from DANIEL JONES in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
VICTORIA FALLS, (CAJ News) – INFORMAL traders Victoria Falls are advocating for slashing of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test fees charged on people intending to cross borders.
The traders, mainly curio vendors whose products comprise wildlife artefacts sold to tourists as souvenirs-, complain the fees are a hindrance to their craft.
They propose government to either reduce PCR test fees currently pegged at US$60 per test which is valid for 48 hours or slash the fees altogether for small and medium enterprises.
The Zambezi Informal Cross Border Traders Association (ZICBTA) has been formed through which the traders are engaging government departments in the resort city.
“Now that government has re-opened borders and we await the start of undisturbed movement, we wish it can be considered that the fees demanded for PCR test is beyond reach of many SMEs,” said Royal Ndlovu, coordinator of the informal businesses in Victoria Falls.
“A majority of us have been vaccinated but we are still restricted from doing business. We wish government can consider this and slash the fees or remove them altogether.”
Ndlovu said SMEs in Victoria Falls were hardest hit because they relied mostly on tourism for their market, compared to their counterparts in other parts of Zimbabwe.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, curio vendors were commuting between Victoria Falls and Livingstone in Zambia selling their products to tourists on either side of the Zambezi River.
Tourists love buying curios especially those of wild animals, particularly the Big Five, with some pieces fetching more than US$200 each.
Some buy traditional African attire.
Grace Shoko, the vice chairperson of ZICBTA appealed to government to also reintroduce temporary gate border passes for easy passage at the ports of entry.
The facility, where locals in border towns used to be issued with temporary border passes on a daily basis when visiting neighbouring towns across the border for shopping or visiting, was suspended a few years ago.
Shoko said using a passport and having it stamped on a daily basis wastes pages especially considering the cost of acquiring a new travel document in Zimbabwe.
Government announced passport fees where an ordinary electronic passport now costs US$4 100.
“Most of our members cross the border almost every day all things equal to buy or sell their wares so we can’t be using a passport for that,” Shoko said.
“Government should introduce temporary passes like was the case years back. Zambians get temporary border passes which is why they were able to cross the border on a daily basis before COVID-19.”
ZICBTA draws membership from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Victoria Falls.
Currently Zimbabwe and Zambia are implementing a Uni-visa facility between the two countries for tourists to move freely using a single visa.
This was piloted in 2013.
The facility was later extended to the whole of the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area, also covering Angola, Botswana and Namibia, towards a vision of seamless borders and promoting tourism convenience for visitors around SADC.
It however remains confined to Zambia and Zimbabwe as its implementation has been slow.
Informal traders believe that the vaccination drive by government should be enough for confidence boost.
Victoria Falls reached herd immunity after over 80 percent of its citizens were vaccinated.
Nationally, 40 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
A local trust, Youth Invest, is working with the informal traders to advocate for seamless borders in an effort to facilitate regional integration and trade.
– CAJ News