BY EDWARD BULE
Amidst fears of the fast-spreading Coronavirus currently ravaging the world, police in the north eastern block of the country continue to arrest several illegal immigrants who are found to have crossed in to Botswana at ungazetted areas along the Botswana-Zimbabwe border line.
This series of events are worrisome, according to authorities, especially given the measures government has been putting up to prevent the spread of corona virus.
So far over 100 illegal immigrants have been nabbed with some claiming to be on their way to go and take up employment at some places within Botswana, Senior Superintendent Officer Commanding No. 15 District-Francistown, Kabo Gape Badirwang has said.
He revealed that a lot of the Zimbabweans they apprehended were actually on their way returning to where they had been before. Those presumably coming in for the first time were found to have phone numbers of their would-be hosts. “Some of them would say they were actually on their way to South Africa or Gaborone when we arrested them,’’ lamented Badirwang.
The recent reports of cases of Corona virus in Zimbabwe have sent shivers down the spines of many including community leaders in the border villages, escalating the discomfort Botswana has had with Zimbabwe illegal immigrants for decades.
Kgosi Ngocha Habangana of Mapoka, also in the border with Zimbabwe, is of the view that government should intensify border patrols to end or minimise border fence jumping into the country. Ramokgwebana border post, like all the other legal entry points into Botswana, are closed to non-essential non citizens and some from Zimbabwe have resorted to seeking other areas along the border where they cross undetected.
“Nobody knows when this thing will end. We are vulnerable because very soon we will die,” said Kgosi Habangana who also expressed disappointment with those who harbour illegal immigrants.
Another worried community leader is Kgosi Mukani Mudongo of Nlapkhwane village, also a border village near Zimbabwe. “As community leaders here at Nlapkhwane village, we are trying our best to empower our people with knowledge on the coronavirus with the view to kill the many dangerous myths that have persisted. However, illegal border fence jumpers remain a problem.
“There has been a spate of break-ins here and most of the time tracks led to the destroyed border fences. In some cases, some of the goods were discovered inexplicably discarded by the border fence. The problem with these people is that, they travel at night or in the wee hours of the morning,” Kgosi Mudongo said.
What also worries him is the movement of people from his village into Zimbabwe usually also as border jumpers. Mudongo cannot rule out information from the Police that border patrols have been increased as an intervention measure against the spread of the virus.
Kgosi George Moroka of Moroka village in the North East District (NED) is also very conscious of the existential threat and the risk the border fence jumpers pose to the community and country at large.
“The traffic is not only one way where the Zimbabweans come here, those already this side also cross to check on their relatives. After crossing into the villages where it is clear that some villagers harbour and conceal them, the border jumpers then proceed to Francistown or beyond to look for work.
“As a leader, I have so far held two (2) kgotla meetings with health officials to capacitate the community with information on precautionary measures against the disease. We also appeal to our people to not give accommodation to the illegal border fence jumpers,” said Kgosi George Moroka.
He explained that because Botswana shares borders with Zimbabwe and given the economic situation in Zimbabwe, this has resulted in a lot of illegal movement between the two countries.
But Superintendent Badirwang is adamant police have the siatuation under control.
“It cannot be business as usual. Our mandate as Botswana Police Service is to protect lives and property. We have intensified our patrol activities here to protect lives within the context of the coronavirus. We stop and search vehicles.
“What I find disappointing, which I think people should desist from doing with immediate effect, is their willingness to harbour foreigners and give them employment at their farms with the full knowledge that they are illegal immigrants and could be carriers of the virus,” said the police chief.