Tension and desperation is mounting at the Kazungula border between Botswana and Zambia where transporters are being held up for days because only one of the three pontoons used to ferry traffic across the rain-swollen river is still working.
Adding to the frustration, explained long-haul transporter Duncan Ellis, was the fact that the brand new multimodal bridge remained unused while public sector representatives responsible for facilitating trade were conspicuously quiet about when the bridge would be officially opened.
Currently loaded with cheese meant for Mufilira in Zambia’s Copperbelt province, Ellis’s truck arrived at the border in north-east Botswana on Monday, and is still waiting to cross.
Flat-deck operators he had spoken to and who had only managed to cross earlier this morning, told him they had been there since last Friday.
“It’s a complete and utter disaster. Here we have this fantastic bridge but we’re still relying on using pontoons to get across.
“Not only that, but there’s only one working, and we don’t know when the other two will be in use again. We’re also not hearing anything about the bridge as there’s no one to talk to.”
He said he had managed to get through to Carol Madigage, operator relations officer at the C-BRTA, but although she’s very helpful there’s only so much that she can do as she has to refer enquiries to the relevant people.
Ellis said he also didn’t understand why hauliers carrying perishables weren’t given preference.
“They used to do that but they’ve stopped and it comes at a great expense to us. Running a fridge to keep goods cold is costly. I’m on 80-100 litres of fuel a day and we can’t recover these costs from our clients.”
Guessing why cold-chain trucks aren’t given preference any more, Ellis said rumours were doing the rounds that flat-deck truckers had threatened to become violent if they were delayed even further at Kazungula for the sake of hauliers with perishables.
“The whole situation is just ridiculous. I don’t understand why they can’t let us use the bridge so long. There are how many stories circulating at the moment that there’s no sign-off on the contract because of money that’s still outstanding, and yet the bridge was actually used at one stage last year.”
Ellis said when coronavirus lockdown regulations spread across the region during the outbreak last year, Botswana had become so fearful of the situation at Kazungula as trucks going north massed onto its border, that a whole lot of loads had been let through across the bridge.
“They escorted trucks in batches up to Lusaka where drivers were quarantined in a university dormitory until they could go. So what is the hold up with the bridge really? Can the public sector people not see we are desperate?”
In the meantime Ellis is already diverting trucks to the Livingstone-Vic Falls crossing further east up the Zambezi, at additional cost because of having to cross into Zimbabwe from Botswana in order to get to Zambia.
That crossing, Zambia has decided, will be off limits to cargo as of March 1 due to the impact heavy-haul volumes are having on an environmentally sensitive tourism area.
“Apparently the Kazungula bridge will be opened then,” Ellis said.
“A lot of guys are saying that’s when we’ll finally be able to officially use it because we won’t really have an alternative to cross the Zambezi going north, other than going via Beitbridge and Chirundu if you’re heading into the Copperbelt.”
Cross-border consultant Mike Fitzmaurice, however, has expressed his reservations that the bridge at Kazungula will be opened any time soon.
He explained earlier this month that over and above the necessary statutory instruments between Botswana and Zambia that remained unsigned, the necessary facilities to facilitate a One-stop Border Post as per the intentions for Kazungula, were simply not in place.
Ellis added that Fitzmaurice, a private sector representative who heads up the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), was the only person willing to help at the moment.
And Madigage, whose hands seem tied by the limitations of her position at the C-BRTA.
At the time this post was prepared, Madigage referred Freight News (FN) to Botsant Moiloa, the association’s general manager, to assist Ellis and others battling to access Kazungula.
“It’s their mandate,” Ellis said. “It states clearly that they are there to assist us with cross-border efficiencies. That’s what we pay their tariffs for.”
Kindly note that I acknowledge receipt of your email as well as the voice note. I am contacting my colleagues in the region to ascertain what may be the challenge and if there is an extraordinary reason for whatever delays.
I have copied our international relations unit as well as our media unit on this email as it involves a foreign border of two SADC member states and for the weird fact that an unnamed operator sought help from a media house. Without us having full details of the incident or constraint as well as the name, date/time of the operator and incident it makes it more difficult to help.
Kindly send me an email with full details of the operator carrying perishables, what is the challenge and any other information that may help us in engaging the corridor or regional bodies as well as the neighbouring states. In the meantime I have engaged colleagues in the region to ask what is going on there generally.
General manager: border interventions & corridors development