Scores of Zimbabwean travellers using the newly introduced temporary travel documents (TTDs) were left stranded at Beit Bridge border post on Friday after they were turned away by the South African Home Affairs officials.
The disillusioned travellers, mostly cross-border traders who spoke to Mirror, expressed dismay over the manner in which the South African immigration officials handled them, despite the fact that the TTDs had a stamp from the Zimbabwean side. They also alleged that they were harassed by the SAPS.
“We arrived at the Beit Bridge border post in the early morning hours in a cross-border bus and when we produced our TTDs at the counters, the South African immigration official harshly told us he did not recognize our travel documents, before ordering us to go back to Zimbabwe. When one of us tried to explain, they shouted at us and called police officers to chase us away from the entry gate,” said Laston Mukonoweshuro, a local cross-border trader. He said the Johannesburg-bound bus, which was ferrying them, later proceeded and they were not refunded their money. “I am stranded now at the border. I have no money to go back to my home and I am now confused.”
Another cross-border trader from Bulawayo, Ms Nokuthula Mdlongwa, said: “When I produced my TTD, the South African immigration officer manning the counter refused to stamp my document before she ordered me to go back home. In fact, what is worrying me is that the officer did not even give me an opportunity to explain my case and one of my colleagues was slapped in the face by a police officer, who accused her of defying the authorities, yet she was only trying to explain her case.”
The affected travellers, some from as far as Mutare, Harare, Bulawayo and Masvingo, later thronged the Zimbabwean Home Affairs offices in Beit Bridge to seek clarification on the authenticity of the TTDs. Some of the affected persons were sportsmen who were supposed to attend a karate competition in Cape Town.
The local regional immigration manager, Mr Charles, confirmed the incident. “Several Zimbabweans were turned away on the South African side for using the TTDs. We tried to negotiate with our South African counterparts, but, they refused to accept the document and their argument is that they did not receive a specimen of the new document, allowing them to scrutinize it first in line with their immigration requirements,” he said. “We have since phoned our consulate in Johannesburg, so that they could raise the issue with the South African authorities. For now, we cannot do anything, as it requires ministerial engagement between the two governments to resolve the issue.”
Zimbabwe’s Consulate-General, Mr Chris Mapanga, said they were in the process of addressing the issue. “The problem emanates from the fact that the South African immigration officials manning the border are not familiar with our new travel document, which is why they turned away our people. However, this is a procedural issue, it´s nothing fundamental. In fact, it’s being worked on and we are working together with the South African authorities in Pretoria to address this challenge, so that our people can once again travel smoothly,” he said. A South African Home Affairs official at Beit Bridge also confirmed that they had turned away Zimbabwean TTD holders, arguing that they had not received a directive from Pretoria to accept the new document. The TTD was introduced by Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Department on April 14 to replace the Emergency Travel Documents.
Some of the stranded Zimbabweans who were pose for a photo with the temporary travel documents (TTD), which were rejected by South Africa Home Affairs officials at Beit Bridge border post on Friday.