Map of Zimbabwe
Map of Zimbabwe

For the majority of those traveling to South Africa from Harare the journey starts at the Road Port, the terminal for cross-border buses.

The Road Port is always packed with buses and people, but during the holidays, it is even busier.  Though the buses go to various neighboring countries, South Africa is the destination of the majority of them.

South Africa-bound buses cross the border at Beit Bridge, one of the busiest ports of entry in Africa.

Though it is open 24 hours a day, Beit Bridge has become notorious for the delays travelers experience as they enter and leave South Africa.  The delays become longer over the festive season as Zimbabweans living in South Africa make the journey home and others travel south to spend the holidays with family or to shop.

Daniel Iluki traveled to Johannesburg to spend Christmas with family.  The journey, which should take no more than 14 hours, took more than 24.

"When going to South Africa, the queue was too much and when coming through in Zimbabwe side they check everything, they bring everything down, it is not easy," he said.

Besides the delay at the border, Iluki says there were numerous police roadblocks on both sides of the border.  But even on normal days, travelers can spend more than six hours at the border.

Elvis Kapfumba travels to South Africa at least twice a month to buy spares for his workshop.

"Sometimes they go on go-slow when you want to go into South Africa," he noted.

South African immigration officers sometimes call labor actions - such as "go-slow" strikes, which makes travel even harder for many at the border.
Travelers also have to cope with higher bus fares over the holidays.  Esther Daniel, who works in South Africa, waited to return to Zimbabwe after Christmas, because, she says, the fares to travel before the holiday rose to almost $100.  That was too much for her.

"We normally pay R300 [about $40], but over the holidays it was double the price," she added.

She also said there was too much luggage on the buses.  Traders still travel to South Africa to buy cheap goods to sell back home.  Blankets, clothes and spare parts seem to have replaced groceries at the top of the shopping list for Zimbabweans in South Africa.  Zimbabwean customs officials scour the buses for whatever they can charge duty on, adding to the delays at Beit Bridge.