Speaking during a press briefing at the Beitbridge border post on Thursday, 5 October, President Cyril Ramaphosa said improved border infrastructure would help the economies of both South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Ramaphosa and his Zimbabwean counterpart, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, toured a new building to process travellers and vehicles moving between the two countries on the Zimbabwean side of the border while also touring South Africa’s significantly older facility.
“It’s a pleasure for me to receive President Mnangagwa on the South African side. We are here on an inspection, border inspection. Our two borders receive so many visitors. At times, I’m told sometimes they receive up to 18-20,000 people a day.
“So we want to ensure that our two border posts function well to enhance ease of movement of our people, ease of movement of goods so that the trade between two countries can improve,” Ramaphosa said.
The meeting of the two leaders started on the South African side of the border where Ramaphosa received Mnangagwa. Flanked by heavily armed police and soldiers, they spent a few minutes at the customs section before their convoys took them to Zimbabwe.
It was clean, calm and relatively quiet on both sides of the border, unlike on other days when there are long queues on the South African side.
Across the Limpopo River, Zimbabwe’s new border management facility is significantly newer and larger than South Africa’s building. It is unclear how it was funded, but in 2020 it was reported that Harith General Partners and the Pembani Remgro Infrastructure Fund were investing in the public-private partnership Zimborders, which has a concession to manage the border post.
While speaking to the media on the Zimbabwean side of the border, Ramaphosa said borders can make money if utilised effectively and can also contribute to improving the economic status of the two countries.
“[Mnangagwa] wanted me to come and see what he has done in Zimbabwe and I have just now seen the improvement for border control. I feel being a little beat, an underperformer. We can copy from what Zimbabwe has done. With the infrastructure like this, the trade has just been oiled,” Ramaphosa said.
Mnangagwa was asked by a journalist about the situation in South Africa regarding the Zimbabwean Extension Permit, but instead of answering, he said he had met Ramaphosa recently in New York where the two leaders were attending the UN General Assembly.
“Me and my dear brother, President Ramaphosa, met in New York and we had a family chat. In that chat, my brother told me he is coming to visit this place in October. Then I said I think it’s an opportunity for us, because it’s only the river between him and me, why don’t I also come and look this side, we look this side and then we will go across to look that side,” Mnangagwa said.
The Zimbabwean president and his entourage then stayed on their side of the border while Ramaphosa travelled back to Musina to launch the Border Management Authority, which will see various departments integrated and working under one command with members of the SAPS and the SANDF to police the borders.
Meanwhile, some people could be seen crossing the Limpopo River to and from South Africa. At the same time, Home Affairs buses and vans were transporting undocumented foreigners back to Zimbabwe.
Locals were sceptical about the leaders’ claims that the new efforts aimed at regulating the often chaotic border would bear fruit.
Alfred Madzivhandil, a member of the community at Beitbridge, said Ramaphosa and Mnangagwa’s visit was useless as they were only shown the border control area, rather than the locations where most goods and people are smuggled across the border.
Truck driver Alfred Dube, who mostly drives from Durban to Harare, said he was not optimistic after the visit.
“Ramaphosa flew into Musina. He did not see big potholes on the N1 after the Baobab toll gate. We are paying more than R50 there, but the road, it’s bad. Those potholes cause accidents and punctures,” he said.