In a heated parliamentary session, Botswana’s MPs fervently opposed the proposed elimination of passport requirements for travel between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Annah Mokgethi, ignited the debate when she presented the idea in the National Assembly, setting off a storm of disapproval from both ends of the political spectrum.
Expressing their dissent towards the proposed arrangement, Members of Parliament from both the Botswana ruling party and the opposition adamantly rejected the idea, diverging sharply from Botswana’s existing passport exemption pact with Namibia.
Despite the success of a similar arrangement with Namibia, MPs made it unequivocally clear to Minister Mokgethi that they did not concur with extending this to Zimbabwe.
Conflicting Statements and Clarifications
Confusion arose from conflicting statements between Zimbabwean President Emerson Mnangagwa and the clarifications made by Minister Mokgethi in the Botswana National Assembly. Mnangagwa had previously announced an agreement with Botswana’s President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, regarding the passport exemption.
However, Mokgethi emphasised that no formal agreement had been ratified, stating,
“There is no signed agreement to effect this initiative.”
She further clarified,
“There are processes and procedures to be undertaken… Most importantly upon adoption of acceptance of regulatory standards.”
Leaders of the opposition voiced strong disapproval, highlighting the lack of prior consultation before the announcement of the agreement. Dithapelo Keorapetse, the leader of the opposition, criticised the unilateral nature of the decision, stating,
“We don’t know who President Masisi was representing when he reached this agreement with Mnangagwa or the government of Zimbabwe.”
Francistown MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, expressed concerns about potential repercussions on local resources, particularly the strain on the healthcare system in Francistown, already burdened by an influx of Zimbabweans.
“If we open up, without even knowing it, we will have more Zimbabweans than the entire Francistown population.”
Challenges and Alternatives Considered
Several MPs raised valid concerns about the practicality of replacing passports with machine-readable identity cards. Unity Douw questioned the feasibility, wondering aloud, “How the use of machine-readable identity cards will not be as cumbersome as the use of passports.”
Highlighting the economic hardships faced in Zimbabwe, some MPs pointed out the prohibitive cost of obtaining passports, which leads many to seek opportunities across the border.
A Call for Deliberation
While the concept of passport-free travel between Botswana and Zimbabwe sparked public outcry and vigorous parliamentary dissent, the government stressed the need for careful consideration, formal agreements, and adherence to international travel standards before implementing such a significant change.