Tinomuda Chakanyuka, Senior Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S biggest port of entry, Beitbridge Border Post which borders the country with South Africa, risks being closed next week after workers in the neighbouring country’s Home Affairs Department, including immigration officers gave notice to go on strike and down tools over overtime pay.
The Federation of Unions of South Africa and Public Servants Association served that country’s Department of Home Affairs with a notice to go on strike from 19 June after a stalemate over the issue of overtime pay when the workers work on Saturday.
The employees are demanding payment, instead of days off, for working on Saturdays but South African Government is arguing that it would incur a serious budget shortfall if it were to accede to demands of workers’ unions.
Zimbabwean officials are however, optimistic that the South African Home Affairs Department and its workers will reach an agreement to avert the strike.
South African PSA’s acting general manager Mr Tahir Maepa, was quoted as saying the job action will result in no movement between South Africa and other countries.
“This means that 75 percent of our members will be going on strike and this will result in no movement between any other countries and South Africa,” he said.
If the no movement is effected as stated by the union leaders, it means Beitbridge will be closed for the day posing serious movement problems not only for Zimbabwe but for the rest of the region. Beitbridge handles more than 3 500 vehicles and 9 000 people on average on a daily basis.
The number of people can soar to 25 000 per day during holidays.
South Africa is also Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner and most goods traded between the two countries pass through the border post. Apart from Zimbabwe, the border also serves as a gateway to goods coming from countries north of Zimbabwe destined for South Africa and vice-versa.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee chairperson on Foreign Affairs Cde Kindness Paradza said if the strike goes ahead, it will have far reaching effects, not only on Zimbabwe but other countries.
He said the closure of the border post will cost billions of dollars to a number of countries that rely on the port of entry for trade.
“The Beitbridge Border Post is the busiest port of entry in Sub-Sahara Africa. So the strike will not only affect Zimbabwe but other countries north of Zimbabwe. It will cost billions of dollars, not only to Zimbabwe but other countries as well,” he said.
Cde Paradza expressed hope that the strike will be averted.
“From our view as the foreign affairs relations committee, we feel the South African Home Affairs Department should resolve this matter amicably,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Cde Obedingwa Mguni said he was optimistic South Africa will handle the situation and avoid the worst case scenario where the border will be closed. He said the Zimbabwean Government was not fretting over the strike.
“We can’t press the panic button yet. South African laws are as good as ours and do not allow immigration and customs officials and police to go on strike. The strike may only go as far as a go slow. In any case we are optimistic the South African government will deal with the matter amicably,” he said.
Cross border traders, most of who buy goods in South Africa for resale in Zimbabwe will be the hardest hit by the strike, while some local retailers will also be affected.
Although Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association president Dr Killer Zivhu could not be reached for a comment, it is estimated the association has more than 7 000 members use the border post to cross into South Africa.
Over the years there have also been an increase in the number of transport operators plying between the two countries, a sign of the growing number of people travelling through the border.