Monday, December 23, 2019

EDITORIAL COMMENT: South Africa Must Guarantee Cross-border Safety
 23 DEC, 2019 - 00:12
Zimbabwe Herald

There is an urgent need for South African authorities to ensure greater safety of and protection for cross-border shoppers, and travellers, who contribute to the growth of their economy on a daily basis.

In the lead-up to this festive season, numerous robberies have been reported on the NI Highway — the major route linking Zimbabwe and countries to the north with major cities of Musina, Polokwane and Johannesburg in South Africa.

Robbers know that cross-border travellers have money and that their shopping can be offloaded on the informal sector in South Africa or disposed of in various other ways.

While the majority of those robbed are Zimbabweans, there are also Malawians and Zambians,  among the victims.

A familiar pattern to these robberies emerges — robbers trail a cross-border bus departing Park Station in Johannesburg on its way north.

Somewhere before it makes the Beitbridge Border Post, it is intercepted and its passengers robbed of their shopping, money and other valuables.

It must have become evident to the South African authorities that the number of robberies targeting cross-border buses has been on the increase and they ought to have adopted a proactive approach.

The problem is only showing a spike during the festive season because like everyone else, the robbers wish to have a Merry Christmas, even though this will be at the expense of others.

While some of the buses are fitted with cameras, which help in the identification of suspects, the focus really should be on prevention.

There is no available evidence that arrests of the robbery suspects is correspondingly increasing.

There is also no evidence of the victims being offered counselling to help them cope with the ordeal and trauma of being robbed either at gun or knife-point.

The victims are left to experience recurrent nightmares on their own without skills to cope with the traumas. Having buses fitted with cameras only works as a deterrent to an extent.

However, in the majority of cases criminals tend to be ahead of law enforcement, although eventually they end up being caught.

A much more effective deterrent measure would be for the South African police to have regular highway patrol teams policing the NI Highway.

This way their visibility will make it harder for the criminals to mount raids on cross-border buses and their passengers with such regularity.

An additional proactive measure would be for the bus operators to ensure their employees are properly vetted.

This argument is made because evidence suggests that bus crews could be working in cahoots with some of the robbers.

In this case “faults” on buses are faked in order to allow the robbers time to catch up with the buses and carry out the raids.

Bus operators could also consider having their buses fitted with panic alarms which can be activated once the bus drivers believe an attack is imminent.

This could be linked to the N1 Highway police patrol teams or private security companies for rapid reactions.

The police highway patrols or security companies could also be stationed at strategic points along the N1 Highway.

It is unlikely that cross-border travellers concerned about the security situation will fly, they are more likely to go to Botswana or Namibia.

In that case, South Africa would be the eventual loser.

While the wheels of bureaucracy tend to turn slowly, the South African Embassy in Zimbabwe could help the Department of International Relations to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

It would be tragic for action to be taken only after lives have been lost in the process of being robbed.

It is not as if all the cross-border shoppers and travellers have inexhaustible resources. Some save for months ahead of undertaking the shopping trips.

And to have to lose their money and the proceeds of their hard-earned effort is heart-rending. The loss can have a devastating impact, financially and psychologically.

There is need, therefore, for a swift response by South African authorities in order to ensure the safety and security of cross-border shoppers and travellers, who support businesses in that country through purchases they make and the lodgings in which they put  up.

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