A passport issuing office has been opened in Beitbridge town as the Government presses ahead with plans to decentralise critical services nationwide and most people in the area reckon that with passports readily available a lot of the illegal travel to South Africa will become legal.
Before the new office opened, residents from the district would travel to Gwanda, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Gweru, and Harare to access passport services.
Beitbridge is one of the busiest inland border posts within SADC where up to 15 000 travellers pass through the port on a normal day with numbers rising to 35 000 during peak periods. The district has an estimated 250 000 residents in both the urban and rural components.
The majority of the local people need to move across the border frequently for business and family reunions, with the colonial border splitting a community that stretched along both sides of the Limpopo River.
So most need passports. And among the flood of travellers each day are Zimbabweans based in Eswatini, Lesotho, and South Africa many of whom need to renew their passport upon entering the country, since that is one reason for their travel.
An official at the local passport office who spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday that they were carrying out a test run pending the official opening of the facility.
“We started a test run last week, this will enable us to fix any teething challenges before the official opening. The response from the community is overwhelming and we have been able to measure up to the task,” said the official.
Residents, and travellers who use the Beitbridge Border Post commended the new dispensation for delivering on its pre-election promises.
Mr Gift Munyai from the Fula area in Beitbridge East constituency some 80km outside the border town said the community was very excited to have a passport office on their doorstep.
He said the opening of the office was a testimony that the Government was serious about fully implementing the devolution concept that seeks to spread services and economic development opportunities to every part of the country.
“The passport office is going to assist us a lot. We really appreciate what the government has done,” said Mr Munyai.
“You will note that, most of the people were resorting to irregular migration (border jumping), not by choice, but due to limited access to such services and now that will be a thing of the past.
In addition, some people previously experienced accommodation challenges while travelling to other towns to apply for passports. Now they will just travel from any part of Beitbridge and access these critical services and return to their homes within a few hours,” said Mr Munyai.
Miss Tracey Shoko of Masera some 60km west of the border town said the opening of a passport office within their reach was a relief to most women. Women had been the hardest hit, especially those involved in cross-border-related activities, and were failing to travel formally due to challenges relating to accessing passports.
A villager from Madaulo area, some 100 km east of Beitbridge, Mr Isaac Mbedzi said,” We are happy with the efforts being made by the government in fixing service delivery challenges.
Travelling from this place to Beitbridge town and another urban area like Harare or Bulawayo had become a headache for many members of the community”.
Ms Sibusisiwe Muleya from the Umzingwane area some 50km along the Beitbridge to Bulawayo road said the availability of a passport office in the area was a motivation for many people to travel formally to other countries.
She said some people would become venerable to abuse after travelling to other countries without valid travel documents.
“I am glad that the improved access to this critical travel document will address some social protection issues the migrants were facing in other countries,” she said.
Mr Zondani Mbedzi of Malungudzi area, some 115km east of the border town, said Government had timeously intervened to minimize cases of border jumping.
He said in some instances people were finding it hard to travel for over 400km to apply for a passport so that they may visit a relative some 20km away south of the Limpopo River.
“We are happy that the Government is fulfilling its promises and it is pleasing to note that they are also rolling out a mobile civil registration programme,” said Mr Mbedzi.
Mrs Bona Shoko of Headman Tsethana area said the improved access to critical services would help minimize the abuse of women who are often taken advantage of by strangers when they seek accommodation after travelling for longer distances to get services. Herald