Transport and freight bodies are calling on government for a public-private partnership (PPP) to prevent future disasters similar to the chaos that took place at the Beitbridge border post during December.
The call comes from the Federation of Eastern and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta) and the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (Saaff) - key players in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
The organisations point out that the loss of human life and the cost of delays at Beitbridge could have been prevented.
“Government did not consult with industry bodies; it took a unilateral decision to impose stringent Covid-19 testing at the border posts, which resulted in more than 20-kilometre queues on both sides of the border.
“They only took heed of our proposals once the situation became dire,” says Fesarta chief executive officer Mike Fitzmaurice.
The cost to South Africa so far has been at least four deaths and losses of up to R2 billion.
“These tragic consequences followed after our warnings and advice on what could be done to avoid congestion were ignored. The need to work together is essential to ensure that this does not happen again.”
Saaff chairperson Dr Juanita Maree says that in preparation for the AfCFTA, which commenced on New Year’s Day, urgent action needs to be taken to ensure the smooth flow of goods and people through all borders under this treaty - and Beitbridge in particular.
“The agreement is a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring 30 million people out of extreme poverty and to raise the incomes of 68 million others who live on less than $5.50 a day.
“Municipalities, government agencies and departments, as well as the private sector on both sides of the border need to collaborate to create capacity and efficiencies to ensure that there are no bottlenecks at the border so that much-needed economic growth can take place and trade and business can flourish.
“Trade facilitation measures that cut red tape and ease movement in a secure environment to simplify customs procedures in the AfCFTA framework will help drive US$292 billion of the US$450 billion in potential income gains,” she explains.
Dr Maree says that Saaff provided at least 3 000 litres of water to exhausted drivers stuck at the border during December.
The aid was undertaken under the guidance of Saaff’s border portfolio manager, Lin Botha, a clearing agent based in Musina.
At the time this statement was issued, Botha’s team was also organising other essentials at the border as ongoing support.
“A well-established PPP will prevent similar disasters in the future given the critical role the trucking and freight industry plays in facilitating AfCFTA’s infrastructure development and trade - with transport the ultimate enabler.”