On 24 December 2015 we crossed the border at Ngoma with the intention of spending a night in Botswana and proceeding to Victoria Falls the next day. In our car we were a family of three adults and four kids, with the youngest of them age two. We left the Namibian border side of Ngoma at 17:55 and arrived at the Botswana gate at 18:02. I was the one driving in front and there were five other cars of travellers behind me who also intended to cross. As I approached the newly constructed gate, which is about 100 meters to the immigration office on the Botswana side, I saw a police officer (or perhaps a customs officer) running towards the gate and waving his hand to us indicating that we should not drive in as he was closing.
I stopped the car and he shut the gate in front of us. All the drivers came to talk to the officer, who seemed infuriated by our pleas for him to allow us to enter the country, as they were still busy opening for cars which were crossing to Namibia from Botswana. Such closure seemed to have been an effect of the new gates, which had just been built, and the fact that it was Christmas Eve. From the experience of all who were there, the border officially closes at 18:00 but officers close their offices at 18:30 to allow some grace period for those who might have been let in at either side of the two countries. Among the people who were locked outside with us was a couple from Kasane, Botswana, who left a two-month-old baby in Kasane as they had to quickly collect a few items at the Namibian side of Ngoma. They explained that they left the baby with their daughter who is an 11-year-old but this did not seem to send any message to the officers, who seemed to be looking for people to punish.
There was also a Zimbabwean family who were traveling from Oshakati. Still with us was a lady from Botswana who attended a funeral in Namibia and begged the authorities to let her cross because she took medication every evening but they refused. At about 18:30 after they had let through all cars crossing into Namibia, they came back to us and asked us why we were late. They then decided to let through the fifth car of Batswana people who said they did not cross the border but had just gone to see the river. The officers hung around the offices up until 18:50 and then they switched off the lights and walked to their houses a few meters from the office. None of them bothered to find out if we had any water with us or whether there was any other person with a medical condition. We made a fire but as we were locked up in the park we had to get into our cars when we were threatened by the presence of buffalos and hyenas. The Batswana people who were with us called authorities from higher offices who later communicated to the police at Kachikau about people who were locked out in the park.
The police from Kachikau came at around 12:50 and opened the gate for us to park our cars inside the fence, nearby protected customs and immigration offices. We could hear the music playing at houses close to the top of the mountains and were told by one man who came to check on us that the officers closed early because they wanted to start the Christmas party early. If that was the case then they should have put placards on the Ngoma side of Namibia indicating they were on a Christmas party and no one was allowed to cross on that particular day as they celebrated the birth of Jesus. The head of immigration at this particular border was consulted by someone the same night about our situation. The next morning when they opened she called me and the father of the two-month-old baby into her office to inform us that she was informed about people who were locked in the park and after some insight into what had happened she apologised to us.
She told us that this was the first and last time such an incident happened. After a lengthy heated debate we took her apology but at the back of my mind I thought: “What if the animals had charged or feasted on one of us?” What had happened to the two-month-old baby who was supposed to be breastfed by her mother that night? What damage did they do to the woman who should have taken her medication that evening? What were the consequences for the Zimbabwean doctor and his family who are on their way from Oshakati to Hwange for a relative’s funeral? There are many reasons which can delay a traveler, among them unexpected bad weather, animals crossing roads, attending to accidents on the road and queues at border posts.
In conclusion I would like to say that a border carries the face of a country. If a country does not like visitors they should plant big billboards at their border stating: ‘YOU ARE NOT WELCOME, DO NOT ENJOY YOUR VISIT (In my country).’ We know tourism from outside Africa and animals are very important in Botswana – than an African life, but in the same vein they should remember that Africa keeps growing and they will one day need their neighbours as they needed them before because blood is thicker than water, unless they do not have blood. When you smile, the world will smile with you. When you frown, the world will not frown with you!
Cletius Mushaukwa is a business person, a former civil servant, former UN employee, an author and worked for various NGOs.