By Rex Mphisa
A GIANT disused building that used to house a top hotel, a group of willing, but uncertain junior government officials devoid of any resources and 11 shocked inmates aptly captures the situation at Beitbridge’s Covid-19 isolation centre for Zimbabweans returning from South Africa.
A catastrophe looms here as the centre’s impressive looks differ greatly from the time bomb the facility really is.
The centre is being prepared for the arrival of thousands of Zimbabweans based in South Africa who are being forced to return home by uncertainty and dwindling food supplies during the Covid-19 lockdown.
They are expected to start arriving in Beitbridge in the next few days.
Authorities said extra caution was now required during repatriation of bodies of Zimbabweans who die in South Africa and the handling of truckers and essential commercial goods.
But the biggest question begging for answers is about Beitbridge’s funding, and manpower to manage what is likely to be a human avalanche.
So far the anticipated arrival of the economic refugees is mired in secrecy with ordinary people not aware of developments around them.
Beitbridge district development coordinator Sikhangezile Mafu admitted that her team was not ready.
“At local level we have nothing,” she said. “We have no resources to talk about.
“There is no water at the facility and it is being connected.
“The area will not be able to hold the anticipated numbers and we are speaking to lodges and other hotels to be able to host some of the returnees,” Mafu said.
She was briefing the national thematic committee on ports of entry tasked with ensuring the border town’s preparedness to receive returning residents.
The team is checking the preparedness of border posts to handle and hold for 21 days returnees mostly Zimbabweans who fled economic hardships at home.
Several grey areas exist.
Caroline Siphuma, a district environmental officer in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, said to handle an expected influx of locals returning from South Africa because of restrictions in that country over Covid-19, Beitbridge required a team of 60 experts.
“Currently we have four port health officers running a four-man shift. Over and above that we have auxiliary staff from the two local authorities and the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services,” said Siphuma said.
Additional staff is required for newly introduced tracker location forms for all arrivals and those employed in essential services like truckers.
At least 500 truckers pass through the border daily, a large drop from the thousands that did on a daily basis before the Covid-19-induced lockdown, which saw the closure of the border.
Only those transporting essential foodstuffs and goods, mostly plant spares are allowed entry.
Immigration officer in charge of the southern region Nqobile Ncube said the number of people passing through the border had dropped drastically from
13 000 daily to only between 450 and 500, mostly drivers.
As a precaution, the truckers are now screened from their vehicles and tracker forms completed at the screening point.
Zimbabwe is currently importing thousands of tonnes of maize to mitigate food shortages induced by drought.
Mpumelelo Maphosa, a member of the thematic committee on ports of entry, said there was need to limit the number of people crossing the border.
“There should be a solution for bodies of deceased people, which must be received by local relatives,” Maphosa said.
“Those from South Africa should stop at the border and return after handing over (the bodies) to locals.”
He said remains of deceased persons being repatriated should be treated with utmost suspicion and be subjected to supervised burials.
Meanwhile, as of Thursday the Beitbridge isolation centre only had 20kg of maize-meal and there was no bedding.
Inmates at the centre have complained about mosquitoes
Last week the Zimbabwean embassy in South Africa reached out to distressed Zimbabweans willing to come back home.
They are expected to go through a 21-day quarantine in Beitbridge before they are allowed to go home.