Today was one of those dreaded “border post” days. After my six-hour experience at the Ramokgwebana/Plumtree border just before Christmas, any mention of the word “border” makes me break out into a sweat. Half borne out of fear and the other from knowing how hot and tedius it can be! I tend to dawdle at the best of times, but when something harrowing is waiting for me I tend to stall matters for as long as possible. Needless to say I stopped along the road countless times to photograph baobab trees and grass huts en-route from Bubi River and only arrived at the Beitbridge border at around noon. Not clever timing it turned out!
However, I was pleasantly surprised on the Zimbabwe side, it only took me 15 minutes! I had to hand in my Temporary Import Permit, pay a US$10 bridge toll (my last US$10, phew!) and fend off a chap who was insistent that I needed him to be my personal guide through the immigration building passageways. I tried telling him that his services were not needed as I had been through three border posts during my trip, so was now a pro! He was still unamused when I offered him a meager R5 back at the car, despite him having been more of a hindrance than a help. I trundled off to the South African side, marveling at the bridge over the Limpopo River and feeling quite smug at how quick it all had been. But no, it was not going to be that simple, as I found out on the other side…
First off, I was told by a waving man in a bright yellow vest to park with the lorries. This resulted in me having to walk a good 20 minutes in the heat to the immigration buildings, only to find plenty of parking spaces. Then I was pointed in all sorts of directions before finding where I needed to be. Round the back of the building, past the temporary “immigration tents” and to a queue a mile long. I immediately regretted not bringing my hat or water (the walk back to the car to fetch these items would’ve killed me and I would’ve lost my place in the queue). The queue shuffled along and I thought progress was being made fairly well. I got into the building and before me was a square with throngs of people snaked around it, trying to hug the small bits of shade. Then the queue stopped moving. The sun had no mercy on us borderlings. My face gradually turned red and my hair was wet with perspiration. If anyone asks, I got my tan at Beitbridge Border.
To make matters worse, there was no separate queue for returning residents and only about five border officials to deal with the masses. People were jumping the queue, different queues were being formed for bus passengers and I had visions of there being another teargasing episode. Thankfully there was a water fountain, which to me was the only decently functioning thing on the premises! When I eventually got to the counter a sour-faced female official who had clearly had enough of stamping little travelling books all day growled at me. I yelped, handed over my passport and ran. It had taken over two hours (and it could’ve taken much longer, but I am not going to go into that) and as I left the building the queues were going down the road. I felt sorry for them all as they were probably there for days (some people have been stuck at Beitbridge for days on end) in the heat. Only to be met by a grumpy, unhelpful official (who shouldn’t be grumpy, at least there’s aircon in there!) who will probably find some reason to send them back to Zimbabwe, sans groceries from Messina. Up your game South Africa, it’s the busiest border post and it’s you guys who are holding things up. Your attitude is not helping either.
I was also cynically amused to see that the first sign on the South African side said “No stopping – high crime area”. What a cheerful welcome to the Limpopo province! For the first time in weeks I locked my doors and wound the window half-way up.
Now I have never liked the N1. To me it must be the dullest road to travel upon. Even the windmills have lost their heads. Then to add insult to injury, there are countless toll plazas. They give them fancy names, like Capricorn Plaza and Baobab Plaza (gasp, how could they!) and they charge fancy toll fees too. I was completely unprepared for the amount of money I would fork out between Messina and Johannesburg. It came close to R200! That’s almost half a tank of fuel for me. Are these people crazy? What do we pay taxes for? And why are other national roads, like the N12 and N14, in such good condition (and infinitely more pleasurable to drive) with no tolls? My mood got more and more thunderous with each toll plaza (some of them demand R38 for goodness sake!) and I made a mental note to fly to Jo’burg and join my Gauteng friends at the next protest against the proposed e-tolling. It really cannot be allowed to happen, things are bad enough already.
I will stop ranting now, but suffice to say that between a rotten border post, miserable border post officials, “high crime” signs and shocking toll fees, my first day back in South Africa wasn’t going well! Thankfully there was a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a good friend who was so excited about seeing me that she sent out a “missing person alert” amongst my friends as she hadn’t heard from me for a few days. This resulted in my cousins in Botswana receiving countless Facebook emails from other concerned parties asking if they knew where I was and almost resulted in the police being called to start a search party. Thankfully I happened to send an irate text from the Beitbridge border post saying “I could be stuck here for days” otherwise nationwide panic may have ensued! Never underestimate the power of social media, especially if you disappear off it.
So the day ended happily with many hugs and many beers, a platter of sushi and a welcome hot shower. Bless friends – without them you could be sweaty, hungry and lost somewhere in the middle of Africa searching for a beer.
Now it’s off the N1 and onto the N14, taking me to Kuruman in the Northern Cape. Three days to go until I see “The Mountain”!
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