Lebombo border staff ‘overwhelmed and cannot cope’, queues for 25km

Truckers plead for help from government over gridlock at Mozambique border

Truck drivers waited for days at the border between SA and Zimbabwe. Similar scenes are currently playing out at the border with Mozambique.
Image: Supplied

The Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta) and the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) have blamed the SA government for delays at the Lebombo border crossing station in Komatipoort, Mpumalanga.

The delays were attributed to Covid-19 testing done on the SA side of the border with Mozambique and there were a large number of trucks creating huge congestion in the area.

“We support the requirement for the testing to be done, but border personnel are overwhelmed and cannot cope with the situation,” said Fesarta’s CEO Mike Fitzmaurice.

“What is more concerning is that they have also stated that the additional manpower promised by the minister of home affairs has not materialised,” Fitzmaurice said. This, he added, was worsening the situation.

“A number of staff from the departments of home affairs and port health have now been infected by the virus over recent weeks,” he said.

“Added to this is the four-hour delay when a positive case is detected, as the border is closed to be disinfected. No activity takes place during this time.”

“The situation here is bad – very, very bad,” said one of the thousands of truck drivers stranded at Lebombo.

Fitzmaurice said with truck queues now stretching more than 25km and soaring temperatures often exceeding 32°C, lives and livelihoods were at stake.

“The life-threatening delay is due to the Covid-19 protocols that have been implemented by the South African government.”

Fesarta and SAAFF called on the government in a statement on Thursday to work more closely with the associations when implementing Covid-19 protocols to alleviate the devastating effect on travellers, businesses and the economy at large.

Bensco Logistics, a small company operating a fleet of 25 trucks transporting chrome, is one of many businesses experiencing the dire consequences.

Bensco MD Bernard Lunga said the situation was a complete and utter disaster for their business – and for many others.

“Our productivity has plummeted by 75% since the queues started. Under normal circumstances, each of our trucks moves four loads in six days. Currently, they have only moved one load in five days.”

Lunga added that for the business to operate sustainably, each truck needed to make a delivery within 36 hours. If they exceeded this time, the trips were not profitable.

“From December 1 2020 up until January 6 2021, we have lost 20 days’ productivity as a result of the border post delays,” he said.

“Our trucks are all stuck on the Mozambique side. Three of them have not moved in four days. The other seven offloaded yesterday and they are in a queue 17km from the border,” said a concerned Lunga.

“We are simply unable to generate revenue and risk being unable to pay our creditors if this continues. We may even have to close our business.”

Chairperson of SAAFF Dr Juanita Maree said to remove the congestion, the movement of cargo (trucks) needed to be separated from other traffic such as passenger cars, buses and pedestrians.

“This will enable the free flow of vehicles and passengers … 90% of the trucks coming back into SA from Mozambique have no loads. They should be able to enter and exit the border post seamlessly,” Maree said.

“Fesarta and SAAFF reiterate their recent request for a public-private partnership (PPP) to be formed between governments, their agencies and the private sector. This will enable us to prevent similar disasters from reoccurring.

“With the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) having come into effect on January 1 2021, the PPP is now more crucial than ever.”

TimesLIVE reported this week that Beitbridge, another key entry point into SA from Zimbabwe, had been overwhelmed by an influx of Zimbabwean citizens since authorities in that country banned international travel on January 4.

Scores of people were trying to enter SA, legally and illegally. The influx has created a huge backlog in the processing of documentation and Covid-19 testing and screening, which resulted in hundreds of people, many not wearing masks, crammed together without social distancing.

Last week the associations claimed that delays at Beitbridge led to loss of life and cost SA about R2bn.

by Mpumzi Zuzile

 

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