How I bribed my way home to Zimbabwe (for Christmas)

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – Braving winding border queues and bumper to bumper streams of traffic from South Africa to Zimbabwe, thousands of Zimbabwean travellers have made it home for the holidays. A regional gateway for cargo and road travellers to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),  more than 20,000 festive travellers per day pass through the congested Musina-Beitbridge checkpoint.

Over 3,000,000 Zimbabweans are estimated to live in South Africa and under the Zimbabwe Special Permit dispensation, so far close to 250,000 people are eligible to apply for an extension before the year ends. But not everyone is covered by the visa and many ineligible Zimbabwean migrants work casual jobs on the ordinary tourist visa or as undocumented labourers. Journeying across the Limpopo River for Christmas, two Zimbabwean travellers told The Daily Vox of their experiences of petty corruption at the border:

 Danai Mafongoya,* 48

A few months ago I was hired as a nanny to look after a baby girl in Johannesburg because her parents want her to speak Shona like her father. I haven’t been back to Zimbabwe since I left and I’m now going home to Zvishavane (350 km southwest of the capital) for the Christmas holidays.

I came without a passport.

I took a kombi (minibus taxi) from Park Station and when we got to Musina others got down and those without passports stayed in the car. The lines were so long it took six hours for people to get through the stamping. When the South African police were doing their searches, they didn’t search our kombi because the drivers had paid them. When they came to the car they were given their money because we had each paid R100 to cross.

I have a passport, but it was not sent back to me on time from Zimbabwe, but when I go back to work on 3 January, I will have my passport with me. However the South Africans will only give me a few days, they are so harsh they don’t even give you the 30 days you are supposed to get. The next time I go back I will have to start looking for a work permit, but they say it’s very difficult to get.

Matipa Kamba, 33

I was trying to get home to Zimbabwe for Christmas from Cape Town, but it was difficult to get a bus because most buses were fully booked and there were long queues at the Cape Town bus station.

My visa was expiring soon so I had to leave South Africa or face a penalty.

Flights were just too expensive so I tried to get the cheap bus, but I ended up taking an expensive bus. The tickets from Cape Town to Johannesburg had doubled from R400 and I paid R800 then from Johannesburg to Bulawayo tickets had jumped from R450 to R1,300 on the local ones and the cheapest Zimbabwean coach was R850.

Before we left Jo’burg the driver told us we were not allowed to carry things like rice, cooking oil and other foods, but somebody on our bus tried to smuggle the food. The Zimbabwean border police in found the hidden stuff during their search and there was a problem. The person had to talk to the driver to talk to the cops. He paid them something then they let the bus pass. It wasn’t a big deal, but it delayed our journey by a few hours because they were not going to clear the bus without getting something.

People don’t know there’s now a clampdown on foodstuffs and many will probably have to pay the guards. At least the drivers help, it’s better to pay than to be stuck at the border.

As told to Tendai Marima.

* name changed

Tendai Marima is a freelance journalist and academic researcher. Follow her on Twitter