South Africa’s Cross-border Road Transport Agency (C-BRTA) will tomorrow hold a Freight Operators’ Forum aimed at discussing the authority’s Operator Compliance Accreditation Scheme (Ocas).
However, officials could very well find the discussion dominated by the escalating congestion at key crossings into the region where government control – or the attempt to apply control – is yet again bearing down on borders such as Beitbridge.
Several transporters have already indicated that, as opposed to talking about schemes like Ocas, the C-BRTA should urgently pay attention to congestion issues threatening to disrupt road freight processing at certain transits.
This comes after government decided last week that it was going to control traffic flow towards border posts such as Beitbridge by pulling trucks off the road, directing them to certain areas, and limiting the queue directly south of the border to 700 metres.
Fearing that Beitbridge in particular could plunge into chaotic scenes reminiscent of December and January, when Covid-19 and lockdown regulations played havoc with South Africa’s crossing into Zimbabwe, authorities thought it wise to stem the flow of freight to the border.
Unfortunately, as has happened on many occasions in the past, the decision to manage traffic through Beitbridge on the eve of South Africa’s land borders reopening to regional travel this morning - following restricted movement regulations implemented in December - was done with no prior private-sector consultation.
At least that’s the claim from transporters and related representatives who this morning complained of truck parks filling up and officials indiscriminately directing drivers to areas without providing any distinction for precleared cargo.
A clearing agent told the Transit Assistance Bureau (Transist) that trucks were being randomly pulled off the road and sent into truck parks without due consideration for those hauliers who should have preference over others.
Various reports have been filtering through but, to summarise, “it’s yet again just another mess developing as authorities fumble to pretend they know what to do”, one transporter said.
Making matters worse is the fact that Groblersbrug Border Post, another crossing from South Africa on the way north, has been shut down for weeks after the Limpopo River burst its banks last week and damaged infrastructure.
As a result Beitbridge, which has an arrival rate of at least 600 trucks a day, could now face about 1000 trucks a day as transporters heading north towards regions such as the Copperbelt in Zambia start diverting trucks towards the N1 into Zimbabwe.
A Transist spokesperson said the decision to rely on truck parks to help authorities with traffic flow management was ill-conceived.
“There are 17 truck parks in the Musina area but not enough to handle the amount of volume now congregating in one area, while transit at the border is severely constrained.”
He said footage circulated via social media to show the border being free and clear painted a skewed picture - because in the truck parks it was a nightmare, with reports coming through that several of the parks had already reached capacity.
One transporter hauling bulk liquid towards the Copperbelt said he was being waylaid in the Louis Trichardt area, and that it was taking more than a day to get to the border.
He added that for C-BRTA to blame the traffic increase towards Beitbridge on the Groblersbrug closure was also not acceptable.
“They’ve known for weeks that South Africa’s borders are opening to general travel on the 15th. Why didn’t they plan properly?”
A clearing agent in Musina said the situation was a shambles at the moment, with authorities not knowing who should be allowed to leave truck parks first because consideration for precleared cargo hadn’t been worked into current controlling measures.
The bulk haulier said drivers could not be blamed for exploiting an imperfect scenario, all in a bid to get through the notoriously problematic border as soon as possible.
He asked the C-BRTA to intervene without delay.
Operator relations officer at the association, Carol Madigage, said transporters’ concerns would be added to tomorrow’s agenda.
The Transist spokesperson said he was not going to bother attending the online meeting.
“They (the C-BRTA) have done nothing for us. We talk and talk but they don’t listen. They collect our tariffs and draw up lengthy documents about ‘the way forward’, but when it comes down to the crunch they don’t help the transport industry.”