A new Zimbabwean temporary travel document (TTD) is not being recognized by neighbouring South Africa's immigration authorities, preventing cross-border traders from sourcing goods for resale.
"My passport expired two years ago and even though I made an application for a replacement, I am yet to get it. I have, instead, been using temporary travel documents to carry on with my business," said Mary Muzondo, 30, who imports electrical goods and blankets and sells them in the capital, Harare.
Like thousands of others, she was denied entry into South Africa. "I have two school-going children and I have failed to pay their school fees because of this confusion over TTDs. Cross-border trade is my only source of income, and if it were not that I have managed to collect some money from people who had not paid me for the goods I supplied to them, my family would be starving," Muzondo told IRIN.
Passports cost US$170, making them too expensive for many people; they are also difficult to obtain because of the huge backlog that arose when hyperinflation made manufacturing them unaffordable. A new TTD, costing US$37 and valid for six months, was introduced earlier this year.
The registrar-general's office said the new document would be more difficult to forge, and had been used successfully for entering Botswana, or by people flying into South Africa.
Joint home affairs minister Kembo Mohadi blamed the registrar general's office - which falls under his ministry - for failing to notify the relevant South African authorities about the travel document changes, although Tobaiwa Mudede, the registrar-general, claimed his department had followed the correct procedures.
"When we started, we brought all the stakeholders together and they agreed that [the TTD] met all international requirements," Mudede told a parliamentary committee, adding that the issue of the document was being dealt with "at government-to-government level".
The other co-minister of home affairs, Giles Mutsekwa, said resolution was expected soon, following a Zimbabwean delegation's visit to South Africa.
"The discussions we have had so far [with South African authorities] show that the TTD problem will soon be a thing of the past. They have promised to give us a response soon."
However, a government-supporting daily newspaper, The Herald, quoted Charles Gwede, the South African assistant regional immigration officer, as saying that "The situation has remained unchanged and we understand that it is not yet resolved."
Innocent Makwiramiti, a Harare-based economist and former chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), said many people had to travel to South Africa to earn a living.
"Commodities might be back on the shelves and there is relative stability in the economy, but hundreds of Zimbabweans cross into South Africa on a daily basis to buy goods for sale here, or to sell commodities that are manufactured here and are in demand in the other country," Makwiramiti told IRIN.
Zimbabwe's economy is still very fragile, despite the formation of a unity government in 2009, and has been ravaged hyperinflation, extremely high unemployment, scarcity of commodities, a shrinking industry, and the collapse of social services.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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