing and shaking her head from side to side. It was at that point that I became angry, distraught and disoriented because of the treatment being meted out to innocent people whose only crime was to be travelling through the border on that day.

On a day reserved to celebrate the heroic spirit of women, South African immigration officials chose to ridicule and mistreat those who under the norms of African culture can be counted among their mothers, sisters, and daughters. Treated like animals, Zimbabweans in particular were singled out by the officials, who reserved their choicest insults and expressions of disdain for this lot of broken and dejected people. These meek and long-suffering people who have endured many hardships in their country deserve nothing less than empathy. Instead, made to stand in queues for hours on end, they had their rights impugned by callous immigration officials and police officers. If an alien were at the scene, he or she would have been forgiven for thinking that the Zimbabweans have committed a great wrong against the South Africans for them to be treated so harshly.

Let it be known that what is happening at the Musina border post is a gross and inexcusable violation of human rights. People have a right to travel and those who apply to work for Home Affairs as immigration officers must of necessity serve all travellers within the confines of acceptable international norms and courtesy. It is a crying shame for South African immigration officials to act as if they are doing Zimbabweans a favour, treat them as if they have leprosy and tag them with this despicable badge of undesirable visitors. It is precisely this sort of inhospitable treatment by South Africans towards fellow Africans which will continue to stoke the fires of hatred and suspicion across the continent.

There is a more than a hint of coldness out there by South African Home Affairs officials who look down upon foreign nationals coming from countries which they consider despicable. It would seem that they rate Zimbabweans and Somalis as prime examples of such. It is wrong to punish citizens from these nations for the sins of the tyrants and power-hungry politicians who have ruined their countries. All that is being asked is that immigration officials do their jobs as humanely as possible.

I fear that the impressionable minds of the children of those long-suffering people who endured the high and mighty, better-than-you South African immigration officials, will grow up knowing no better in terms of how to treat foreigners should they one day find themselves as adults working in the civil service of a country with better prospects than that of its neighbours.

Borders should exist as touch points of a nation’s goodwill while enforcing state safety and security. They should not exist as garrisons of repression. On the contrary, the Musina border post is being used as a centre to break the spirit of Zimbabweans and all other foreign African nationals who come from less privileged nations.

If anything else, the violation of human rights at the Musina border post is a damning indictment on the presidency of Jacob Zuma, who has vowed to make service delivery a top priority for his government.

If South Africa cannot resolve to exorcise the demon of xenophobic treatment of fellow Africans from its society and government departments, they have but two options: the first is to impose prohibitive visas to restrict “the undesirables”, failing which they should close the fucking border and spare fellow Africans this inhumane treatment.

Author

  • Jeremiah Kure is a professional working in the corporate governance arena, based in Johannesburg. He is the founder of the Heights We Must Climb movement and a firm believer in a progressive Africa; an Africa not tied to her stereotyped past but one that is steadily reclaiming her dignity and potential in the global space.

25 Comments

  1. Dave Harris Dave Harris 16 August 2009

    Unfortunately Jeremiah, closing the border is no longer an option. NOTHING will prevent Zimbabweans from crossing over. At least if they go through immigration, we have a count of how many we need to plan for. Our fate with Zimbabwe was sealed when Mbeki’s “quite diplomacy” gave Mugabe the lifeline he needed to survive and grow stronger. The entire world warned us about this, but Mbeki and his cohorts paid no heed to these predictions. The rising cost of supporting these refugees and the cost of xenophobia is the price we have pay for Mbeki’s screwups.

  2. MrK MrK 16 August 2009

    By the way, since when is Zimbabwe run by ‘a tyrant’? Other than efficienty redistributing the land that was stolen from the people of Zimbabwe, what is the ‘crime’ or President Mugabe? Did he not introduce democracy to a country where there was none? Has he missed or postponed a single election since independence, 29 years ago? And does it not strike you as ironic, that it is the *parliamentary opposition* which accuses the president of beign a ‘tyrant’ or ‘dictator’. And considering so many of them served in Smith’s army and police force (the practices of which you have witnessed in the South African police at the Zimbabwean border), had no probelm with the dictatorship of Ian Smith?

    Just a thought about who is being called a ‘dictator’.

  3. Alisdair Budd Alisdair Budd 16 August 2009

    Welcome to an “African Solution to an African Problem”

  4. Marion van Dyk Marion van Dyk 16 August 2009

    Jeremiah Kure, I wholeheartedly support what you have said in your column today. I am a Zimbabwean now living in South Africa. I am lucky because I can live here and be accepted. Yet I have heard and seen things that make me ashamed to say that I am living in a South Africa where there is no respect for human rights and human dignity when it comes to foreigners. Jacob Zuma, why isn’t this Government upholding the basic human right of dignity and compassion to our kin over the border. With this lack of action you are leaving a legacy that I am ashamed of, and all of our region will suffer for. Please do something about the people in your government who are working against your country.

  5. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 17 August 2009

    Of course they despise them. Their glorious ANC keeps telling them the Zimbabweans must go home, because there in “no crisis in Zimbabwe”.

    These are the same ANC who spent their own lives safe in exile supported by a sympathetic Christian west.

  6. Dave F Dave F 17 August 2009

    “It is wrong to punish citizens from these nations for the sins of the tyrants and power-hungry politicians who have ruined their countries.”

    You have it wrong, my friend. The South African Government and their minions are not punishing them for the sins of tyrants and power-hungry politicians – they’re SUPPORTING the tyranny and punishing the victims for daring to flee persecution.

    But otherwise you are quite right.

  7. Prisha Bhoola Prisha Bhoola 17 August 2009

    This is not only shameful but an embarassment to all South Africans! It sickens and angers me. Even if Minister Dlamini Zuma can attend to the problem at the border, the problem lies in the hearts and minds of some South Africans. Treat others as you would want to be treated – is that too much to ask?

  8. brigs brigs 17 August 2009

    @ MRK, crime by bob’o, creating the economic colaps, which has casued the neer starvation of a goodly portion of his population, and thier subsiquent need to cross over to our shores.2. holding his ‘beloved country to randsom by refusing to step down from a possition, the people of zimbabwe clearly no long whant him in, pleanty crimes agains humanity im fairly sure, spending the riches of Zimbabwe on himself and refusing to recognise the disater zone which is his country, i could go on but you get the picture. I believe it was Niche in 18 something or the other who said. Liberator’s should never rule. sure he did an ok job till about 1997- but that when he should have steped asside and was incapable of doing so. There is an apropriate time for every man in any job and bob’o has over stayed his welcome by far to long thus negating any good, he had done. by the vast wieght of evil, he has purpotratoed by being essentially a selfish prat.

  9. anton kleinschmidt anton kleinschmidt 17 August 2009

    So much for ubuntu.

  10. ntambireni ntambireni 17 August 2009

    Jeremiah,
    in May I travelled through the beitbridge border post, it was a nightmare to say the least. the treatment of Zimbabweans at the border post is inhumane, to say the least. the women i spoke to said this had gotten worse since the government issued six months free to pass visas. and one of them related how in the past the officials had been corrupt, fleecing every little cent from women traders, but with the new visa system this was not possible. in the past, with high numbers of undocumented immigrants, soldiers along the fences raped defenceless women in exchange for passage – all the while Mbeki was confessing african solutions to african problems. iam an african, and the handling of the zimbabwe issue grossly misrepresents our values and is nothing of an african solution.

  11. Nathan Van Vuren Nathan Van Vuren 17 August 2009

    The tyrants will not live forever, change is inevitable, and thats the only thing that stands in the way of Zimbabweans. When the tide shall turn we will see what then shall happen to the South Africans when they endure thier own issues….chickens will always come to roost.

  12. Ndaba Ndaba 17 August 2009

    Police brutality at our borders is deplorable. I am disgusted to learn of such accounts by our officials. It’s also shameful that too often these empty headed officials with no concept of human rights go unpunished.
    Xenophobia and any form of abuse extended to foreigners, especially of African origins, shames us greatly. I venture though to say the majority, a very large majority of South Africans are opposed to these things. Foreign nationals are still here in this country because our laws, our government and the majority of our people are content to live alongside them. Among the good South Africans there are bad crops, it is the responsibility of the good citizens to defend weak, the abused and our visitors – this is embedded in our philosophy of Ubuntu.
    So agree, partly, with you Jeremiah, the system has weaknesses not that its designed to work against the foreign nationals – so is our micro-social environment.

  13. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 17 August 2009

    MrK

    Blacks ALWAYS had the “Cape Coloured” vote in Zimbabwe. I explained this to you before.

    And the land Mugabe stole was 70% from new investors post 1980 who had his written permission to buy on the basis the government did not need the land. Not surprising – they still had, and have, hectares of undeveloped tribal land (which China wants to “rent”)

  14. Al Al 17 August 2009

    So what about our fearless leader paying a surprise visit to such a place? Even the thought that our fearless leader might do that would result in a significant attitude adjustment.

    So what about it, Luvpants?

  15. Alan Alan 17 August 2009

    Isn’t this called racism? The loss of bribes for immigration officials is probably the main cause for this horrific behaviour. Who amongst South Africa’s civil service would want to work for the salary alone. Without commission, these jobs are just not worth the trouble.

  16. Manu Manu 18 August 2009

    I can personally relate 2 sentiments in this piece. It seems the SA immigration officials think that every Zimbabwean who crosses in2 SA is a potential refugee, and there4 a nuisance or burden 2 the SA taxpayer. I am an executive working in Zimbabwe and was taking my girls on holiday to SA over the period 8-16 August. Arriving at the SA border at 10AM, we were greeted by hordes of other travellers, some of whom had been there since 8PM the previous day. We endured the long queue until we eventually made it out of the border around 10PM! During the tortuous 10-hour wait, we had 2 endure the humilliation of being made 2 feel like 2nd-Class citizens on this plannet. Our sin; being Zimbabweans! This is in spite of the fact that quite a good number of the travellers are actually holiday makers and shoppers who bring enormous financial benefits to the SA economy. You can quicky workout how much a family of 5 staying in hotels, eating and shopping in SA means to the SA economy, especially if you extrapolate that to several families doing the same. I told my girls that were it not for them goiing to SA 4 the very 1st time, and the fact that I had to clear a motor vehicle at the Durban port, I wold have made a quick U-turn and gone to Vic Falls in Zim. One more thing, corruption will eventually kill the SA

  17. looks looks 18 August 2009

    I am a Zimbabwean living in South Africa since ’95. My wife is South African and we are planning a road trip to Zim at the end of the year. If what you have written is anything to go by, I might just postpone the trip yet again. I dont want to expose my children to such bad behaviour. Thank you for writting this article, its about time people know just how bad it is

  18. Manu Manu 18 August 2009

    Now that visas are no longer required for Zimbabweans to travel to SA, it seems SA border immigration officials are feeling the pinch as they can no longer make money from people trying to enter SA illigally. However, SARS officials manning the VAT Refund Office seem to be “making brisk business” through conniving with a group of Zimbabwean women who make a living out of “buying” receipts/invoices from travellers leaving SA. Although SARS requirements are that everyone claiming VAT refunds must, amoung other things, provide evidence of having crossed into and out of SA through immigration stamps, the SARS officials actually give priority to claims submitted by these women that they know actually ‘live’ at the border for the sole purpose of making a few rand thru submitting fraudulent VAT claims. On returning from SA on Sun 16-Aug, I personally had to endure some 3 hours of waiting to submit my VAT refunds claim, yet there were less than 20 people ahead of me in the queue. The reason was all 4 SARS officials on duty between my arrival at 6PM to my departure at 10PM were deliberately processing multiple claims from “their comrades in crime”, in return for “a fee”, whle ignoring the genuine travellers. I can even point out the culprits. I have said it before and will say it again, corruption is the Number 2 ememy in SA, after crime, in all its forms. The sooner something is done about corruption in SA,the better.

  19. nkwame.cedile nkwame.cedile 18 August 2009

    The solution to the crisis at the borders across is the very existence of the artificial colonial borders only serves to continua to dehumanize and harass Africans. Africa Must Unite as soon as possible otherwise history and future generations will condemn the current generation for being passive and our in action in the face of dehumanization.

  20. MrK MrK 18 August 2009

    nkwame.cedile,

    I think a lot could be solved by a) creating local authorities to provide the basic services (education, healthcare, policing, utilities, administrative issues) so basic services are available to all citizens, no matter where they live and whoever is president, and creating provinces that coincide with the old kingdoms, with a ceremonial role for traditional leadership (not unlike the constitutional monarchies of Europe).

    I think that is a model both Pan-Africanist, pro-people, and applicable to the entire continent. Please check out my Manifesto for Economic Transformation:

    http://maravi.blogspot.com/2007/06/my-manifesto-for-economic.html

  21. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 19 August 2009

    nkwame

    So you want EVERY refugee and criminal here? Who will pay for it?

    You don’t see South African blacks emigrating to the North do you?

  22. Nicholas Nicholas 19 August 2009

    I abandoned visiting Zimbabwe in 1986 after spending 16 hours each way at the beit bridge border post going up there for a few days to watch the Haley’s comet phenomenon. It was my forth visit over a six year period and conditions were appalling.I swore i would never go again and never have The fact that you only spent ten hours in the queue would suggest that things have marginally improved since those late apartheid days… Sjambokking was of course routine then, as now; only the people waiting for ever at that chronically inept hellhole to go through were marginally less desperate. One has to assume that a condition so chronic over so long is intentional.

  23. Manu Manu 19 August 2009

    Lyndall Beddy on August 19th, 2009 at 2:07 am

    Lyndall, Zimbabwe has not always been what it is today. It starts with, corruption (in both public and private institutions), unreasonable wage demands by workers (including the lazy/unproductive, unreasonable wages/salaries by employers, greedy politicians, etc. etc. Let’s come back to this forum in 15-20 years time! Zimbabwe slipped into it current state only a decade ago, after massive positive developments in almost all sphears. I am a Zimbabwean and at one time I never imagined that we could learn anything from countries to the north of us; and now!

  24. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 19 August 2009

    Manu

    Have you read Peter Godwin’s books? He was a liberal white journalist for the BBC who grew up in Zimbabwe and who was anti Ian Smith – until he exposed the Matabeleland massacres, and turned into an anti Mugabe activist. He wrote “When A Crocodile Ate the Sun” and “Mukiwe”.

    Every Zimbabwean should also read Ian Smith’s autobiography “The Great Betrayal”. If you learn nothing else, you will learn why your education system was so good.

  25. Nizaam Pasha Nizaam Pasha 20 August 2009

    Brilliant article Jeremiah. I think that corruption is killing this country,

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