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Violent Riots Rock Beitbridge As Protesters Demand Reversal of Import Ban

A Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse burns in Beitbridge near the South African border.
A Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse burns in Beitbridge near the South African border.

Business at Zimbabwe’s biggest border post, Beitbridge, came to a standstill for about six hours after hundreds of people from either side of the border demonstrated against the banning of some goods from entering the country following the start of the implementation of a controversial statutory instrument on Friday.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse was allegedly set on fire by the protesters who also smashed traffic lights and broke other infrastructure in the border town.

Sources said the warehouse, where goods confiscated from travelers are stored, was ransacked before being set on fire.

Rocks and tree branches were strewn across the road with burning tyres blocking traffic.

As a result of the violence, Botswana Television reported Friday that it was considering closing its borders with Zimbabwe.

Police could not be reached for comment but sources told Studio 7 that the situation was under control, dispelling rumors that the army had been deployed at the restive border post.

The protests that were coordinated by the Beitbridge Combined Residents Association almost became violent after the people burnt vehicle tryes and piled rocks on the road, effectively barricading it.

On the other side of the border South Africans, Indians and Ethiopians together with the Zimbabweans marched from Musina, about 12 kilometers away, towards the border but were stopped by police who promised to engage with the Zimbabwe government to resolve the issue.

The government argues that Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016, which was formulated by the Rhodesian government in 1974 as a way of countering sanctions, is a timely measure to reign in the ballooning import bill that has seen locally produced goods neglected because they are more expensive than imports.

Included in the list is furniture, baked beans, potato crisps, cereals, bottled water, mayonnaise, salad cream, peanut butter, jams, maheu, canned fruits and vegetables, pizza base, yoghurts, flavoured milks, dairy juice blends, ice-creams, cultured milk and cheese

The spokesman of the International Cross Borders Association, Dennis Juru said although calm has returned at the border, dozens of people are hesitant to cross it because they are not sure if their goods will be confiscated or not.

He said, "Yes, people are protesting because they want to send a message to the government that they are not happy with the banning of some goods."

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