“The situation here is bad – very, very bad,” says one of the thousands of truck drivers stranded at the Lebombo border crossing station in Komatipoort, Mpumalanga. With truck queues now stretching more than 25 kms and soaring temperatures often exceeding 32 degrees, lives and livelihoods are at stake. The life-threatening delay is due to the COVID-19 protocols that have been implemented by the South African government. The Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (FESARTA) and the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) have again called on Government to work more closely with the Associations when implementing the COVID -19 protocols in order to alleviate the devastating effect on travellers businesses and the economy at large.

Lives and Livelihoods Threatened

Bensco Logistics, a small trucking company operating a fleet of 25 trucks transporting chrome, is one of many businesses experiencing the dire consequences. “This is a complete and utter disaster for our business – and for many others,” says Managing Director Bernard Lunga. “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 adds that for the business to operate sustainably, each truck needs to make a delivery within 36 hours: if they exceed this time, the trips are not profitable. “From 1 December 2020 up until 6 January 2021, we have lost 20 days’ productivity as a result of the border post delays,” he says. “Our trucks are all stuck on the Mozambique side. Three of them have not moved in four days. The other seven off-loaded yesterday and they are in a queue 17 kms from the border. 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,” said a concerned Lunga.

Covid-19 Testing the Cause

While the delays are attributed to Covid-19 testing done on the South African side of the border, it has also impacted the South African border due to the huge number of trucks creating massive congestion in the area.

A shortage of manpower is exacerbating 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.

“We support the requirement for the testing to be done, but Border personnel are overwhelmed and cannot cope with the situation,” says FESARTA’s Chief Executive Officer 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.”

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.

Smooth Supply Chains

“To remove the congestion, the movement of cargo (trucks) needs to be separated from other traffic such as passenger cars, buses and pedestrians,” explains Dr Juanita Maree, Chairperson of SAAFF. “This will enable the free flow of vehicles and passengers. Ninety per cent of the trucks coming back into South Africa from Mozambique have no loads: they should be able to enter and exit the border post seamlessly”.

“FESARTA and SAAFF re-iterate their recent request for a Public Private Partnership (PPP) to be formed between governments, their agencies and the private sector,” concludes Maree. “This will enable us to prevent similar disasters from re-occurring. With the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) having come into effect on 1 January 2021, the PPP is now more crucial than ever”.