Beitbridge – It’s many a Beitbridge border crosser’s guilty secret: employ a tout.
Though it’s illegal, many travellers – mostly those travelling in private vehicles – are so overwhelmed by the confusion when they reach the Zimbabwe side of southern Africa’s busiest crossing point that they turn to the touts offering to get them through the mayhem as quickly as possible.
Now those touts (and there are many) are asking up to $100 each for their services, says a prominent opposition official.
Writing on his blog, Eddie Cross recounts the moment last week when touts approached him and his wife upon arrival in Zimbabwe. He turned down the offer of their services, but not before they had a chance to tell him their hefty price.
Cross said: “We get out the car and are immediately surrounded by touts who offer to take our documents and clear them for us while we wait – for $100. They point to the queue and say that we need help. I push through the group and say no, we will do this on our own.”
Zimbabwe’s average wage – for those lucky enough to have a job – is around $250 a month.
Sinking hearts of drivers
Not so many years ago (say in 2009 and in 2010) the touts’ charges were more like $15 to $20. But like so many other things in cash-strapped Zimbabwe, the prices have apparently gone up as touts anticipate the sinking hearts of drivers desperate to do anything they can to avoid the queues, the overworked and sometimes hostile officials and the less-than-welcoming ambience.
Zimbabwe’s controversial new regulations on imports from South Africa – which sparked riots in Beitbridge two months ago – have reportedly added to the confusion at the crossing point.
Anecdotal evidence from those who regularly use the border has confirmed the climb in touts’ fees over the last few years.
Horror tales abound of touts disappearing with their clients’ passports once they’ve been handed their cash and then demanding a ‘top-up’ fee to return them.
Zimbabwe’s state media in June called on President Robert Mugabe’s government to “address the chaos at Beitbridge.”
Holidaymakers have told News24 they prefer to avoid Beitbridge altogether by using the Plumtree border point and including Botswana on their South Africa to Zimbabwe route. This is longer time-wise but the border congestion is usually less.