Officials in Zimbabwe have reacted indifferently to South Africa’s announcement that it planned to erect a fence along the border with its neighbour as part of measures to stem irregular migration and contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
“Some people build durawalls around their houses, fields or properties and some put up fences. This is a choice people make on how to show their boundaries,” Nick Mangwana, spokesman for Zimbabwe’s government, told Al Jazeera on Friday.
“The type of demarcation they choose is their sovereign right. The same applies to international boundaries.”
His comments came as Zimbabwe on Friday confirmed its first case of Covid-19, the highly infectious disease caused by the new coronavirus. South Africa has reported 202 cases to date.
The planned 40 kilometre fence is to be erected on both sides of the Beitbridge Land Port of Entry to “ensure that no undocumented or infected persons cross into the country”, Patricia de Lille, South Africa’s Public Works Minister, said in a statement on Thursday, adding that the move could not be viewed as xenophobic.
“At the border post now, you’ve got health inspectors and you’ve got environmental professionals and they are doing the testing and screening at the border. But if somebody just walks over the border, there are no such facilities,” she said.
Thousands of Zimbabweans have for years been entering South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised country, via undesignated and other points along the border to escape a deepening economic crisis at home.
With unemployment hovering around 30 percent, South Africa has long been meaning to reduce what it perceives as irregular migration from Zimbabwe and a threat to local jobs but it has been hesitant to take bold action on the issue.
In recent weeks, an increasing number of countries have been tightening controls at borders, or outright sealing them off, as well as banning travel from certain countries in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 271,000 people worldwide have been confirmed as having contracted the coronavirus and 11,280 have died, according to figures by Johns Hopkins University. Some 87,000 people have recovered.
The outbreak reached Africa later than other continents, but almost 40 countries have now confirmed cases.—Al Jazeera