Salvation Army emergency response teams in the north and east of South Africa are providing support for people stranded at the republic’s borders with neighbouring countries. With enhanced border control measures introduced to help minimise the spread of a new, more transmissible, strain of COVID-19, travellers have been stranded for several days while borders have been temporarily closed or while awaiting the outcome of mandatory coronavirus testing.
The Salvation Army teams – each consisting of 11 people with specially-provided personal protective equipment – have been working at the border posts connecting South Africa with Zimbabwe (Beitbridge), Mozambique (Lebombo), eSwatini (Oshoek) and Lesotho (Maseru Bridge). At each location, people trying to cross the border have been delayed by up to six days in extreme heat, resulting in dehydration, heat exhaustion, malnutrition and significant stress. In some instances, queues of trucks waiting to convey goods across the border have stretched back for more than 15 kilometres. The Salvation Army’s territorial leaders for Southern Africa, Colonels Daniel and Tracey Kasuso, have formed part of the team on the Zimbabwean border.
Health information is being distributed in each location, along with packs containing snacks and hygiene items. Each traveller – up to 800 in each distribution – is given 1.5 litres of bottled water, long-life milk, bread, energy bars, fruit and sweet treats, as well as a bar of soap, a wash cloth and hand sanitiser. A new public health poster campaign, developed at The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters in London, is being translated into Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and other southern African languages.
Mindful of the elevated risk of human trafficking across country borders in such challenging times, The Salvation Army is providing leaflets to drivers and passengers containing information on how to be alert to the risks and reduce the likelihood of susceptibility.
‘In the hot conditions, it is exhausting,’ says Major Heather Rossouw, Territorial Emergency Services Director for The Salvation Army in Southern Africa, ‘but because of the needs that are presenting themselves at the border, we immediately felt the need to provide relief at these border posts. We hope that The Salvation Army, in coordination with the Government of South Africa as well as other organisations, can contribute to defeat COVID-19 in our country and meet the needs of people who are impacted by it.’
The emergency response is set to carry on, particularly at the eSwatini and Lesotho borders, as regulations continue to be subject to change. The Salvation Army is coordinating with South African government agencies including the Departments of Health, Social Development, Home Affairs and the Border Control Police, as well as CoRMSA (Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa) and several other non-governmental organisations such as Gift of the Givers.