Zweli Mkhize called on to intervene urgently in Beitbridge backlogs

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

With several deaths already recorded at the Beitbridge border post, the transport and freight forwarding industries have called for urgent intervention saying “a humanitarian disaster is unfolding”.

The industries said the situation was “creating a potential Covid-19 catastrophe which also threatens a cholera outbreak”.

In an open letter to health minister Zweli Mkhize, the organisations called for an urgent intervention, outlining its “grave conditions”, but have not received response.

Federation Eastern and Southern Africa Road Transport Associations CEO Mike Fitzmaurice said Covid-19 regulations and restrictions introduced at the beginning of December had severely compromised the flow of traffic through both sides of the border post.

“There is only one place for testing with a single entry and exit point, creating a massive bottleneck that stretches from Musina [Limpopo] on the SA side to the border post, and for more than 20km on the Zimbabwe side.

“The congestion, aggravated by the annual increase in traffic at this time of the year, has already cost SA lost revenue. During the first three weeks of December, the cost of delays at Beitbridge was almost R88m per week. Queue time delays for trucks amounted to R609m per week, amounting to R2,092,860,000 to date,” he said.

SA Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) chairperson Dr Juanita Maree said the losses to the SA economy added to the R442m already lost during the 27-day blockage to northbound traffic that took place last month.

Maree said drivers in the queues had run out of food, had no water for drinking or washing and there were no toilet facilities.

“Criminals are looting and stealing from the trucks and drivers have given up hope of getting home to be with their families, while sitting in unbearable heat of more than 40 degrees.”

Furthermore, reports of corruption were rife with some traffic officials alleged to be accepting bribes of R1,000 from drivers who jump the queue.

Maree believes that the way to decongest the border is to suspend Covid-19 testing for drivers and close the border at night for travellers and bus traffic. Currently, the one testing point is open during the day only.

“The southbound trucks with no loads should then be moved across in batches alternating with loaded trucks. The northbound truck traffic can be pushed through at night.

“The situation is desperate as this disaster is having a severe impact on supply chains throughout Africa. Much-needed goods — including essential items — are simply not reaching their destination. There is no quick solution but if government is willing to partner with the private sector, we can restore the smooth flow of goods and people across the border, preventing a humanitarian disaster and the economic collapse of the region,” she said.