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Army stepping up the fight against illegal crossings from Zimbabwe

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Security measures at the Beitbridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe are being upped as the festive season comes to a close.

Issues hit the post particularly hard towards the end of last year, as the annual influx of travellers to and from Zimbabwe, coupled with trucks needing to pass through, were delayed even further due to Covid-19.

Covid-19 screening for truck drivers was suspended by the health department to ease the congestion. Reports emerged that queues of up to 20km at Beitbridge resulted in the deaths of a number of passengers and truck drivers.

All other travellers were still made to provide valid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test results or take antigen gets at all South African ports of entry, at their own costs.

But on Saturday, the Zimbabwean government imposed a national lockdown with immediate effect, which included closing all borders.

This means that those who were planning to travel in and out of Zimbabwe will now have to wait at least 30 days.

Only essential services will remain operation in Zimbabwe for the next month.

In addition to the chaotic scenes at the Beitbridge border, reports have now emerged that at least 50 fake Covid-19 tests were discovered by officials.

The tests were being sold to those eager to enter South Africa at Beitbridge, Limpopo Health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba, confirmed on Monday.

At least 70 positive Covid-19 cases have been recorded at Beitbridge’s mobile testing sites.

To ease the inevitable resurgence of travellers as the festive season draws to a close, Department of Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi in December 2020 pledged to deploy at least 800 additional officials from various departments to all border posts in the country.

This included 60 additional immigration officials to support the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), who have been stationed at posts including Beitbridge since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

Under Operation Corona, SANDF soldiers have been policing high-risk areas to curb illegal crossings for some time, SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi told The Citizen.

Mgobozi said in December, the SANDF assisted police in patrolling the 10km radius of the border fence, as well as the nearby Limpopo River, which is popular among enterprising travellers wishing to cross the Beitbridge Border illegally.

“Sometimes people cross the river when our soldiers are there, but the river is too long, and the border is too long,” Mgobozi said.

But despite this, he said the SANDF was “doing everything possible” to make sure transgressors are apprehended.

This could include using their standby helicopter, should it be necessary.

Mgobozi could not confirm the SANDF making use of boats to patrol the river itself, nor the current use of the helicopter, but assured that additional measures could be implemented should the situation require it.

Mgobozi sought to remind citizens that the SANDF had been hard at work at the Beitbridge border for many months, and that these interventions are not new.

He said it was more a case of “upping our effort during the festive season when many people are crossing the border” than reinventing clamping down on those intent on crossing the border illegally.

-The Citizen

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