Driver resistance to a decision by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to reject polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results for Covid-19 – a road freight industry norm in the sub-Saharan region – late last week resulted in an eleventh-hour U-turn by the relevant authorities in Kinshasa.
According to Mike Fitzmaurice of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), Friday night’s announcement came as a relief to the cross-border road freight trade as additional testing in the DRC would have come at a huge expense to long-distance hauliers.
Although the intervention was initiated by officials from the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) through the Ministry of Commerce and Provincial Administration, it came after irate drivers started refusing to cross into DRC at its busy Kasumbalesa border with Zambia, resulting in a nine-kilometre queue south towards Chililabombwe.
Authorities in Kinshasa initially appeared impervious to persuasion, saying that they had recorded a significant case load of fraudulent PCR tests and that they did not have the means to verify results.
However, the Zambian government’s appeal on behalf of transporters resulted in the DRC finally deciding to accept PCR results from other countries, and to roll out rapid testing free of charge in the event of drivers arriving at its border without test results.
Significantly, acquiescence from Kinshasa at the behest of the Zambian government happened on the day the DRC intended to implement the contentious Covid-curbing measure.
This morning Fitzmaurice described the development as a major victory for public-private cooperation in the Southern African Development Community.
“If the DRC had gone ahead with this, it would’ve been a major issue in terms of transporter costs as they would’ve had to pay $45 to get a driver tested each and every time they entered the DRC.”
He explained that a northbound trip from South Africa towards Lubumbashi, capital of the DRC’s copper mining region, could take up to 10 days to complete, with drivers required to be PCR tested at a cost of R850 each time.
Moreover, the results are only valid for three days.
With transporters already yoked by the cost of complying with Covid protocols across the region, it would have been a heavy financial blow to arrive at a border such as Kasumbulesa with a valid PCR certificate, yet be required to be tested again, Fitzmaurice said.
He added that there were hauliers who did about 100 trips into the DRC every month.
“There are a lot of transporters doing that and it could’ve added an additional R45 000 per month to an already heavy Covid testing bill ranging from R120 000 to R180 000 per month.”
Fitzmaurice praised the courage and conviction of the drivers and their refusal to proceed through Kasumbalesa since last Wednesday.
He also applauded ZRA for the manner in which it had stood up for the interests of cross-border hauliers.
He said it was likely that the queue, which had resulted from the driver resistance, had already been cleared.