By Buhle Mhlanga - @tshatshazilakhe
Women in Bulawayo, especially those involved in trading, have expressed worry over the delays in the issuing of passport by the government saying this is opening them up to all forms of risks to cross the borders. This has been exacerbated by reports that there is no longer the issuing of emergency passports.
The women, most of whom are involved in buying and selling goods across borders, said the developments around the passport was a major setback for them because it slowed down their businesses.
They told Amakhosikazi media that when they fail to get passports it means their dependants would suffer or be greatly affected in terms of school fees, and daily needs such as food, healthcare, and the payment of bills in the home.
The women said they have fallen prey to tricksters who want to take advantage of their desperation and convincing them to pay bribes as much as $RTGS 253 for the emergency passport that normally takes one week.
“They say if you top up with ZAR1 000, the passport will come out within 5 working days,” one woman who spoke on condition of anonymity said. “But we can’t afford all that money”.
Amakhosikazi media got the chance to talk to one of the passport office personels, who spoke on condition of anonymity and said the reason for the non-issuing of emergency passports was because there was shortage of paper within the country.
"We are encouraging people to take the ones for $53 because there are no materials for emergency passports hence when there is adequate stationary the members of the public will be notified to come and top up,” the official said.
Women approached by this publication complained bitterly about corruption at the passport office.
Nobukhosi Maphosa (not her real name) expressed dismay at the day to day proceedings at the passport office stating that there was so much corruption going on.
"I went to go and get an emergency passport and I was unfairly treated by the respective officers,” she said. “I literally saw with my own eyes the officials approaching those who had US dollars offering to swipe for them then they take the USD.
“Another appalling incident was during the process we were told to go to another room where finger prints and photos were being taken and the guy there was only assisting those who were paying him bribes. USDs were scattered all over his table and he was not shy about it. They do this so openly. This kind of corruption should be dealt with at a higher level."
Due to failure in obtaining passports, some women eventually attempt to cross the border illegally and pay bribes on the way.
Some of the women said this option was open to abuse and dangerous.
“Women may be forced or coerced to engage in sex to be trafficked,” one woman said. “Sex with these traffickers always comes with risks such as unplanned pregnancies, and sexually transmitted illnesses. When that happens the lives of the breadwinner changes forever”.
These traffickers are also said to use dangerous routes that might endanger the lives of the women exposing them to robberies and crossing dangerous or flooded rivers.
“Some women lose their lives,” one woman said. “Others resort to prostitution. This situation has also taken a major toll on the health of these informal business women, single mothers because of stress leading to depression which might lead to more mental health issues thinking of their business growth and downfall and how it will affect their families.”