Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Bureau
THE new bio-registration center for e-passports in Beitbridge, which opened last month, has brought relief to the community of Beitbridge and thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa who previously incurred the cost of traveling to Bulawayo, Gwanda and Harare for passports .
The opening of the facility aligns with the Second Republic’s vision of bringing services closer to people across the country. By decentralizing passport services to all district centers, the government is fulfilling what President Mnangagwa promised when he opened the E-Passport Bio-Registration Center in Murehwa. President Mnangagwa said similar services are being offered in Zambia, Britain, the United States and Australia and the Middle East. He said work has already started in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town as part of the government’s effort to help citizens in the neighboring country obtain the documents.
E-passports are issued in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Chitungwiza, Hwange, Lupane, Beitbridge and Murehwa. The ultimate goal is that all 59 districts provide this service. The Beitbridge Passport Bioregistration Center has sparked excitement among residents who previously traveled to other cities to access the services. Beitbridge is one of the busiest internal borders in the Sadc region, with almost 15,000 travelers passing through the port every day.
At peak times the number rises to 35,000 and the area is estimated to have a population of 250,000 in both urban and rural areas. Because of its geographic location, the border town’s residents engage in cross-border business, so a passport is required.
In separate interviews, residents and travelers using the Beitbridge Border Post commended the Second Republic for delivering on its promises. Local traditional leader, Chief Sitauze, said the local community was excited by the government’s bold decision to bring the e-passport office to their doorstep. “As a community, we are impressed by this development. It’s a relief to Beitbridge residents who have had to travel to other cities to access such a facility,” he said. “It is quite encouraging to see that the government is keeping their word and is serious about fully implementing the decentralization concept by decentralizing key services to the districts.”
Chief Sitauze said he was optimistic that the opening of the passport office will reduce irregular migration. I hope that more and more people in this region will choose safe migration by purchasing travel documents,” he said.
Ms Roita Mbedzi of Tshaswingo in Beitbridge said: “We are very grateful that after so many years of lobbying the Government has finally come to our rescue by opening this passport office. People like us from rural areas can now easily access the services.” Prior to the recent development, Ms Mbedzi said women involved in cross-border deals have been hardest hit, leading some of them to resort to illegal border crossings . A Bishopstone villager, Ms Sizakele Dube, who spoke to the news team yesterday, said she managed to apply for her passport within three hours.
“We are pleased with the government’s efforts in terms of service delivery. Traveling from the rural areas to the city of Beitbridge and then continuing on to either Bulawayo or Harare was a headache for many,” she said.
Another resident, Ms Mavis Siwela, from the Dulivhadzimu suburb, said the new facility would be convenient for Zimbabweans with expired passports and those looking for new ones. “The opening of the new passport office in Beitbridge is a relief for some of us with relatives in neighboring countries like South Africa, Lesotho and eSwatini who want to renew their travel documents,” she told the crocodile-infested Limpopo River. “I am pleased that the improved access to this critical travel document addresses the border-jumping issue. We have several cases of people who have lost their lives trying to enter South Africa illegally. Some were attacked by crocodiles while others fell victim to criminals operating in bush areas along the Limpopo River,” he said.
Beitbridge Mayor Councilor Munyaradzi Chitsunge said the government had eased the burden on both local people and people from neighboring counties. “This is a welcome development for us as a community on the path of transformation and modernization. Our residents no longer spend money to travel to other cities to apply for passports,” he said. President Mnangagwa introduced the new secure e-passport at the Chiwashira building in Harare in December last year. Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in Africa that produces electronic passports. The electronic passport is in line with the global trend towards identity and travel documents based on biometric data.
An e-passport contains an electronic chip that contains the same information printed on the passport’s data page, including the holder’s name, date of birth, and other biographical information. The document also contains a biometric identifier. All of these features are designed to protect citizens from identity theft.
E-passports also allow for faster passage at border posts. — @tupeyoMN