CUSTOMS clearing agents operating on the South African side of Beitbridge Border Post are cashing in on the congestion at the port of entry to charge stranded travellers a “facilitation fee” to speed up the clearance process. The clearing agents mainly target travellers who do not want to spend several hours in the queue. They charge between R50 and R100 for the service.
One of the clearing agents, who, however, declined to be named, said: “Primarily our job is to process customs documents for commercial trucks before they cross into the Zimbabwean side. However, due to the queues at the border, a number of travellers are now approaching us seeking assistance to have their passports stamped quickly. I charge R100 for the service since I will be using my customs clearing documents to facilitate their clearance.”
Another clearing agent, Mr David Siziba, said on average he raked in about R3 000 a day for the service.
“On a good day I realise about R3 000 and usually that is when the border would be extremely busy and a lot of stranded travellers approach me for my service,” he said.
In some cases, the clearing agents use part of the money from a “client” to bribe South African Home Affairs officials manning the commercial section to stamp the traveller’s passport.
However, in other instances, a traveller is given a bib to wear and a manifesto (customs document) after which they then proceed to the immigration counters masquerading as a truck driver so that they are cleared quickly.
Traditionally, truck drivers are cleared at the commercial section which is usually characterised by shorter queues compared to the main immigration hall where travellers spend several hours waiting to be cleared.
Some travellers who spoke to Chronicle on Monday said they were now forced to part with their money to avoid spending long hours in the queue.
“It’s better to give a clearing agent R100 than to spend several hours stuck at the border. When I arrived at the border, there was a long winding queue, which was moving at a snail’s pace and I had to approach a clearing agent who helped me stamp my passport faster,” said a traveller who requested anonymity.
Mr Brian Chauke of Beitbridge said he paid R50 to avoid the meandering queues at the border.
“Queuing at the South African border is a tedious process and that is why some people end up collapsing while waiting to be cleared because of the rate at which the queue moves. We end up bribing clearing agents to assist us,” he said.
Long winding queues have become a common feature at Beitbridge Border Post especially during peak periods such as public holidays and month-ends.
On Heroes and Defence Forces Days, the border was heavily congested as scores of travellers mostly shoppers and locals based in South Africa took advantage of the holiday to travel.
Beitbridge is one of the busiest inland ports of entry in sub-Saharan Africa. It handles a huge influx of travellers daily including commercial traffic destined for neighbouring countries such as Zambia, DRC, Malawi and Tanzania.
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