Johannesburg (Agenzia Fides) - "Over the past few days the distressing situation at the border posts in Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe has made headlines. This occurred at the beginning and at the end of the Christmas holidays for many migrants who live and work in South Africa", say in a joint note sent to Fides, His Exc. Mgr. Estanislau Marques Chindekasse, Bishop of Dundo (Angola), and His Exc. Mgr. Willem Christiaans, Bishop of Keetmanshoop (Namibia).
"The cause of this distressing and chaotic reality was caused by the huge backlog in the processing of documentation and Covid-19 testing and screening", say the two Bishops, who reported how hundreds of people were not wearing masks and there was lots overcrowding, without social distancing as required by the protocols pertaining to the pandemic. Many people stayed for inordinately long periods at the border posts waiting to be processed and as such suffered from dehydration and were without basic needs like food and even sanitation. Even those with the relevant Covid-19 certificates remained in queues for long periods up until a point that their certificates expired.
"Pope Francis exhorts us to be a generation that changes history, to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization", said the two Bishops. "Each person crossing the borders of their own country is looking for protection and a secure and better life for themselves and their family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ that need our understanding, welcome and cooperation. The media reported that unfortunately hundreds of them had to go back because of not having the right documentation to exercise their citizenship and the rights to emigrate".
"It is important to indicate that all countries have the duty to follow the global policies of the Covid-19 pandemic which require travellers to have a negative Covid-19 Certificate as well as making sure that people are not infected and or to protect and not spreading the virus to others", the message states, adding however that "the distressing situation at the points of entry, especially the land borders, has revealed the myriad of challenges that need to be addressed by the different governments and civil society organizations in the region".
To address the situation, the two Bishops propose a series of measures: more advocacy/awareness to the population before they embark on a trip to cross the border especially during the Covid-19 pandemic; the governments should not announce a new lockdown without providing means for the people to have access to their work stations; Public Health measures should be in such a way that they take the reality of the people into consideration.
"There is no hope in successfully curbing the spread of the pandemic if governments do not put people first", the Bishops say.
"Any Public Health measure that is not centred on people is just a theatrical show on the part of the Southern African governments".
South Africa has recorded about 1.2 million cases of Covid-19, with a recent spike in infections due to a new variant of the virus that has seen the numbers rise by nearly a third. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than three million cases have been recorded on the continent since the start of the pandemic, with South Africa accounting for over 30% of cases. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 12/1/2021)