IN THE QUEUE: Lenghty delays are often experienced at Beitbridge border post. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
IN THE QUEUE: Lenghty delays are often experienced at Beitbridge border post. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE situation at Beitbridge remains intolerable, unacceptable and a major obstruction to Zimbabwe ever attracting significant tourists from South Africa, according to Zimbabwe Education Minister David Coltart.

Mr Coltart, reacting to the abnormally long queues at the border over the past few days, suggested that a new border post be considered between the two countries.

Long queues of vehicles stretched as far as 20km into Zimbabwe on the main highway to the Beitbridge border post, one of the busiest in Southern Africa.

Eyewitnesses said police and immigration officers had a torrid time controlling the queues as frustrated travellers also had to contend with the heat and crying babies.

Mr Coltart, in his Facebook message, described congestion at Beitbridge as a national embarrassment and an obstruction to his country’s bid to attract foreign tourists.

Officials in Zimbabwe had blamed South Africa’s immigration officials for taking a casual approach despite the surge in traffic.

Lunga Ngqengelele, a spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, denied there was a "casual approach" but confirmed there were problems at the border post.

"There is no dispute regarding the challenges at Beitbridge. We are aware of it and the department is working to improve the situation. This is not a problem with staff, but (with) the volumes passing through the border post," he said.

Last year the department won a court case after it was challenged over the use of soldiers at OR Tambo International Airport.

In his post Mr Coltart said: "We have to move from talk to urgent action … this situation needs a massive, urgent effort by both the South African and Zimbabwean governments. If need be, we should be considering the construction of another road to South Africa — for example, the most direct … route is south through Kezi … that road needs to be upgraded and a new border constructed over the Shashi and a road constructed through Botswana direct to, say, Martin’s Drift."

The South African Chamber of Commerce & Industry expressed concern but said opening a new border, though a good idea, would not solve the current problems.

Chamber CEO Neren Rau said the idea should be "how to improve road efficiencies that would promote trade and movement of people".