South Africa’s Home Affairs monitors Beitbridge Border standoff

South Africa’s Home Affairs monitors Beitbridge Border standoff

THE  Home Affairs department is monitoring the situation at the Beitbridge port of entry between South Africa and Zimbabwe following violent disruptions  last Friday.

“Following the resolution of the standoff between South African traders in the Musina area and Zimbabweans entering South Africa we can confirm that the port of entry is operational and no incidences have been reported,” the department said in a statement.

“Working together with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) we will observe developments closely to ensure ease of travel at the port of entry.

“To this end, we wish to confirm that the violent acts that have been portrayed on social media, including the burning of buildings, took place on the Zimbabwean side and not alongside the borderline as reported,” the department said.

It was reported earlier that protesters torched a section of the border warehouse in Beitbridge on last Friday as they demonstrated against the Zimbabwean government’s decision to “ban” most imports and promote locally-manufactured products.

What started as a mere demonstration in the morning turned ugly as the day progressed, following which Beitbridge Border Post – for the first time in over a century – had to be shut down as street protests swelled.

The situation has been getting tense with each passing day since the Zimbabwean government announced a blanket “ban” on most import items over a week ago. Last week, cross-border traders staged a demonstration at the border after the country’s taxman, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), started confiscating their goods before the official ban date.

A Zimra staffer said two warehouses the revenue collector was using had been torched, while information was that a police detail’s house had been stoned as well as a police vehicle.

“They stoned the cop’s house alleging he was troublesome at the border. They allege he would always confiscate their goods each time they crossed the border from South Africa,” the staffer said.

In the melee, over 30 vehicles were set alight, while the town’s major roads were barricaded with burning tyres and huge stones.

Riot police were outnumbered but used tear gas to disperse the crowds, which stretched for more than a kilometre. Sources in the border town said heavily armed military personnel had been deployed to assist police quell the growing protests.

Another source said the situation resembled a war zone as the protesters were fighting running battles with police. Government last week announced Statutory Instrument (SI 64/2016) which imposed an import permit on most products, thereby putting most cross-border traders out of business. The Beitbridge Cross-Border Transporters’ Association said in a statement police had refused to sanction the demonstration.

“Police in Beitbridge have refused to clear a demonstration planned by residents to protest over the recently introduced ban of importation of a wide range of goods, including groceries and building material, from South Africa without permits,” information and publicity secretary Tapiwa Tabheni said in the statement.

“Beitbridge residents met two days ago and resolved to take to the streets to voice their anger at the move by the government, which is likely to leave thousands of families in the border town without any source of income since survival in the border town is hinged on cross-border activities. Residents have, however, resolved to defy the police and go ahead with the protest,” Tabheni said. – ANA