It would appear it is now easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, then a sausage from South Africa to go through a Botswana border post. Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE reports on how once porous borders have tightened up
There was a time when you could most probably stroll across any one of the many border posts from South Africa into Botswana with little scrutiny by officials. Stories have been told of travellers bringing in undeclared items such as alcohol, toys and even contraband, by simply walking across the border with a smile and a wave.
In 2016, local border officials were caught red-faced when this carefree attitude allowed P70 million of mandrax across the Tlokweng border post into South Africa (SA). Eagle-eyed SA officials nabbed the truck transporting the drugs on the SA side, while locals watched with jaws on the floor.
However, if the amount of seized items at the Tlokweng Border Post recently is anything to go by, those carefree days are certainly a thing of the past. Protocols have been tightened and even a piece of polony in the pocket could get one in trouble.
In fact, polony, sausages and other ready-to-eat and processed meats from SA could get you in quite a bit of trouble, if you try and cross the border with them.
These particular items from some of SA’s biggest food manufacturers have been traced as the cause of an outbreak of a deadly disease that has so far killed more than 180 people in that country, the most ever killed globally in history by the disease.
Listeriosis or listeria, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes, broke out in SA in January 2017, but its cause was only identified recently.
The news saw Botswana issuing a recall of all affected polony, sausage and processed meat products from SA and closing the borders.
It has also meant heightened scrutiny of all travellers from SA and the mass confiscation of contraband, over and above the products associated with listeria.
On Wednesday morning, we join journalists at the Tlokweng Border Post, the country’s busiest after the Ramokgwebana Border Post to Zimbabwe in the north. In the company of border and health officials, we tour the Border Post to assess its readiness to prevent listeria from crossing into Botswana.
In one office, we find all manner of confiscated items piled onto shelves and the floor. The heap consists of used clothing, including underwear as well as illegal beauty products such as the fake skin lightening soaps and creams now rampant in Gaborone.
Some confiscated goods wind up auctioned for the benefit of the taxman, others are destroyed with fire.
The barricade against listeria is clearly also helping keep out other prohibited products.
“People always try to smuggle products into the country,” explains principal technical port health officer, Obakeng Kgosiethata.
“We have caught people trying to smuggle in used underwear, expired foods and the like, toiletry and others. However, we confiscate and burn such.”
As for listeria, the
Getting into Botswana from SA is now like going through an obstacle course where at some point or another, a guilty person will crack and spill the beans (or is it polony?)
Upon reaching the Tlokweng border from SA before even seeing the immigration officers, you first go through screening where a nurse asks you a number of questions to determine if you have listeria, possible contact with it or any other contagious diseases.
If you have any signs or symptoms or have possibly been at risk, the nurse refers you to an isolation room where doctors and other medical officers assess you before either releasing you or taking you to a nearby hospital for admission.
It does not end there. You have to go through a search by port officers who will determine whether you are actually carrying any restricted products. Any such foods or products are seized on the spot and will later be disposed at Gamodubu Landfill by burning. Searches are also conducted on bags, small vehicles, buses and trucks.
The health ministry’s officials are not working alone. They are working hand in hand with other governmental departments such as agriculture, police, wildlife and even the Botswana Defence Force.
On the other side of the border where trucks are inspected, port officers carefully go through the trucks loaded with different goods.
Most of these trucks carry supplies for the large retail chains and at any point can be found loaded with food products, toiletry, housing materials and others. Port officers fastidiously check if the goods actually in the truck are the same as that indicated on the receipt.
Whenever suspicions arise, the truck is taken to the scanner for further investigation.
Kgosiethata says while truckers feel inconvenienced, there are no shortcuts to protecting public health. “We do all that we can to ensure that our people are safe. Public health is important to us.
“That’s why we always make sure that we thoroughly check and confiscate any product that is not allowed in the country.”
While we are being briefed about these protocols, a certain traveller turns up and apparently has a few fruits hidden in his car.
The traveller is denied entry and given a choice: either eat them on the spot or dispose of them. He chooses the former and parks a few metres away, chewing angrily.
The traveller is luckier than those bringing sausages or polony however. If that Russian or Vienna is from the factories known to have the bacteria, you will not have the option of eating your way out of trouble. It will simply be taken to Gamodubu.