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Botswana - Zimbabwe Cordon Fence

Zimbabwean migration has become a major political issue in Botswana. This issue includes the governments construction of electrified fences along the northern border and numerous accusations of human rights abuses against Zimbabweans. Disadvantaged fellow human beings are painfully forced to leave their country because of the political and economic crisis they face.

The overabundance of unemployed persons in neighboring countries and high local demand for cheap labor supports large human trafficking networks within Botswana. Thousands of illegal migrants seek work in the country every year. Migrant use of criminal smuggling networks often results in tragedy. For example, 18 Zimbabweans suffocated in a sealed truck container in 1998 while trying to enter the country.

Foreign migrant workers were vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, mainly in domestic labor. Employers in the formal sector generally provided for worker safety. There are no specific provisions in the law allowing workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment; however, no abuses were reported.

A majority are forced to search for economic opportunities in the diaspora as the economy in Zimbabwe continued to slide deeper into crisis. Once they settle in their host countries, they do not choose jobs, but settle for anything that can relieve them from the pressures of life. Some of the young Zimbabwean men and women start off as housemaids, garden boys, construction laborers, and commercial sex workers or are simply taken in as live-in lovers. Others settle for agricultural occupations such as herdmen, field laborers and other related work.

The Center for Illegal Immigrants in Francistown is a dedicated facility for processing asylum and other immigration claims by individuals who entered the country illegally. Although authorities did not house asylum seekers with irregular migrants, UNHCR expressed concern about the detention of asylum seekers at the Center for Illegal Immigrants on the grounds that international law does not permit asylum seekers to be held in detention facilities. Detention periods were generally short, but in some cases they lasted several months and differed depending on a detainees nationality.

The fact that the cordon fence does not have convenient entry points for some villages on both sides of the fence means that some people come up with ungazetted points of entry. As of 2006, the Botswana-Zimbabwe fence is not electrified. Agriculture Minister, Johnnie Swartz said in Jun e2006 "Even now you can go to any point of the fence and you will realise that it is not powered at all." He said that the 500 km stretch of cordon fence with about 440 km already completed is without electricity.

The fence construction, which was started in 2003, had yet to be fully completed because of problems of terrain and supply of material. Government is expected to part with over P20 million to complete the project. He indicated that the government did experiments at some points along the fence with low levels of electricity and people and animals continuously damaged it, thereby escalating costs. He was worried that the project has lasted longer than expected because of the problems experienced along the way.

In December 2008 the Botswana Congress Party secretary general, Taolo Lucas, said that as a short-term measure the work of the Botswana Defence Force should be complemented with the Special Support Group. "We will further reiterate our call for the electrification of the boarder with Zimbabwe as a long-term measure. We note with disappointment that the electrification of the boarder project was started, but later abandoned without sufficient explanation after huge sums of money have been expended on the same." The Secretary General indicated that cross boarder crime is terrorising and impoverishing the people of Bobirwa and it is critical that the government treat the issue as urgent and act with speed to improve the situation.

Veterinary Fence

Some of the largest populations of wild animals in Africa are found in Botswana. These wild animals include elephants, buffalo, zebras, lions, impalas, kudu, giraffes, red lechwe, and many other small species scat- tered all over the country. Although Botswanas rangelands have supported a variety and abundance of wildlife resources for hundreds of years, recent studies pointed out that Botswanas wildlife populations are in a constant decline.

Small farmers living along the Botswana-Zimbabwe border have struggled for years with elephants that regularly invade their land and destroy their crops. The majority of these farmers settled along the border line to benefit from rivers that do not only act as boundaries between the two countries, but also have plenty of water all year round. The cordon fence had been broken by elephants, thereby allowing livestock to stray across the border from Zimbabwe.

Any Third World state that aspires to export beef to international markets, especially in Europe, is required to meet high standards of veterinary hygiene and disease management. In Botswana, this is achieved through the construction of a network of veterinary cordon fences and quarantine camps that divide the country into disease control areas between which live- stock movements are restricted. This strategy has resulted in Botswana being crisscrossed by a network of veterinary cordon fences. The erection of veterinary fences began in 1958 with the Kuke Fence. Since then, different districts in Botswana have had veterinary fences erected one at a time over the years.

In 2003 the leadership of Botswana, under pressure from its citizens, erected the 2.4 metre high electric fence stretching nearly 800 kilometres of its border with Zimbabwe. President Festus Mogae faced international condemnation when his government began construction of a multi-million pula electrified fence along the Botswana/Zimbabwe border, which according to the official line was to control illegal movement of livestock. This was at a time when villages along the border were vulnerable to the outbreaks of the contagious Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) from Maitengwe to Bobonong paralysing the cattle and beef industries. The Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Francistown abattoir was closed in an endeavor to clear the area of FMD. Abattoir employees were temporarily laid off because there was no production. They were even forced to borrow their salaries from the employer.

The debate sparked an unnecessary diplomatic row with the then Zimbabwean high commissioner to Botswana Phelekeza Mphoko now Zimbabwes second Vice President rejecting the official line, calling the fence an attempt to make Zimbabwe into another Gaza Strip. Botswana was forced to abandon its project after its neighbors loud cry reached the international community.

Botswanas foreign affairs minister, Mompati Merafhe entered the fray to the rescue of Mogae. I cannot understand people who say we are trying to close the border with Zimbabwe while we are encouraging Zimbabweans to use gazetted points of entry. We have more border posts with Zimbabwe than with any other country.... The construction of the fence must continue and it will continue. We have to go ahead with the defence and when need be, we will open some more border posts, Merafhe was quoted in The Guardian.

After the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the Bobirwa area in 2006 the government had plans to install an electric fence along the boarder with Zimbabwe to prevent the free movement of animals between the two countries, along with other measures like intensified patrols to prevent smuggling of livestock to Zimbabwe.

Assistant Minister of Agriculture, Peter Siele told Parliament in 2006 that they stopped the project after encountering so many problems. The government took a deliberate decision to create a protection zone in order to block the ever spilling of the virulent Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) from the neighboring Zimbabwe into the country. Border villages have been under threat. And in 2011, the border villages experienced one of the worst FMD outbreaks that resulted in the country being suspended from selling its beef to the lucrative EU market. Government had to take the costly decision to reconstruct the cordon fence along the border with Zimbabwe in a desperate bid to completely eradicate FMD in the border villages. By mid-2015 there was an ongoing protection zone cordon fence reconstruction from Ramokgwebana to Sindichwa (Maitengwe) which covers a distance of 180km as there are always threats of FMD outbreak especially along the border.

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Page last modified: 21-06-2016 14:00:27 ZULU