A truck and trailer drives into a Beitbridge customs and immigration control point on the South African border with Zimbabwe. File photo: REUTERS
A truck and trailer drives into a Beitbridge customs and immigration control point on the South African border with Zimbabwe. File photo: REUTERS

Blowing R37m on rolls of razor wire for a new border fence between SA and Zimbabwe is in many ways a metaphor for how SA has dealt with the implosion of its northern neighbour over the years: a knee-jerk, haphazard job that has cost us dearly.

The latest experiment in border management should hardly surprise us. But it’s another depressing sign that SA is nowhere close to really dealing with its biggest foreign-policy failure since democracy: how to properly manage the movement of people between our two states. Ostensibly to prevent the spread of Covid-19, closing the borders has simply worsened a desperate situation for Zimbabweans who rely on being able to travel to and from SA to buy food at prices that aren’t extortionate.

The fence itself, built in recent weeks, has done little to halt determined border hoppers and smugglers. We don’t know how many Zimbabweans work in SA — estimates vary wildly — but SA should be open to its hard-working neighbours in a way that benefits both countries. Key to that is strong, fair, border management.

It would surely give the tax authorities a better handle on what it can expect from economically active citizens. And it might just help diminish the xenophobia that periodically rips through SA communities. What’s clear is that a porous R37m fence isn’t the answer.

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