Demo shuts down Beitbridge border

HARARE - As the country teeters on the brink of total collapse, hundreds of angry Zimbabweans, together with scores of other cross-border traders, yesterday paralysed operations at Beitbridge Border Post as they demonstrated against the government’s recent controversial decision to ban the importation of basic goods into the country.

Eyewitnesses who spoke to the Daily News said the irate protestors temporarily forced the border post to shut down after they toyi-toyed for hours on the South African side of the border, apparently after being barred from marching on the Zimbabwean side.

Sources also confirmed last night that property worth tens of thousands of dollars had also later been destroyed by the riots, with Zimbabwe police still to ascertain the exact extent of the damage.

The situation is said to have turned nasty on the Zimbabwean side at around 5pm when the riots “crossed the border” and erupted into mayhem, leading to the torching of a warehouse that is rented by Zimra, as well as the looting of goods.

“Yes it’s true. I have just spoken to the officer commanding that side and he confirmed this. It’s the Zimra warehouse that is burning. I think the demonstrators regrouped and became mischievous.

“And street kids also looted Chicken Inn in Beitbridge and took drinks,” police spokesperson Charity Charamba said last night, adding that authorities had been forced to call for security re-enforcements to deal with the marauding rioters.

It was also reported yesterday that scores of trucks carrying much-needed foodstuffs to Zimbabwe were stuck on the South African side of the border after importers failed to get the requisite import permits from the ministry of Industry and Commerce.

Repeated efforts by the Daily News to get a comment from Home Affairs minister Ignatious Chombo did not yield positive results, as he was not picking up his phone to clarify the situation.

Under-fire Industry and Commerce minister, Mike Bimha, switched off his phone when attempts were made to also get a comment from him.

On her part, Limpopo police spokesperson Ronel Otto also confirmed the running battles that he said involved Zimbabweans, Indians, Ethiopians and South Africans -— among others — and which had resulted in South African police being called in to manage the volatile situation.

“There were indeed protests... involving... 200 people... shop owners and traders. It lasted for about six hours... However, the border is now operating,” she told the Daily News by telephone.

South African Home Affairs Department spokesperson, Mayihlome, Tshwete also confirmed the ugly incident, saying: “There is a protest... (and the) Department of Home Affairs is gathering information and will keep the public updated,” she said on his Twitter account.

Zimbabwean police also earlier said that they had arrested three people following the demonstration.

Witnesses said the protesters were enraged by what they claimed was “insensitivity” on the part of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF administration which had made it almost impossible for people to import even basic foodstuffs.

On Monday, Zimra issued letters to transporters threatening to seize any vehicle found with banned goods imported on the open general import licence.

“We are appealing to you the transporters not to load any controlled goods for export to Zimbabwe when the owner has not shown you the proof that he or she has the import licence,” Beitbridge Border Post regional manager, BD Chadzingwa said, adding “…your bus/combi/vehicle will be seized in the... absence of import licences to cover the importation”.

As the demo was taking place yesterday, Beitbridge Crossborder Transporters’ Association said: “Beitbridge residents met two days ago and resolved to... voice their anger at the move by the government, which is likely to leave thousands of families... without any source of income since... is hinged on cross border activities.

“Residents have however, resolved to defy the police and go ahead with the protest. Those who have passports are advised to carry them since the battle is most likely to end at the South African side.

“The plan... is to blockade the border and turn back all trucks ,and other vehicles carrying goods from Zimbabwe,” it said.

Mugabe’s government, which is battling severe cash shortages, issued a ban on imported products from South Africa last month, including basic commodities such as household items and construction and agricultural goods.

Importers of these goods are now required to obtain licences justifying why they need these goods, even as most local companies are operating below capacity and struggling to manufacture basic goods owing to antiquated equipment and a lack of capital — raising questions about the government’s decision to ban some imports.

And with the country teetering on the brink of another ginormous economic meltdown akin to the horror experienced in 2008, there are also growing fears that ordinary Zimbabweans are becoming increasingly restless and that this could soon blow up into deadly riots.

Concerned analysts who spoke to the Daily News last week said the ongoing cash shortages and long bank queues, looming food shortages, the ban on the importation of basic commodities, an inevitable rise in basic food prices and the broke government’s failure to pay angry civil servants their June salaries did not bode well for continuing peace and stability in the country.

They said it was telling that normally pliant and peace-loving Zimbabweans were rioting against Zimra after Mugabe’s cash-strapped government banned the importation of basic commodities, threatening the livelihood of tens of thousands of people and their families who live off street vending.

This was after Bimha recently evoked Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016, banning the importation of coffee creamers, petroleum jellies, baked beans, cereals, bottled water, peanut butter, canned fruits and vegetables, among other products.

Veteran economist John Robertson has been among those who have said that the decison to ban the importation of some commodities will result in the acute shortage of basic goods, reminiscent of the 2008 era, as local companies had no capacity to fill the gap that was being filled by imports.

“Scarcity generates high prices and this often leads to a rise in black market, which will make life very difficult for ordinary citizens,” he said.

Robertson said the government should have put basic market fundamentals in place, to ensure that local industries were operating at full capacity before banning some imports.

“If we had enough time, perhaps industry could be revived, but that would all be dependent on fresh capital for retooling.

“Considering the fact that our government is broke and failing to meet its own wage bill, this capital can only come from foreign investors who, at this stage, would not want to hear about the indigenisation policy, government interference and lack of respect for property rights,” he said.

Other observers say Zanu PF’s seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars had not helped matters, throwing spanners into the government’s half-baked programmes and thereby dealing a hammer blow to efforts to rescue the country’s dying economy.

Previously seen as a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe’s fortunes have plummeted precipitously over the past two decades, to the extent that today the country is viewed as a much-derided basket case.

In 2008, some soldiers looted shops in Harare when their pay was delayed, at the height of Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflation crisis that was triggered by the government’s much-criticised fast track land reforms.

During that horror-laced period, inflation accelerated to more than 500 billion percent according to the International Monetary Fund.

Comments (4)

Pamberi nemademo kusvika Mugaba abva pachigaro. Murume uyu akakanya. Ngarwuende!

Wasu Wezhira - 3 July 2016

povo yajamuka

mkanya - 4 July 2016

Pasi nemhanduuuu!!!!!!!!!!! Pasi nadzooooooooooo!!!!!!!!! Mapurisa nemasoja itai basa. Show them how we deal with zvitoto in Zimbabwe.

ziso - 4 July 2016

thank u for the update...much appreciated

anonymous - 4 July 2016

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