Rigours of crossing borders


AFTER my two weeks sojourn in Bulawayo it was time to cross borders once again and return to South Africa.

As you are probably well aware this is a common narrative for most Zimbabweans; many who were awaiting the outcome of their special dispensation permits were allowed to travel home but had to be back in SA before December 31 2014.

This meant that you probably had 240 000 people travelling back to South Africa hoping to beat the deadline among the other traffic of people crossing borders this time of the year.

After hearing the chaos that transpired at the Beitbridge border I thought I was better off driving through Botswana. However, after spending four hours in a stagnant queue at the Ramokgwebana Border post I began to question the wisdom of this decision.

Then again some people will say four hours is nothing after having spent 48 hours in a queue. The Botswana officials blamed the delay on an unreliable network system which was down for the greater part of the day.

A computerised immigration system being offline paralyses the entire system. So here I was among many others languishing in a long winding queue.

All the ablution facilities at the border were not operational. When I questioned the guard as to why this was the case he simply replied that there was no water. He gave me two options: To relieve myself in Francistown or in the bush outside.

Clearly the delay in processing passage meant urinating in Francistown 80km away was not an option. So people had to resort to relieving themselves in a nearby bush.

Everyone has a right to urinate in kosher facilities. I think officials at Ramokgwebana are well aware of the massive traffic that would traverse their border especially during the festive season.

It is actually inhumane to let people queue for such long hours without access to toilets and clean water. If anything the minute it was discovered toilets were non operational this situation should have been prioritised and dealt with immediately.

Once the system was up and running you had some officials dealing with the queue with urgency and others who appeared to have also gone offline.

You can imagine the relief when our passports were finally stamped and we could see the back of that border. So as we continued with the journey the question that ran through my mind was should borders exist?

A lot of the borders we sit with today were manmade boundaries. Some were drawn with little regard to the people living there, their customs and cultures.

This is why today we are plagued with conflict as countries continue to fight for territory because of misaligned borders. However, if we did not have borders we probably would not have countries as we know them today. Borders define a nation both legally and physically and give it an identity.

They act to guarantee the sovereignty of each State. They also exist to provide economic and physical security. Economic security is important in controlling the trade in commodities and economic opportunities.

People migrate from the rural areas to urban areas in search of jobs, people are now migrating across borders in search of better economic opportunities.

This is what is happening with Zimbabweans working in countries like Botswana and South Africa. However, this is becoming a problem for many countries who are now trying to limit migratory labour as there is a feeling that their own population has been.

Physical security is another key consideration in the establishment of borders. The threat of terrorism and growth of international crime syndicates make it imperative to keep an eye on what goes in and out of one’s country.

Borders are in place so as to regulate travel from one country to another and effectively banish some people entering certain countries.

If you think of the rigorous visa application requirements that are imposed by some countries clearly the idea is not to encourage travel, but rather limit it.

I view a country’s border as its public relations portal.

The treatment you receive at the border is a fairly good indicator of the treatment you will receive once inside the country. Then again someone could argue that employees at border posts generally work long hours and are harassed.

Nonetheless, I believe it’s the kind of job where employees need to put a smiley face because first impressions count. Clearly a world without borders would not work, but we should work on making our borders more people-friendly and not dreaded portals of entry and exit.

Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi