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OPINION: The Political Economy Of Migration Corruption

By Gwenhure Farai (Jnr)

“I usually accept bribes from both sides so that tainted money can never influence my decision.” The sarcastic expression of English Philosopher Francis Bacon asserts the view that judgement must be independent, impartial and objective even under the most adverse of circumstances.

The modern day public servant is faced with a world of temptation, circumstances bent on corrupting them in a role they ought to be beyond reproach like Caesar’s wife. Many do not pass this test as a result we are brewing nations of thievery, pick pockets all building up to a robber state which is driven by bribery and naked corruption.

Corruption is a scourge and a disease which should be fought not only at home but abroad.

Close to 4 centuries after Bacon´s death, his words aptly captures the non-discriminatory nature of the public servant in Zimbabwe and South Africa´s migration food chain when it comes to taking bribes only that this time they do not do so with a view to have pure judgement.

They do so for purposes of greed, self-aggrandisement, and the insatiable desire to build houses on hills while officially armed with a cop´s salary. They do so with impunity, with no shame and in broad day light. It is the new normal.

A trip bus from Harare to Pretoria on the 26th of August 2022 revealed to me the brazen graft arresting the Zimbabwe-South Africa migration food chain. My gut feeling without evidence is that the reverse trip takes the accolade in the global awards of the corrupt trips club.

Right at the start of the a bus trip at little place called Road Port, either in a Munorurama bus or the Eagle Liner coach and even the ironically branded luxury coach called `Best´, the coach host will make a call for a volunteer to pray the blessing supposedly against the demons of the Masvingo-Beitbridge Highway. The carnage on this road has seen many head-on accidents, mysterious bus fires and different kinds of fatal accidents (story for another day). 

Soon after ironically appealing for divine protection, an announcement is made concerning those with no passports, those with passports with a record of over staying in South Africa and those who wish to stay for up to 3 months in South Africa.

Each case comes with a different kind of price, the one with no passport at all has to pay up to 6000 rand, the ones with passports with tainted records up to 3000 rand and the ones who need to stay beyond 21 days in South Africa paying 100 rand for each month, a maximum of the 300 rand for 3 months which is the discretion ceiling for the immigration officers. Even corruption has its ceiling.

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An immigration officer collects up 12 000 rand from each bus just for their discretionary awards of staying periods varying from one month to three month depending on the client´s needs.

Suppose the immigration officer in the duration of his or her 8 hour shift attends to 10 buses that translates to 120 000 rand a day multiplied by 20 working days a month it gets to 2 400 00 rand and 28 800 000 rand a year.

In bribes only a South African Immigration officer takes home a non-taxable 7 figure net in USD terms more than many Presidents and blue-chip executives. It is the silicon valley of corruption.

The money is enough to hire the best criminal law specialist of the same ilk with Adv Bezos (RIP), Dali Mpofu SC or Muzi Sikhakhane SC in the event of the unlikely event of being arrested for graft.

It is the discretion rule which gives someone the blank cheque to sign off days of residency to a country like children distributing candy on a thanks giving morning in the streets of Brooklyn.

The 7 figures could easily be charged into state coffers and change lives instead of pretending to have a free pass then postulate a xenophobic public policy stance from air-conditioned Union building offices. It´s the regulations stupid.

A standard procedure with no officer discretion on the number of days should be gazetted, variances should be based on purpose of travel be it medical reasons , family visits, research projects, job seekers interviews or a scheduled series of business meetings. The same should be used to determine whether the traveller pays or not, for instance a tourist will definitely pay into national treasury through spending and therefore to incentivise tourism no payments should be made.

The immigration bribes proportionate to days allowed are however a tip of an iceberg.

Those with no passports follow a whole different path to the land of their dreams, at the beginning of the value chain are Zimbabwean soldiers working with independent contractors together with the bus crews.

The contractors are both the middlemen and the guides, they negotiate the payments with the soldiers and handle the transaction with the bus crew who collect the fees from travellers on the way to the border. After being paid the soldiers escort the migrants through the Limpopo bridge right under the border. On the other end the travellers attempt to avoid South Africa Police (SAPS) to reduce costs but whenever they bump into the boys and girls in blue a token is paid and they are allowed a pass.

The same way a government uses tollgates payments as gate-passes for motorists, they even have e-tolls these days.

After going through all these hustles, the dreamers finally reconnect with the rest at a little green coloured gas station just after the border town of Mesina.

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They retell the story of involuntary adventure, retracing their footsteps of the unpleasant detour, how they avoided rattle snakes, or lions hungry for midnight snacks, how they took turns to carry crying and frightened babies, how they found their way the darkness of the night and so on.

After the little recess at the rendezvous point following the little family reunion, the journey continues.

The SAPS boys in blue then complete the food chain, they have traffic stops along the famous N1 Highways from Mesina to Pretoria at intervals of every 20 miles, sometimes less.

The first ones shake the bus for anything illegal, once found the information is passed on to the next traffic stop such that time is not wasted, when a bus is stopped the amount to be paid in bribes is already calculated with the accuracy of a butcher´s cleaver.  

At each stop the coach host pays the police and the journey continues until it finally gets to the safe zone in Gauteng Province.

Its stranger than fiction, the dreamer is determined to leave the motherland in search of greener pastures, sometimes at the end life is not so rosy on the other end but money ,blood and sweat is invested in the process.

The poorly remunerated public officials take bribes from the old and young alike, babies with no passports are hidden under bus seats along the way fleecing this off desperate dreamers. Life is hard.

The political economy analysis of border corruption is incomplete without mentioning the failures of the Zimbabwean government especially on the management of the macroeconomic environment. As a result the ZWL is collapsing, inflation is spiking, food and rentals are going beyond the reach of many, public health facilities are death traps and public servants are paupers.

On the other hand the South African government is also complacent, they aid and abet the mediocrity of economic mismanagement, pay a blind eye to human rights violations and continue to play lip service for Zimbabwe in the SADC brotherhood. A rotten members club only which has abandoned its responsibility to deliver for the citizens of the region and protect them from aggression.

The mass exodus is a manifestation of these transgression, scapegoating these for failure to deliver in the new wave of xenophobic policy stance is tinkering with the deck while the titanic is sinking. I saw these things with my naked eye.

Gwenhure Farai (Jnr) is an African Optimist who loves his country (He writes in his personal capacity)

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