CHAOS at the Border Post, Musina/Beitbridge
We were insane! What in the name of good sense were we thinking when we decided to go back home to Mozambique via Zimbabwe? We ignored the news that 2 twins had been born in the queue while the mother stood for hours and hours and that one person had in fact died while waiting in the hot sun. We had known about the chaos that occurs annually between the South African and Zimbabwe border, but thought that by the 3rd of January the masses would have come and gone. That we were entering Zim, while the masses, if any, were exiting Zim. How bad could it get?
We almost choked on our Musina Spur burgers when the radio announced that the border posts were gearing up for the busiest time of year! We closed our Spur account, filled up with fuel and raced off towards the border post, not sparing a minute.
2pm: Jaw drops, dread instantly numbs the brain, and sight goes hazy after skimming over the 3 buses already parked! I make out a queue that snakes along the building and around, easily 100 metres long. And I get that sure feeling that we’re going to need a ‘cold one’ after this, or 2!
Without delay, we race to the back of the queue. My husband eagerly takes the passports out and gets them ready for the single stamp we need to exit South Africa. And then we stand and stand and stand, and shuffle a metre forward and stand some more. The queue was moving suspiciously slow. In fact at one stage we only moved a maximum of 5 metres in one hour. And during that time we were positioned right outside the air conditioner that blasted hot air onto our withering bodies! Why was the queue moving so slowly? Because the South African border post had assigned a whopping ONE official to deal with all of departures. One official for up to 2000 people. Enough said!
4pm: We resigned ourselves to the fact that we were in for a long wait. We conversed with the people behind us and in front of us, relating to them and saying things like,’ Eish sissi, this line is to much long.’ We got to know each other fairly well and luckily for us and them, we all had kids. So it was a joint effort at keeping the kids close and under control. This is quite a challenge when it comes to standing in a queue, in the hot sun, with no food and only the water or drinks you have in your handbag. I had packed a couple bottles of bubbles and a colouring book and crayons which temporarily kept the kids sane.
4:30pm: The people standing in the queues, including my husband start forming barriers to prevent people from pushing in and going to the front of queues. Most would think with the thousands of people there, there would be police monitoring this situation and controlling it. But in the 8 hours we were on the South African side, I saw a policeman twice. Clearly someone was accepting bribes down the line for there to be absolutely no control. Someone was benefiting from the people jumping queues.
People are getting tense. We have hardly made any progress. It is getting dark and the kids have lost all sense of humour. People are dehydrated, exhausted from standing all day, hungry and sunburnt.
8:30pm: We have a mere 20 metres to go before we reach the end of the line. All hell breaks lose. People are pushing, shoving and fighting. Angry crowds (quite rightly so) start shouting abuse at the border officials for allowing runners and people to push in ahead of them. The officials then announce to everyone (as in 1000’s of people) we are all to move to the opposite side of the building, to the ‘Arrivals’ and queue there instead.
8:35pm: A stampede ensues. We grab our children before being separated. Everyone is running and pushing. Families are separated. No-one knows where exactly to go, there is no-one directing us. Suddenly a random queue forms nearby and we’ve fallen behind at least 300 people. This is about when I start to lose my cool and the ‘crazy lady’ in me errupts!
8:45pm: I march to the front of the queue. Grab the policeman’s arm and insist they tell me what is their plan? That we’ve been in the queue since 2pm. He says, ‘Heibo, 2 0clock!’ I then luckily spot the lady who was in front of me in the old queue and who is now at the front of this queue. She backs me up when I tell the official I was behind her. He allows me to call my family to the front of this queue.
9pm: They count about 20 of us , excluding my husband and family and say that we can go through to the desks. I refuse to be separated from my family and besides, my husband is carrying my passport! The official gets inbetween us and starts pushing me away. Crazy lady re-emerges. I morphed into a wild animal and pushed him back, shouting at the top of my voice that they were the most bloody inefficient bunch of idiots I have ever come accross and that I want my frikken documents NOW!!! That is the first time I have almost been arrested! They almost chucked me in the cells for that!
9:30pm Neverthess, my loud rant did encourage them to get us out for fear of exciting the crowds! So they pulled the rest of my family through and allowed us all to stand in another queue, together, for another half an hour. Eventually we got our departure stamps and could proceed on to the Zimbabwe border post, Beitbridge. It was breath of fresh air. The queues were moving quickly and things were under control. We got through that border by 10:30pm.
We stayed the night in Beitbridge and continued with our journey back to Mozambique the following day. I really feel for those border goers. The next day the queue of cars on the Zim side wishing to enter South Africa went back 20km’s. Come on South Africa, get your act together, seriously! I will not be surprised to hear that there were more tragedies and loss of life since the 3rd of January. The conditions were unbearable. There was absolutely no assistance for mothers with babies, the elderly or the sick. No help what so ever.
So, my last words to my fellow travellers are: ‘Do not go anywhere near that border post during the festive season!’