Unscrupulous immigration officers employed by the Department of Home Affairs at the Beitbridge port of entry are working in cahoots with touts and bus drivers in the sale of entry stamps to desperate travellers visiting South Africa from Zimbabwe.
A New Age team working under cover witnessed a traveller, who had been denied entry into the country, returning with a tout and able to pay an immigration official R200 in exchange for a 30-day visitor’s visa.
According to VFS Global, the company contracted by the department to process visa applications, Zimbabweans are visa exempt if they are visiting the country for 90 days or less on business or tourism purposes.
However, in terms of the scam Zimbabwean passport holders are granted the bare minimum days, in some cases three days, rather than the 90 days entry allowed.
According to the touts this creates a situation where immigration officials are bribed to grant a visitor the full 90 days entry stamp.
Undercover video footage taken by the news team on Saturday shows a female tout tucking two R100 notes into the traveller’s passport before walking straight to the immigration counter. In less than a minute, the traveller was granted permission to stay in the country for 30 days and he headed straight to the exit gate.
“I’ve had to pay R200 to get 30 days because I had been denied any days. They told me I wouldn’t be able to get days because I was in South Africa on Thursday. I was left with no choice but to pay the money so that I can go and do business in Louis Trichardt,” he said.
Another immigration officer approached after the exchange explained that a visitor could not be allowed back into the country before they spent seven days in their own country of residence.
On Friday evening, this news team walked straight through the border gate to the immigration desk without any form of identification and were approached by two male touts.
“I can get you 90 days stamped on your passport, but I charge R600 for that because I’ve to pay an immigration official that I work with. Don’t be afraid, I’ll go with you to the counter and we won’t have to queue,” the tout, who identified himself as Elias said.
Elias said he successfully bribed officials for clients at least 15 times a day. According to home affairs statistics, 20000 people cross the Beitbridge border every day.
On Saturday, the news crew met five other agents involved in the same illicit business.
A cross-border trader, who operates between Zimbabwe and Johannesburg, said she often paid bus drivers to get days even when she exceeded her 90 days.
“I often pay for days because I spend an average of a month in Johannesburg where I sell Zimbabwe products. When my days are finished I go back home for stock. So I usually give a bus driver money and they pay the immigration officials on my behalf,” she said.
A bus driver with a renowned cross-border transport company also confirmed he was able to facilitate the issuing of a 30-day visitor’s visa.
On Friday, the African Diaspora Forum independently asked its members who had previously paid for days, to come forward and report it so they could take up the issue with the Department of Home Affairs.
The forum chairperson Marc Gbaffou said the issue was disappointing and needed urgent attention from authorities.
“There has to be a clear policy to determine how days are given otherwise we will always have a situation whereby immigration officers abuse the system for their gain,” he said.
Gbaffou also warned foreign nationals to desist from taking advantage of the loopholes in the system.
“You don’t come to South Africa and when you see some loopholes you abuse them. People must refrain from such practices.”
Limpopo police spokesperson Lt Col Moatshe Ngoepe said they were not aware of the border corruption and had never arrested anyone in connection with it.
Zimbabwe consul general, Henry Mukonoweshuro, however, said they had raised the issue with the cross-border migration management stakeholders forum. The forum includes immigration, the police, social services and other line ministries from Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“We have raised that issue at the cross-border stakeholders forum and we were basically asking why they don’t give people reasonable days if they explain what they are coming to do. We know at the airport you’re given 90 days but at the border the officials use their discretion,” Mukonoweshuro said.