A new 40km fence will be erected at the Beitbridge border post as one of the emergency measures that the government is implementing to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in South Africa.

Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille said the 1.8m-high fence would span 20km on each side of the border post, separating SA from Zimbabwe. The fence will cost R37.2m.

A contractor was appointed on Wednesday and the fast-tracked project is expected to be finished within a month.

“This is to ensure that no undocumented or infected persons cross into the country and vice versa, in line with one of the measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in that South Africa’s borders and ports are to be secured with immediate effect,” said De Lille.

Ramaphosa announced on Sunday night that 35 of the 53 land entry points would be closed. De Lille said this measure would, however, not be effective if the fences at the border were not secure. In many places, they were not.

De Lille was at pains to stress this was being done in the interest of South Africans and Zimbabweans. “We are certainly not xenophobic. We have had thorough consultations with all the countries that are our neighbours,” she said.

“What is important for SA is to protect our own citizens and people coming into our country because at the border post now, you’ve got health inspectors and you’ve got environmental professionals and they are doing the testing and screening at the border. But if somebody just walks over the border, there are no such facilities,” she added.

De Lille said they already had people repairing fences around all the borders but the emergency measures were due to the high volume of people coming and leaving the country through the Beitbridge border post.