E-passort centre relief for Beitbridge residents People waiting to be served at the Beitbridge passport office

Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Bureau 

THE new e-passport bio-enrolment centre in Beitbridge opened last month has brought relief to the Beitbridge community and thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa who used to incur costs travelling to Bulawayo, Gwanda and Harare for passports. 

The opening of the facility is in line with the Second Republic’s vision to bring services closer to the people across the country. Government by decentralising passport services to all district centres is fulfilling what President Mnangagwa promised when launched the e-passport bio-enrolment centre in Murehwa.President Mnangagwa said similar services will be offered in Zambia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia and in the Middle East. He said work has already started in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town as part of efforts by Government to assist citizens in the neighbouring country to acquire the documents.

E-passports are issued in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Chitungwiza, Hwange, Lupane, Beitbridge and Murehwa. The ultimate goal is for all the 59 districts to offer the service.The Beitbridge-passport bio-enrolment centre has ignited excitement among residents who used to travel to other towns and cities to access the services. Beitbridge is one of the busiest inland borders within the Sadc region where close to 15 000 travellers pass through the port daily. 

The number increases to 35 000 during peak periods and the area has an estimated 250 000 residents in both the urban and rural areas. By virtue of its geographical location, residents of the border town are into cross-border related businesses hence a passport is a necessity.

In separate interviews, residents and travellers who use the Beitbridge Border Post commended the Second Republic for delivering on its promises. Local traditional leader, Chief Sitauze said the local community is excited about Government’ bold decision to bring the e-passport office to their doorstep. “We are impressed with this development as a community. It’s a relief for Beitbridge residents who had to travel to other towns to access such a facility,” he said.“It is quite encouraging to note that the Government is walking the talk and is serious about fully implementing the devolution concept through decentralising key services to districts.”

Chief Sitauze said he is optimistic that the opening of the passport office will reduce irregular migration.“Most people resorted to border jumping, not by choice but due to limited access to such services. It is my hope that we will see more and more people in this region opting for safe migration by acquiring travel documents,” he said. 

President Mnangagwa

Ms Roita Mbedzi of Tshaswingo in Beitbridge said: “We are very grateful that after so many years of lobbying, the Government has finally come to our rescue by opening this passports office. People like us from rural areas can now access the services without hassles.”Ms Mbedzi said prior to the latest development, women involved in cross-border business were the most affected resulting in some of them resorting to using illegal crossing points.A villager from Bishopstone, Ms Sizakele Dube, who spoke to the news crew yesterday said she managed to apply for her passport within three hours.

“We are happy with the efforts being made by the Government in terms of service delivery. Travelling from the rural areas to Beitbridge town and then proceeding to either Bulawayo or Harare was a headache for many,” she said.

Another resident, Ms Mavis Siwela of Dulivhadzimu suburb said the new facility comes in handy for Zimbabweans with expired passports and those seeking new ones.“The opening of the new passport office in Beitbridge is a relief for some of us with relatives based in neighbouring countries such as South Africa, Lesotho and eSwatini who want to renew their travel documents,” she said.Mr Raniel Muvhali Ndou of Tshidixwa suburb said the availability of a passport office in the border town will motivate people to desist from using undesignated crossing points along the crocodile infested Limpopo River.“I am glad that the improved access to this critical travel document will address the issue of border jumping. We have several cases of people who lost their lives while trying to illegal cross to South Africa. Some were attacked by crocodiles while other fell prey to criminals operating in bushy areas along the Limpopo River,” he said.

Beitbridge mayor, councillor Munyaradzi Chitsunge

Beitbridge Mayor, councillor Munyaradzi Chitsunge said the Government had eased the burden on both locals and people from neighbouring districts.“This is a welcome development for us as a municipality as we walk through the path of transformation and modernisation. Our residents no longer spend money travelling to other towns to apply for passports,” he said.President Mnangagwa launched the new secure electronic passport at Chiwashira Building in Harare in December last year. Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in Africa producing e-passports.The electronic passport is in line with the global shift towards biometric data-based identity and travel documents.

An e-passport contains an electronic chip, which holds the same information that is printed on the passport’s data page, which include the holder’s name, date of birth and other biographic information.The document also contains a biometric identifier. All of these features are designed to protect citizens from identity theft. 

E-passports also allow for faster passage at border posts. — @tupeyoMN

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