OMRY MAKGOALE: Coronavirus control fence between SA and Zimbabwe won't work


Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia De Lille, has announced that the government is installing a fence at the Beitbridge border gate to prevent - or minimise - the entrance of illegal immigrants infected with coronavirus. It will have minimal impact.

The mounting of the security fence at this border gate to control the entrance of immigrants from north of the Limpopo River has good intentions, but it can only achieve very little in terms of preventing illegal immigrants entering South Africa.

The border between South Africa and Zimbabwe stretches 225 km from Botswana along and in parallel to the Limpopo River towards Mozambique. The Beitbridge border gate, named after the Zimbabwe town in Matabeleland south, links with Musina town in Limpopo province.

The bridge across the Limpopo River is about 350m in length. The new fence will be 1.8m in height and extend 20 km on each side of the bridge. It is hoped that the tall fence will deter illegal immigrants from crossing over and bringing more people with the coronavirus to South Africa.

Crooks and thieves prey on the vulnerable and the dying like vultures. There is no integrity in their rules of engagement. Even with the best government in Zimbabwe, the political, economic and social crises caused by the land grabs under the late Robert Mugabe will take time to be resolved.

This is not even to consider the deep-seated effects of the tribalist Gukurahundi massacre carried out by Mugabe's regime against the Ndebele minority in the 1980s in Matabeleland. There has been no Truth and Reconciliation process even to begin to address this horror.

The land grabs led successful, experienced, high-quality commercial farmers to leave Zimbabwe in droves to settle in South Africa, the UK, Australia and New Zealand and brought about economic meltdown. Zimbabwe has not recovered since then. Hunger, starvation and lack of jobs in Zimbabwe brought about a huge influx of immigrants into South Africa. It was the migration of professionals as well as ordinary labourers. It also led former war veterans armed with the military skills to come and launch military-style robberies in South Africa.

Building the fence at Beitbridge is a key national project, but it will not prevent the entrance of illegal immigrants. Most of the time they just bribe the officials manning the borders, without consequences.

It is economic strife and hardships that force ordinary law-abiding citizens in Zimbabwe to cross borders illegally, trying to fend for their families in what they believe are greener pastures.

A huge proportion of Zimbabweans have left their country for Botswana, Zambia, Australia, New Zealand, UK and South Africa, as their southernmost neighbour.

With a current population now of about 14.8 million, it is believed that between one and 5 million Zimbabweans are now living in South Africa. With a 95% literacy rate in English, Zimbabwe has a highly educated adult population.

The fence will not stop the tide of immigration. At best, it can only reduce its impact.

With its extremely corrupt ANC leadership as witnessed at the Zondo Commission, very little can be done to control the influx of illegal immigrants into South Africa.

Corrupt police management - hollowed out from the times of Jackie Selebi, the late former commissioner and former head of Interpol, who worked closely with drug lords such as Glen Aggliotti - has not yet recovered.

Crime intelligence was fatally weakened under its former head, Richard Mdluli, and the Hawks under General Berning Ntlemeza. Under President Jacob Zuma, you could literally bribe your way through every department of state and government without consequences. This is the reality - a fence at Beitbridge will not prevent corruption inside the state and government of South Africa.

For that, you need a competent, ethical security and intelligence department to minimise the entrance of illegal immigrants rather than mortar and brick, or steel, represented by fences.

The intentions of Minister De Lille and President Cyril Ramaphosa are good, but they cannot guarantee prevention of illegal immigrants with coronavirus from entering South Africa.

Only by resolving the political problems inside Zimbabwe and South Africa can we ensure that illegal migrants will no longer cross over the crocodile-infested Limpopo River. The rot inside Zanu–PF and inside the ANC is responsible for the current mess.

As long as state and government officials on both sides of the Beitbridge border gate are as corrupt as they are, no fence will be high enough or solid enough to prevent sifting through of illegal migrants.

It is our problem. Until we can elect honest politicians of our own choosing and under our control as voters, there is no way we can control dishonest behaviour in our government services.

Under honest and accountable government, the new fence would be a serious obstacle, but presently - with uncontrolled corruption on both sides of the border - it will have minimal impact.

Omry Makgoale is rank and file member of the ANC. These are his personal views