A flurry of complaints over crooked Mozambican border officials, by South Africans who have vowed never to return to the neighbouring country, has prompted the Department of Home Affairs to intervene.
The department’s immigration unit would raise the matter - of officials demanding cash for unstamped passports and other alleged transgressions - with its Mozambican counterpart, said spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa.
The Mozambican Embassy in Durban has also confirmed that it had received complaints from locals and had forwarded them to the relevant authorities for investigation.
The Daily News has received many complaints from South Africans who said their nasty experiences at the border had seen them either parting with thousands of rand in bogus “fines” or abandoning their passports when they refused to pay.
Many of them felt intimidated by officials with AK-47s and demands that children or spouses be “held hostage” while they went to Manguzi to fetch money.
In all cases, fun holidays in Mozambique ended in anger and disappointment at border posts, they said.
“Two hours at the border post on the way back ruined two weeks of an amazing holiday,” said a Johannesburg woman, who requested anonymity.
She said she and her boyfriend were still traumatised by the incident.
When they arrived at the Kosi Bay border post near Manguzi on January 2, they were told at the various checkpoints that everything was fine and that they could cross.
Their troubles began on their way out of Mozambique, when a border official told them that because their paperwork had not been in order, they were being “fined” R4 000.
Fearing being jailed, the woman gave her boyfriend her bank cards and stayed behind while he went to withdraw the R4 000 in Manguzi, maxing out their accounts.
Said the man: “As I drove, all I could think of was my girlfriend in that room with those aggressive people.”
As this was their first visit, they thought the fine was legitimate. It was only when the official took R4 000 from them, but gave a receipt for R2 000 that they became suspicious.
“We were okay with paying a fine, but we would have never paid if we knew it was just going in their pockets,” the woman said.
“When we queried it, he (the official) wrote R4 000 only on our copy.”
She said: “What do you do when you are put in such a vulnerable situation where you are at the mercy of officers, with guns, in a foreign country? What’s worse is that you are like 10m from home soil, but they can’t help you.”
Theirs is a tale similar to many others that have been told since the Daily News broke the story recently.
One Kloof family, the Stones, were caught in the scam in which passports are not stamped at the same border into Mozambique, only for border officials to demand a “fine” for each unstamped passport on the way out.
They were fined R9 000 after a weekend holiday. Refusing to pay, they were forced to abandon their passports.
They would have had to pay a total of R3 200 to replace them, as the price doubles if it is lost before expiry.
However, the South African High Commission in Mozambique has since contacted Home Affairs officials at the border who spoke to the Mozambicans.
In an e-mail to the Stones, they said the Mozambicans indicated that they were willing to return the passports.
Bernice Purdon and her family of Ballito did the same after she was fined R5 000.
When Purdon sought help on the South Africa side, like the Stones she was told to abandon the passports and apply for new ones.
“We were allowed to drive out of the Mozambique side without our passports and when we got to the SA side they lifted the boom for us and we drove through and promised ourselves never to return,” she said.
Other victims who contacted the Daily News said they parted with thousands of rand after being “intimidated” and “bullied” by Mozambican border officials.
It is not only first-time travellers who get caught.
Gene Cherry of Mount Edgecombe visits Mozambique up to four times a year.
“Before, we used to fill in documents which were checked and stamped right in front of us. Since they took away the visa (requirement), it’s difficult to keep tabs on what’s been done and what hasn’t,” said Cherry.
On January 13, after one of their visits, none of her family’s passports was stamped, but those of the family they were travelling with, were.
“They were all handed in together,” she said.
“No one expects that some will be stamped and others not.”
Like the Stones, they were fined R1 800 for each of the five unstamped passports, but managed to negotiate it down to a total of R4 000.
“If it was a real fine, how can it be negotiated? It was pure extortion that left me gob-smacked,” said Cherry.
The Beukes family of Ladysmith did pay the R9 000 fine in December for their five unstamped passports.
“My husband had to leave me with my sister and the kids while he went to draw the whole amount from his credit card,” said Rene Beukes.
After paying the fine, their passports were stamped - for entry and exit at the same time.
“The South African stamps clearly show departure on the 2nd (of December) and entry back into South Africa on the 8th. How would we explain the entry and departure from Mozambique being on the same date? That might cause us a problem when we travel,” she said.
The Beukes have written to the Mozambican authorities seeking a refund, but have yet to hear from them.