Although it’s early days at one of Africa’s most notoriously problematic borders, “chaotic congestion” is an epithet that Beitbridge should soon shake off as the crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe has now been free of queuing trucks since Saturday morning.
According to Mike Fitzmaurice, executive director of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), the once blocked-up border post has been clear since Saturday morning.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) introduced last Thursday afternoon were this morning still delivering results, he said.
This is despite criticism from some sources that transporters have been heading around Zim through Botswana in order to avoid Beitbridge which, until the weekend, had trucks amassing south of the border, waiting for days to get through.
The allegation that this had resulted in the border’s arrival rate decreasing was simply not true, Fitzmaurice said.
“When we implemented the SOPs last Thursday afternoon, by about six o’clock that evening trucks began to pour through the border.
“And the arrival rate hasn’t slowed down. From 6am yesterday morning to the same time earlier today, more than 400 trucks were cleared. So to say that the arrival rate has dropped off is just nonsense. Nothing has changed. The volume is still coming through.”
That it took nothing short of a monumental effort from concerned border entities to consolidate around clearing the crush of trucks, is to understate the implementation of decongestion efforts.
One of these alleviation strategies was to restore evening staff levels to what they should be, an issue that emerged because of border personnel adhering to a Covid curfew that didn’t apply to them because they render essential services.
“From the night-time figures coming through, we can see that about 20 or more trucks are processed an hour.”
Until recently it was unlikely that 20 trucks would be cleared from dusk to dawn while evening staff stayed home.
During the day the processing rate, as it stands at the moment, increases to 40 or 50 trucks an hour.
Another game-changer was the SOP interventions agreed to by several stakeholders – the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), the South African Revenue Authority, Zimbabwe National Road Administration, the Vehicle Inspection Department in Zim, Fesarta itself, and the concession company entrusted with running the newly revamped border facilities at Beitbridge, Zimborder Consortium.
Zimra officials crossing the Limpopo to make sure that trucks were precleared to enter Zim, had made a major impact on the queue, Fitzmaurice said.
“They are separating trucks to make sure that those complying with clearing procedures go through. Transporters that don’t comply have their trucks removed from the yard and put into a staging area.”
Staying too long in waiting areas before crossing, because of non-compliance with clearance procedures or idling for whatever reason, is also now coming at a cost to transporters.
“They are being penalised for standing too long. Border officials are getting tough with transporters but it’s the only way to stop trucks from using Beitbridge as a truck park instead of a border post.
“For years now we’ve had operators arriving at the border unprepared. It’s how they work. They still think it’s easier to shed a few bucks and make a plan in becoming ‘compliant’ in the way you do things. Those days are over. Operators that are compliant are going to see the benefit of going via Beitbridge.”
As for the argument by some long-distance hauliers that the cost of using Zimborders’ facilities – $201 for a conventional truck – has resulted in resistance to the cross-border route via Beitbridge, Fitzmaurice said it was a justified expense.
“You can go via Groblersbrug (the way around through Botswana) and stand in a 12-kilometre queue there. It could cost you R5000 a day that could end up costing you around R25 000 for the entire trip. Or you could pay R5000 at Beitbridge and cross the border in half an hour.”
In a complete about-turn from what the processing rate at Beitbridge was until recently, it took no longer than half an hour to get a rig through since last Thursday’s implementation of the SOPs, Fitzmaurice said.