Criminality at South Africa’s Beitbridge border continues to trip up smooth cargo transits, with the latest complaint involving Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers accused of forcing cross-border truck drivers to break the cargo seals of the goods they carry.
An SA-Zim transporter who spoke to Freight News on condition of anonymity said for the past month and a half ZRP officers had been stopping northbound drivers asking to see what was inside their trucks.
“Obviously there’s a lot of smuggling into Zimbabwe at the moment and I can understand that they have a function to carry out, but they have no reason to force us to break the seals.”
The transporter explained that the whole point behind the seal applied by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) was to verify that they were legitimately transporting goods that had passed the necessary clearing procedures.
“When we tell them that we’ll open our trucks so they can inspect our cargo, but only if Zimra is present, they say we must go to the nearest police station which is usually back in Beitbridge.”
Contributing to the irregularity and suspicious nature of the random checks, usually a few kilometres north of the border, was the lack of supporting means to carry out ‘police’ work, the transporter explained.
“Usually when they stop us it’s in the bush somewhere where there are no facilities. They have nothing available, they don’t even have a car. We’ve come to realise that sometimes all they want is a ride back to the police station. And when we get there the chief in charge usually realises that there’s no need to inspect our cargo, whereupon we’re told to go. It’s such a waste of time and money.”
He said such interruptions – like being told to go to the nearest police station - could take up to 45 minutes.
“In that time a truck could’ve done another 80 kilometres or so.”
What was really regrettable about the situation, the transporter added, was that Zimra’s electronic clearing regimes were actually working well.
“Yet we, legitimate transporters with cargo seals on our trucks, have to be subjected to this. We pay thousands of US dollars, bring revenue into the country, but we have to wait to do our work while authorities turn a blind eye to real smugglers.”
Exacerbating matters, he said, was the apparent disconnect between clearing agents and Zimra.
“Zimra says one thing and agents say another. Meanwhile we’re caught in between. And when we finally get through, we’re stopped by police in the bush who are only wasting more time. All of this while bakkies and buses smuggling goods come and go as they please.”