To Zimbabwe via Beitbridge

 Posted by Elizabeth at 2:18 pm
May 252011

We had planned to visit the ruins of Thulamela in Kruger, but they were no longer running tours (but could not give an explanation as to why) and you cannot visit them on your own which was a bit disappointing. We left Kruger through the Pafuri gate after taking a leisurely game drive north to Crooks Corner which is where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique all meet. There were not a lot of animals to be seen along the way, although there was a large group of hippos at Crooks Corner and there was one section of road where as we turned the corner a whole heap of different animals appeared, including 2 elephants and a group of Nyalas that seemed to be walking in super slow motion – very odd.

Kruger National ParkNyala, Kruger National ParkHippos and crocs, Kruger National Park

Our plan was to head into Zimbabwe the next day so we needed to stock up on food, gas and diesel and Messina was the only place to do it. Ideally we would have liked to camp there as it was very close to the border, but we had to backtrack 40km to Tshipise as the only campground in town was no longer functioning and the police advised us we would be safer in Tshipise. The campground in Tshipise was grey nomad central. Apparently a lot of the older South Africans head here for a few months as it is warmer. They have some serious setups with annexes that are basically 3 annexes all joined together and are huge. There were satellite dishes, microwaves and TVs everywhere. It was quite amusing and I wonder what they thought of poor old us with just a 4wd and a roof tent! The campground did have free wi-fi though which was a bonus.

We had heard bad things about the Beitbridge border crossing and the road between there and Masvingo so it was with some apprehension we headed to the Zimbabwe border. (We had checked with the police in Messina, and they advised that the road was fine, but that we should not stop unless directed by a police officer as there have been reports of people pointing to your vehicle and indicating that you have a flat tyre or a fire. When you stop to investigate they rob you. They also said there have been incidents of people slashing tyres whilst you are stopped at traffic lights and if that happened to drive to a police station or a petrol station before changing it).

From entering the South African border gate to driving out the Zimbabwean gate it took about 2 hours, 90 minutes of that was at the Zimbabwean side. Whilst it was slow, we had no problems whatsoever and no one attempted to solicit bribes from us. Everyone was pleasant and gave us no grief. Yes you will get hassled on both sides by people wanting to “help” you through the border but they are not at all necessary. Just tell them to go away and they will eventually leave you alone. We asked at each counter where to go next and also asked a westerner who looked like they were pretty familiar with the whole process what to put on some of the forms and where to go. For others who might be travelling, the process is pretty much this:

  • Enter South African side and receive a gate pass (it was chaos central with people, cars and construction everywhere).
  • Park your car and go to the customs tent where if you are lucky someone will lift their head from the card game they are all playing and stamp your gate pass without uttering a word.
  • Go to the immigration tent, get your passport and gate pass stamped (make sure you hand your passport to them on the correct side of their computer monitor or you will be tutted at and have fingers drummed on the table at you).
  • Maximum 10 minutes later, get in your car and drive to the exit where you will be told that you need to drive through the inspection lane (even though it doesn’t say you have to).
  • Reverse the car 100m, drive through the inspection lane, be waved through by someone too lazy to get up from their seat and return to the exit gate and hand your stamped gate pass over.
  • Enter the Zimbabwean side and get a gate pass and be directed to park by a civilian who will try to get you to pay them to look after your car.
  • Pay a 70R ($10) bridge toll at the first counter. Make sure you keep the receipt and slip.
  • Line up at immigration and be given a form.
  • Fill in the form at the rear counter, therefore having to line up again.
  • Wait an eternity for the immigration officer to fill in the visa, the paperwork and the receipt in perfect handwriting. (We did interrupt him reading the newspaper after all).
  • Be taken to another counter to process the visa, but then that person was too busy, so go back to the first counter and the original officer completes the process and then needs to find you some change (total cost of the pleasure $US90).
  • A tout will hand you the form for your Temporary Import Permit (TIP) and Customs. Take it but tell them you don’t need their help. (They will hang around but ignore them and eventually they will go away).
  • Fill in the forms, the TIP you need to write twice because of course there is no carbon paper. (Make sure you put on the TIP everything of value that you are taking in and out of Zimbabwe in case you are questioned on the way out). Do not declare anything on the customs form.
  • Wait at the Visitors counter (not the chaotic returning residents one). Here you will hand over the forms, your rego papers, letter of clearance from the hire company and pay a Road Access Fee 70R, Carbon Tax 200R, Insurance 200R.
  • Go outside the building, cross the road and enter the rear (ignore the front counter) of a derelict looking building where you hand all the paperwork to a police officer (who is reading the paper and is dressed in civilian clothes) who will stamp your gate pass. (We had no problem, but the guy in front of us was hassled about his copy of his rego papers not being certified – neither are ours and we handed them the ones that were expired anyway. The guy managed to talk his way out of it though).
  • Finally move your car and park it under cover in front of the buildings in the Green zone. Wait at the caged counter until the customs officer finally appears 10 minutes later. Give him the papers, smile nicely and hope he is not going to give you a hard time. (Again we had no issue at all and he stamped our gate pass, however others were asked to go back inside and pay duty on items. I am not sure whether it is because we are not South African and therefore unlikely to be bringing goods in or whether it was just our lucky day, but 2 people in front of us and the person after us were either searched or had to pay duty).
  • Thank your lucky stars and drive to the first gate 100m away where someone will take half of your gate pass.
  • Drive another 50m and someone else will take the rest of your gate pass (goodness knows why).
  • Breathe a big sigh of relief, know your wallet is somewhat lighter, although not through bribes, and that you have spent a “pleasant” 90 minutes in the chaos that is Beitbridge.
  • Welcome to Zimbabwe!
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