ZIMBABWE – Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans based in South Africa failed to travel home during the just ended festive season owing to the poor performance of the rand that saw the number of travellers dropping by 42 percent compared to 2014.
Official figures in The Herald’s possession reveal that the volume of travellers who passed through Beitbridge Border Post in December last year dropped from 1,1 million in 2014 to 680 000.
Investigations have also revealed that Zimbabweans based in South Africa were sceptical of returning home for fear of getting stranded during the festive season as the rand showed no signs of quick recovery.
Zimbabwe uses a multi-currency system dominated by the United States dollar and the South African rand. The rand has been steadily losing value against the UD dollar of late, resulting in Zimbabweans rejecting rand coins.
During the last festive season, one needed 15 rand to buy $1, while in 2014 it cost 9 rand to buy the same US dollar unit.
The Department of Immigration revealed that 680 000 Zimbabweans, inclusive of arrivals and departures, used the border post for the whole of December in 2015 compared to 1,1 million during the same period in 2014.
Statistics also show that during the 2015 festive period, 362 693 people entered the country compared to 471 895 who visited the same period in 2014.
Sources at the border said 103 000 vehicles used the border post in 2015 compared to 99 000 motorists in 2014, indicating a 3 percent increase.
“The highest volume of vehicles was around 5 000 on December 21. The figure includes both arrivals and departures. An average of 2 000 cars pass through the border during off peak periods per day,” said one of the sources.
The assistant regional immigration officer in charge of Beitbridge, Mr Notius Tarisai, was not available for comment yesterday although he said in a recent interview that they were fully prepared for the festive season traffic.
“We have come up with a raft of measures to clear an increase in both human and vehicular traffic between December and January.
“We have opened up more clearing points and separated traffic to avoid clogging the border,” he said.
A total of 450 conmen and touts and 147 illegal vendors were rounded up by police around the border during the same period.
In separates interviews yesterday, travellers said Zimbabweans who failed to travel in December used international money transfer agencies to send money home.
“The variance between the US dollar and the South African rand resulted in most of my friends opting to send money home through bank transfers and other international money transfer agencies,” said Mr Norman Tshuma who is based in Pretoria.
“You will note that it is cheaper to send R3 000 through the bank or a money transfer agency than using the same money to travel to Zimbabwe considering the continued weakening of the rand.
“If you are driving you will need R5 000 for fuel and border levies from Johannesburg to Bulawayo and hence sending that money via the bank is better than driving to Zimbabwe,” he said.
Another traveller, Mr Tawanda Moyo, who is based in Polokwane, said his friends decided to send him home with money to their relatives in Chiredzi which is cheaper than travelling for the holidays.
“It is better for one to stay in South Africa where the rand has power than travel to Zimbabwe where its value is easily eroded. For instance, if you convert R100 at the rate of $1 to R15 you get $6,50 and that would leave most of us with low buying power,” he said.
Echoing the same sentiments were local taxi operators who said business was low during the festive season.
“In previous years we could pocket an average of $70 per day during peak periods like December, but last year you were luck if you got between $30 and $40 per day,” said a taxi driver identified only as John.
By the end of the day traffic had also increased at the border, mainly on the departure side as many Zimbabweans returned to their bases in South Africa.
There were long queues of both people and vehicles.