The number of people crossing the Mozambique-South Africa border at Ressano Garcia in the 10 days up to Christmas this year has dropped by more than 31 per cent compared with the same period in 2015.

The Christmas period is one of the busiest times of the year for the Ressano Garcia border post, as Mozambicans working in South Africa return to visit their families and South African tourists head for the beaches of southern Mozambique.

However, this year there has been a sharp decline. According to the Mozambican immigration authorities at Ressano Garcia, quoted by the STV television station, between Dec 14 and 25, a total of 219,160 people crossed the border with 144,202 of them entering Mozambique and 74,958 departing.

This compares with 318,391 people crossing the border between the same dates in 2015 with 196,867 entering Mozambique and 121,565 leaving.

Immigration officials suggested this was a result of the current economic crisis. There may be other reasons, but we think the most important one is the economic crisis,” said the head of the immigration unit at Ressano Garcia, Lazaro Saraiva. This situation means that people are opting to stay at home to save money.”

The drop in arrival numbers has happened despite the sharp depreciation of the Mozambican currency, the metical, against the South African Rand, which means that it has become cheaper for South African tourists to visit Mozambique, and the wages, paid in Rand, of Mozambican migrants will buy many more meticais today than a year ago.

The poor image of Mozambique abroad, caused largely by the insurrection waged by the rebel movement Renamo, may have deterred tourists even though Renamo attacks have not targeted tourist resorts in the southern provinces.

The predatory nature of some of the Mozambican traffic police, extorting money from tourists, may also have acted as a deterrent. The General Command of the police has cracked down on this corruption, immediately suspending an officer who was filmed extorting money from a South African family. This encouraging news, however, may have come too late for those who have already booked Christmas holidays for other destinations.