South Africa borders Beitbridge
Trucks parked at Beitbridge. (Gallo)
  • On Monday, South Africa opened its 20 land border posts, including Beitbridge, which links the country to Zimbabwe.
  • But on the same day, Zimbabwe extended its hard lockdown, upholding a ban on international travel through land borders.
  • This basically nullifies SA's reopening.  
  • South Africa says it has not yet received official notification from Zimbabwe, which is usually delivered as a “diplomatic courtesy”.
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South Africa may have reopened its biggest land borders on Monday 15 February, but Zimbabwe’s decision to extend its lockdown for another two weeks prohibits travel between the neighbouring countries through the Beitbridge border post.

Beitbridge, which connects South Africa and Zimbabwe, usually processes thousands of commuters every single day. It's normally the busiest land port in Southern Africa, but for more than a month, it’s only serviced cargo and nationals with government-endorsed travel exemptions.

Amid a burgeoning second wave of Covid-19 infections, Zimbabwe returned to hard lockdown at the start of 2021. This included the closure of all non-essential businesses, a strict curfew and the closure of all land borders with exemptions for returning residents and commercial freight.

And South Africa, suffering from its own second wave and amid chaos due to congestion at major ports of entry, closed of all land borders on 11 January. Only returning residents, departing foreign nationals, and commercial cargo could pass through Beitbridge during this period.

On Monday, South Africa reopened 20 border points of entry for travel, after implementing new regulations to curb congestion. 

This reopening coincided with Zimbabwe’s own review of lockdown restrictions. President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that Level 4 lockdown restrictions would be extended for a further two weeks, with some changes to business operating hours and curfew times.

But the ban on intercity, interprovincial, and international travel across land borders was upheld, effectively nullifying South Africa’s long-awaited reopening of Beitbridge border. 

“Zimbabwe just announced the extension [and] there is no obligation on Zimbabwe’s part to necessarily inform South Africa that they are extending their lockdown,” says Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

“When South Africa takes decisions on closing borders and other measures that impact international partners and neighbouring countries… we use diplomatic channels to inform [those] countries that this is what we’re doing [and] it may impact your nationals who are planning to travel to our country. That would be done as a diplomatic courtesy.”

Zimbabwe has yet to official detail the border closure’s impact on South Africa, but communication was expected later on Tuesday, according to Monyela.

Free movement between two neighbouring countries needs to be bilateral. 

Although South Africa has allowed for travel to and from Zimbabwe, allowances do not override the regulations instituted by a sovereign state and, ultimately, a law which prevents the free, international movement of citizens in response to the Covid-19 pandemic is not subject to the leeway granted by a neighbouring country.

Zimbabwe’s borders will remain closed until March, barring entry and exit through Beitbridge border, with exceptions extended to commercial goods. (Zimbabwe's airports remain open, however.)

While Zimbabwe’s ongoing border closure has limited the volume of daily commuters at Beitbridge border, hundreds of truck drivers remain trapped in queues stretching up to several kilometres long in both directions. Trucking associations blame the dire backlog on roadworks on the Zimbabwean side of the border, with some drivers spending more than 48 hours in line to cross.

The transportation of commercial goods remains one of the only exemptions to Zimbabwe’s travel ban.

South Africa’s department of home affairs and the Zimbabwean consulate in Johannesburg were approached for comment regarding the operation of Beitbridge border but did not reply by the time of publication.

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