Zimbabwean immigration officials and soldiers manning the Beitbridge border crossing to South Africa have been demanding bribes from Zimbabweans lacking good documents, leading to the buildup of long lines and delays for travelers, sources said.
VOA Studio 7 correspondent Irwin Chifera reported from Beitbridge.
Zimbabweans seeking passports as documentation for their applications for permits to study, work or run a business in South Africa face potentially long delays now that the office of the Registrar General has suspended production of passports.
Authorities said a fire on New Year's Eve knocked out critical electronics at a facility where passports and other official documents are produced. The stoppage means Zimbabweans will also be unable to obtain birth certificates and identity cards - which in many cases are also important in seeking South African residency permits.
Zimbabwean Co-Home Affairs Minister Theresa Makone said fire damage to the passport-making equipment must be assessed before repairs can be made.
She said her ministry will now reconsider South Africa’s offer of access to advanced technology for passport production, which Harare turned down last month.
South Africa's Department of Home Affairs meanwhile said that about 10,000 permit applications filed by undocumented Zimbabweans have been rejected for reasons ranging from forged employment letters to criminal records.
Permits Department Director Jacob Mamabolo said the rejected applications will be reviewed and that there will be no deportations untill the process is over.
Ngqabutho Dube, secretary of the South African branch of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, said Pretoria has assured Zimbabwean civic groups that although a December 31 deadline for applications has passed, there will be no deportations until the documentation exercise is done.
South African authorities said some 230,000 Zimbabweans have applied for permits - but estimates of the number of Zimbabweans in the country range in excess of 2 million.