Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
GOVERNMENT has acquired drones for surveillance and patrolling of the country’s porous borders as part of efforts to capacitate security personnel in addressing security challenges posed by border jumpers and smugglers.
Border jumpers and smugglers have also been identified as groups that contribute to the spread of Covid-19 by avoiding compulsory quarantine and testing.
The development comes as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in Zimbabwe with most of the local transmissions blamed on returnees from other countries who are skipping the border to evade mandatory quarantine.
In the wake of the outbreak of the virus and as part of precautionary measures, all returning residents into the country are subject to mandatory quarantine at designated centres to allow them to be screened and tested for the novel virus before going home.
However, a spike in the number of returnees going straight to their homes after jumping the border, especially from South Africa and Mozambique, taking advantage of the expansive and porous border between Zimbabwe and the two counties is giving authorities headaches.
The defence forces and the police are involved in joint border patrols to curb the illegal border crossings by returning residents, which have reportedly been on the increase since the closure of the official borders in March as part of measures to contain the global pandemic. Smuggling, ineffective border controls and customs loopholes at Beitbridge Border Post are costing the Government nearly a US$1 billion a year in unpaid customs duty. The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, one of Zimbabwe’s largest business lobby groups, said research and market surveillance had shown that the country might be losing an estimated US$80 million monthly due to porous borders, lax customs and security systems, translating to almost US$1 billion annually.
Customs duty is one of Zimbabwe’s largest sources of tax revenue, along with individual tax, accounting for billions of dollars in annual State revenue that finances key Government programmes and pays civil servants.
Zimbabwe has borders with South Africa (255km), Botswana (813km), Mozambique (1 231km) and Zambia (767km) adding up to a stretch of 3 066km.
Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe, who is on a countrywide tour of facilities falling under his ministry, yesterday told the Chronicle that the borders would be adequately patrolled using drones.
He said although the problem of smuggling is common at many of Zimbabwe’s ports of entry, the vice was more widespread and entrenched at Beitbridge, the country and region’s busiest inland port of entry that connects the continent’s north and south trade corridors with Africa’s largest economy, South Africa.
“We have increased deployment of security personnel along our borders, especially in Beitbridge where smuggling and border jumping are rampant. We are aware the border stretch is quite long and therefore, it is impossible to have adequate manpower at each and every point,” he said.
“We have beefed up security personnel, but over and above that, we are also in the process of deploying new technologies and so far Treasury has bought drones to be used to patrol those areas and we have also requested from the Treasury for them to buy us vehicles that will be deployed there.”
Minister Kazembe also warned members of the public who harbour border jumpers and quarantine centre escapees, saying they risk being arrested and prosecuted.
“In view of the pandemic, as Zimbabweans we need to work with police and immigration Those who harbour relatives who would have jumped the border risk being prosecuted. People coming from outside through border jumping should be reported immediately as they fuel the pandemic,” he said.
“There is need to protect each other from the spread of coronavirus.” — @mashnets