Congestion concerns as SA open 20 land borders
Durban - The Department of Home Affairs said it was confident that the reopening of land border posts would go according to plan.
This comes after the National Coronavirus Command Council approved the reopening of borders from today (Monday) with a number of new regulations to mitigate the chaos experienced during the December festive period and in early January.
The congestion at the borders, especially at Beitbridge, was described as a “super-spreader” event and “humanitarian crisis”.
Queues of vehicles and large numbers of people on foot were seen at the border post with delays apparently due to Covid-19 screening and testing that had to be conducted.
Today, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi together with other senior managers of the department will be visiting several key land border posts to monitor the implementation of plans to process travellers through the ports.
Motsoaledi is scheduled to be at Lebombo Border Post, Deputy Minister Njabulo Nzuza at Beitbridge and director-general Tommy Makhode at Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg.
The border posts that are to reopen include those with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, eSwatini and Lesotho.
Motsoaledi said the active and orderly management of people being processed through borders was an important part of the country’s overall risk-adjusted approach to control the spread of Covid-19.
He said in the past four weeks, the department had increased its engagements with officials in neighbouring countries, provinces with land borders and other stakeholders to improve co-ordination of efforts.
“The aim of these engagements was to share plans and ensure seamless movement of travellers and goods to minimise the chances of border crossings being super spreader events,” he said.
According to the department, any person presenting themselves at any of the borders with fake Covid-19 certificates will be denied entry and barred from visiting South Africa for a period of at least five years.
“We appeal to travellers to ensure that they have all the requisite travel documents, including valid Covid-19 tests, when they present themselves to officials at our borders. Truck drivers should adhere to laws, regulations and agreements in place in the border area,” said Motsoaledi.
The Cabinet approved the decision to reopen the 20 land borders to ordinary travel after they were closed on January 11, as part of the country’s efforts to control the spread of Covid-19.
The DA’s Angel Khanyile said the department had an obligation to ensure that there was adequate capacity to enforce traffic and border control protocols once the border entry points were opened.
Khanyile said while the department did present a plan to the home affairs portfolio committee, members were not convinced because it lacked adequate detail due to outstanding reports.
“South Africa’s land-based ports of entry are vital for the country’s access to regional markets. Closing them in the first place was an ill-informed decision,” said Khanyile.
The department’s spokesperson Siya Qoza said the Department of Health and South African Military Health, had been engaged to be part of the process to speed up the testing process.
Qoza said if people were able to get a Covid-19 test before coming to the border, that would ease the pressure as they would only be required to produce a certificate to be processed.
“We have increased the number of testing stations plus the officials on site. We have also engaged the health department to get private officials to help with the testing,” he said.
Explaining the engagements with neighbouring countries, Qoza said the department wanted to have a process plan alignment.
He said they wanted the countries to have a limit of people permitted to cross the border, and once that limit had been reached, they must temporally suspend the entrance of the port.
“This will help so that the number of people who are inside the port are kept to a minimum. We don’t want borders to turn into a super spreader event.”
Qoza said all law enforcement agencies, including the SAPS, traffic officers and the SANDF were part of the process.
“All the departments, about six of them, have been roped in to ensure that everything runs accordingly,” he said.
Road Freight Association chief executive Gavin Kelly said even though the freight industry had continued to operate even when the borders were closed to other traffic, there were a number of concerns regarding the long queues.
Kelly said they had fears and concerns that the borders might not be ready to deal with large volumes of people and this would cause delays.
“No freight vehicles should be stuck at borders due to incapacity of the various departments,” he said