Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
VILLAGERS in Binga District, Matabeleland North, as well as communities in Zambia are illegally crossing the border between Zimbabwe and the neighbouring country, increasing the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, villagers in Binga and their counterparts across the Zambezi River would cross the border using police clearance.
As most of them have relatives across the border, the clearance would give the holder up to two weeks living in the neighbouring country.
But following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the clearance system was closed as Government imposed national lockdowns restricting the movement of people to contain the spread of the pandemic.
The measures included the closing down of borders to the public to reduce the movement of people during the pandemic.
Even tighter regulations were imposed earlier this month after the Omicron variant was detected in South Africa.
Travellers coming to Zimbabwe have to undergo a 10-day mandatory quarantine.
Despite these regulations, communities in Binga and their Zambian counterparts are bypassing the set health protocols and illegally crossing the border for trade and social activities.
Some use canoes and speed boats to cross the Zambezi River.
Zambians spend a lot of time at Binga Centre and even at Mlibizi, a place known for fish trade.
Saba villagers under Chief Saba said while lockdown measures restricted their movement to Zambia, some still frequent the neighbouring country illegally.
“In the past, we used to go to the police at Binga centre to get a clearance to cross to Zambia, but since the lockdown was imposed it has been very difficult for us to travel. We have relatives that are based on the Zambian side. We used to visit them especially when there were significant events such as funerals or weddings. But now we cannot do that anymore, some of us are afraid of contracting Covid-19,” said Mrs Molina Mudimba, who is Chief Saba’s wife.
“But we also acknowledge that there are some people who are still illegally crossing the border. They still visit their relatives who are in Zambia and some of them come here.”
Another villager, Mr Edward Muleya, said what is even more difficult is to report those who would have illegally come into the country.
“We have seen them, they are part of our community but for relations’ sake, it is difficult to inform authorities that someone has sneaked into or outside the country. But most of the people who illegally cross the border these days are those coming here for trading purposes and this includes fishermen and others selling clothes,” said Mr Muleya.
He said some illegal crossing points have become havens for criminals who even smuggle stolen cattle into the neighbouring country.
When a Chronicle news crew visited Binga on Monday, authorities said there is little activity during the day as most of the illegal crossing is done at night to evade law enforcement agents.
Binga District Development Coordinator (DDC) Mr Farai Marinyame said due to the length of Lake Kariba or Zambezi River, it is increasingly difficult for Government to deploy law enforcement agents to prevent illegal crossing.
Mr Marinyame said the movement of people from Zambia to Zimbabwe using illegal points could easily lead to undetected transmission of Covid-19.
“This is a challenge that we are grappling with as a district. We have a lot of people who travel from Zambia to Binga. We also have a lot of Zimbabweans travelling from Binga to communities just across the lake in Zambia. It is not surprising to have someone who resides in Binga having another wife who is resident in the neighbouring country.
Polygamous relationships are very common within this area. That is how complicated the situation is. In some instances, they use speed boats and canoes to cross the river,” said Mr Marinyame.
He said some Zambians spend the day on the Zimbabwean side trading and leave for their country in the evening. Mr Marinyame said it becomes difficult to easily identify the foreigners because they will be speaking in Tonga language just as locals.
“You’ll discover that even here at the Binga Centre, there are a lot of Zambians who spend their day here and retrace their routes to their homes at night.
“The main reason why the traders are coming is because of the US dollar which they do not have easy access to in Zambia,” said Mr Marinyame.
He said to address the problem of border jumping, Government should fast track the construction of Kasambabezi Border Post in Binga to service the district.
Binga Rural District Council (RDC) chief executive officer Mr Joshua Muzamba said the tradition of communities travelling across the border “could be as old as humanity”.
He said the creation of borders following colonisation of Africa divided communities.
“But borders are now more pronounced than in the past, people now understand that this is Zimbabwe and that is Zambia. Yes, we do associate in social activities, funerals, marriages among other social activities. If it wasn’t for Covid-19 lockdown, if your ID starts 06, you would actually get a clearance from the police to go to the other side for two weeks or so without the hassles of seeking a passport,” he said.
“We now have health protocols that are supposed to be followed but it will really take time to adjust to the regulations. There are those who live close to the lake and some of them come to the Zimbabwean side to seek medical support. Some people also move from this side to seek any other service and some would even move to bigger towns in Zambia from here,” said Mr Muzamba.
Matabeleland North provincial medical director Dr Admire Kuretu said the issue of porous borders affects the implementation of public health measures to contain Covid-19.
“It is definitely a problem that we have uncontrolled movement of people coming in and out of the country in that (Binga) area.
“We would not know where to follow them up or to even test them because they are using illegal points of entry. And when we have positive cases, it’s difficult to conduct contact tracing as we don’t know where they would have gotten the virus,” said Dr Kuretu.–@nqotshili
Article Source: The Chronicle