Botswana parliamentarians have unequivocally expressed their opposition to the proposed removal of passports for travel between their country and Zimbabwe.
Responding to a statement made in the National Assembly by Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Annah Mokgethi, Members of Parliament from both ends thrashed the proposed arrangement, which would see citizens of both countries use national identity cards instead of passports at entry points.
Botswana already has a similar arrangement with Namibia and is now looking to tie a similar deal with Zimbabwe.
But while the Namibian arrangement, which came into effect in February, faced no opposition, legislators told Minister Mokgethi they don’t agree with the government’s move on Zimbabwe.
Last week, while in Gaborone, Zimbabwe President, Emmerson Mnangagwa announced he had reached an agreement with his Botswana counterpart, Mokgweetsi Masisi to abolish the use of passports at entry points.
But due to public backlash, Mokgethi was forced to read a statement in Parliament, arguing the agreement was not yet in place.
It read in part, “… I wish to make this statement to clarify and to set the record straight that there is no signed agreement to effect this initiative.
“Given this background Batswana are assured that by a concept being appreciated by the two leadership does not mean the people of the two countries can now use their IDs to cross into their countries.
“There are processes and procedures to be undertaken to ensure and qualify validity of all necessary requirements for travel, locally, regionally, and internationally before implantation can take place.
“Most importantly upon adoption of acceptance of regulatory standards, the two countries will enter into a memorandum of agreement that has clauses including cancellation or exit in the event, concerns of violation arise during implementation.”
The leader of opposition, Dithapelo Keorapetse said it was surprising that the deal was announced without due consultations.
“We don’t know who President Masisi was representing when he reached this agreement with Mnangagwa or the government of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Francistown MP, Wynter Mmolotsi said it would not be ideal to allow the arrangement to proceed as the country, in particular, areas closer to the border, were already bearing the brunt of the influx of Zimbabweans.
‘”The health system in Francistown is already overburdened by Zimbabweans. Some come here to illegally mine gold. If we open up, without even knowing it, we will have more Zimbabweans than the entire Francistown population,” he said.
Some MPs like Unity Douw wondered how the use of machine-readable identity cards will not be as cumbersome as the use of passports.
The cost of obtaining a passport in Zimbabwe is prohibitive and some are forced to skip the border driven from their homeland by scarce job opportunities.
Some MPs said they would rather have other countries like South Africa and Zambia negotiate a passport-free travel arrangement ahead of Zimbabwe. VOA Zimbabwe