The north-bound queue at Chirundu on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia has been substantially shortened after it was decided to turn the crossing into a 24-hour operation for at least a week.
The move, which has significantly alleviated delays at one of the most congested borders in the sub-Saharan region, was motivated by the intervention of the revenue authorities of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Mike Fitzmaurice, chief executive of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), said the decision was made on Saturday and had come into effect yesterday morning at 6am.
This morning it had already resulted in the north-bound queue going down to less than a kilometre.
On previous occasions, because of testing for Covid-19 and pre-existing congestion triggers, truck traffic at this border would stretch almost halfway to Makuti, the first settlement some 60 kilometres south from Chirundu on Zimbabwe’s A1 highway.
Last week a South African long-distance driver had to be rushed to hospital after he stepped out of his truck and was trampled by an elephant in an area, also known as Hurungwe nature reserve, where big-five game roam.
Fitzmaurice said the suggestion that Chirundu should become a 24-hour operation had already been made in January when he visited the beleaguered border stop as a consultant.
“We also recommended infrastructural changes but that is more long term.”
He said he hoped that the short-term efficiency and benefit of keeping the border open for 24 hours would soon be realised, and that the week-long testing period would be extended.
Ultimately it comes down to aspects of human resources, and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) is expected to make an announcement in this regard before the seven-day testing period is terminated.
For the time-being though, the south-bound queue remains a problem.
According to Fitzmaurice, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) said they had certain issues to contend with.
Unfortunately this is also the queue where criminals prey on transporters at night as the queue north backs up into the built-up area of Chirundu.
“The thing is, if Zimra and ZRA decide to keep the border open for 24 hours they will have to do the same at Kasumbalesa,” Fitzmaurice said about the crossing on Zambia’s Copper Belt province into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“It doesn’t help that traffic passing through the one border is improved but ongoing problems experienced elsewhere remain unresolved. It will just cause bottlenecking at borders such as Kasumbalesa.”
Unfortunately that crossing is renowned for its congestion and often brutal criminality where soldiers and police from the DRC sometimes join in rampant extortion at gunpoint.
Last week political faction-fighting in Zambia led to the closure of the border.
Be that as it may, Fitzmaurice is hopeful that Zimra and ZRA’s efforts at Chirundu will bear fruit.
“It’s a positive change,” he said of the crossing which during the lockdown has made news for all the wrong reasons.
“If the testing period works, it will be the way to go.”