SA-Zim border under close watch

Government agencies are monitoring South Africa's border with Zimbabwe as political tensions spiral amid the unfolding humanitarian crisis and cholera outbreak.

Fresh water and medical facilities have been made available at the main Musina border gate after the outbreak of the deadly waterborne disease, which has now claimed more than 500 lives.

Presidency spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, confirmed that the situation in Zimbabwe was on the agenda for Cabinet's last meeting for the year on Wednesday.

South Africa and other southern African countries have taken a tougher stand, with President Kgalema Motlanthe suspending R300-million pledged in agricultural aid until a unity government is in place. Masebe stressed that there were no particular concerns over the situation on the border as the departments involved in the Border Control Operational Co-ordinating Committee (BCOCC) were capable of taking charge of any situation.

"I don't think there is anything they can't handle," he said.

Adrian Lackay, spokesperson for the South African Revenue Services which oversees operations of the BCOCC, said border staff had not reported "anything out of the ordinary" and that there was no significant escalation in the number of people trying to cross into SA.

Of more concern is the upsurge in traffic ahead of Christmas when thousands of Zimbabweans working in South Africa start making their way home from next week.

Lackay said the Department of Home Affairs would provide extra administrative and immigration staff from December 15 to handle the increased numbers.

"Through the BCOCC we are able to monitor the situation to enable us to decide whether to make interventions, deploy more staff or to make rapid assessments", he said.

"We will heighten our attention (during the festive season) to ensure the border post functions and we will probably extend the hours of operation to facilitate the expected higher number of people passing through."

Two years ago there was a near stampede when up to 200 000 Zimbabweans tried to return home for Christmas within 24 hours. Lackay said the lesson was taken on board and that BCOCC had since appealed to mines to stagger lay-off times to prevent swamping at the border.

Home Affairs spokesperson Siobhan McCarthy confirmed there was no added pressure on the border due to the worsening situation in Zimbabwe and said no special meetings of the committee were planned.

"Focus is on providing medical assistance and clean water," she said. "The number of people coming across hasn't increased to a point where we have to step up operations."

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