Five die while stuck in traffic at Beitbridge, with fears of more deaths

Trucks are shown waiting for days to cross the Beitbridge border post between SA and Zimbabwe in this file photograph. Picture: SUPPLIED
Image: Supplied

Five people have died in what has been described as the worst congestion in the history of the Beitbridge border post.

Queues of trucks and other vehicles are reaching 20km  in both directions at the Musina, Limpopo, border crossing — and truck drivers are taking up to nine days to get into Zimbabwe, according to the Road Freight Association (RFA).

The association said the crisis was unacceptable as thousands of people had been stranded with no facilities or amenities to accommodate them.

“The freight situation is desperate … This is the worst congestion in the history of Beitbridge. Queues stretch out from the border to Musina on the South African side and on the Zimbabwe side along the Beitbridge-Harare highway and the Bulawayo road,” said Gavin Kelly, CEO of the RFA.

“Trucks are on every street and all over in the surrounding towns. Though congestion at Beitbridge has been a challenge for some time, the Covid-19 checks and curfews have severely worsened this. With proper planning, this nightmare could have been avoided,” he said.

The association said it was aware of the deaths of four drivers. They died “in their trucks due the dire situation and conditions — with unconfirmed reports of another seven from local SAPS authorities”.

Provincial police spokesperson Brig Motlafela Mojapelo confirmed the deaths of five people — two women who died on Tuesday, a truck driver who died on Wednesday, a man who died in the early hours of Thursday and another who died later in the day.

Mojapelo said police had opened inquest dockets for the deceased, except for two people who had existing medical conditions.

The situation was being monitored, he said.

Growing risks

The association expressed concern at the risks and dangers drivers had been exposed to.

“Exhaustion is a reality and this affects the ability to function effectively and drive safely. Drivers are not able to perform at their best and therefore safety is compromised. This is a serious concern,” said Kelly.

He said most drivers were not sitting in their trucks but were continuously walking up and down the queue trying to investigate the cause of delays, while others were fighting those who try to bribe their way through.

“Criminals are also taking advantage of the situation and trucks and trailers are being broken into and looted,” Kelly said.

The association also expressed concern at say that some drivers paid up to R1,000 to skip the queue.

“The more you pay, the better your chance to get clear to the front. Those who stand innocently in queue waiting their turn stand for weeks in the same position. This dire situation cannot continue — it is affecting the lives of our drivers, the surrounding areas, consumers and business.

“The delays have cost more than R700m to date and this figure is going to increase substantially. This crisis could have been avoided. We call on government to take speedy action to address this,” said the RFA.

The department of home affairs had not responded to queries at the time of publishing.

by Nonkululeko Njilo

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