By Rex Mphisa in beitbridge
A TRAFFIC gridlock has for the last three days paralysed Beitbridge as thousands of Zimbabweans based in South Africa trooped back to their bases in that country.
South-bound haulage trucks and hundreds of buses were part of the traffic jungle with thousands of smaller vehicles that saw travellers wait for more than 12 hours before crossing the border.
The traffic melee signalled the need for another bridge or alternative border posts to complement the only direct link Zimbabwe and South Africa have in Beitbridge.
That traffic jam also divided Beitbridge in three different segments with locals failing to access other sections of the shipping town due to the logjam, the travellers forming an island of strangers in a crowded space and the low-density side of Beitbridge cut from other parts by a vehicular barrier.
The need for a local road network separating local and transit traffic was glaring.
Officials in Zimbabwe blamed the gridlock on their South African immigration counterparts reported to have asked their government for relief staff as southbound traffic pressure mounted.
“The bottleneck is across the bridge on the South African side. Yesterday morning they admitted being overwhelmed and said they were calling for additional staff to help ease the pressure. We have gone for about two hours without a single inch of movement,” a Zimbabwean customs official said.
Queues of vehicles meandered in a double barrel from the South African border through the Zimbabwean border into Beitbridge town where it split into numerous streaks like a river delta.
Dulivhadzimo residents could not access the central business district by car just as those in town could not make the reverse trip.
Travellers took more than 20 hours before managing to cross to the other side where they had to wait for border processing.
“There is need now for a one- stop border. It will ease the pressure,” said the customs official.
“There is also need for seriousness in dealing with holiday pressure. South Africa should by now know it’s border immigration department is inefficient,” said the official.
Plans for a one-stop border post are yet to move from the drawing board where they have remained in the last five years.
South African immigration officials were slowed down by the need to check on thousands of undocumented Zimbabweans, who live in South Africa.
Clever Moyo of Beitbridge said there was need for Beitbridge Municipality to separate local and transit traffic.
“As it is, people in Beitbridge cannot do business. Instead of capitalising on these crowds they have been blocked by this traffic jam,” said Moyo who, is a coordinator of the Beitbridge Business Association.
A shipping agent, Sindiso Ngwenya, said it was hard to get through to customs officers given the crowding in the border post.
Vendors selling water and mineral drinks had brisk business as the heat swept across the small border town.
Moyo, who also sits on a crime consultative forum, said the traffic jam at Beitbridge must no longer catch police, border security, Customs and Immigration officials by surprise since it had become an annual occurrence.
The traffic jam stretched for more than 8km from the border as the Zimbabweans, most of them economic refugees, headed back south.