The northbound backlog into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), supposedly caused by bad road surfaces in Zambia and deplorable conditions at the latter country’s Copperbelt border of Kasumbalesa, this morning stretched beyond Chingola on the T3 about 50 kilometres to the south.
The long-distance haulier who reported the matter to the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), this morning said one of his trucks that had joined the queue on Wednesday had only moved 20 kilometres since then.
Fesarta’s Kage Barnett has said that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.
One of their officials told Fesarta that the lengthening queue had been “escalated to ministerial level so not sure what else we can do”.
Transporters were also told that a fact-finding mission would be sent to the border to see what the real issues were.
It must come as some sort of comfort, therefore, that a Zambian border official has stated the following: “To expedite traffic flow we are dropping penalties for late exit, prioritising perishables, encouraging cleared trucks to exit the customs yard immediately rather than waiting for the allowable 48 hours to remain in the yard, (and are) collaborating with Zambia Police and RTSA (Road Transport Safety Agency) to marshal traffic, and (have) agreed on extended operating hours with DRC.”
It includes additional cross-border facilitation services in Ndola, the capital of the Copperbelt Province.
This morning information was also received about high-level discussions in Lubumbashi to address the backlog, although from what can be seen, the talks were about “sensitising” truck drivers about Covid vaccination, which is currently not really germane to bottlenecking in Zambia.
As transporters operating on the north-south corridor have repeatedly stated, the issue is in Zambia and not the DRC.
One such haulier said: “The real issue is the condition of the roads in Zambia is atrocious.”
Furthermore, when truckers finally reach Kasumbalesa, having had to camp in their cabins with scant – if any – roadside amenities, Zambia’s customs yard is said to be somewhat of a quagmire.
The same long-distance operator spoken to yesterday said: “The parking on the Zambia side of Kasumbalesa is so bad trucks can’t get in. And once they’re in they can’t get out because they’re stuck in the mud.”
He explained that the queue stretching from the border to the little town of Chililabombwe, roughly halfway to Chingola, was actually a double queue as waiting trucks had formed two lines.
Yesterday, a photo received from Fesarta clearly showed a tanker stuck right in the middle of the queue.
Presumably it’s empty, although no-load back-haul journeys are diverted away from Kasumbalesa on the DRC side of the border.
Nevertheless, Fesarta and members have for years warned about the dangers of Hazchem tankers stuck in queues.
In November 2014, a build-up of trucks at this very border resulted in an explosion when a cooking fire ignited, killing four people and damaging 78 trucks (*).
Said another transporter yesterday: “You would imagine that by now they would’ve learned their lesson.”
Clearly, it’s easy to understand the frustration of transporters when they hear of “fact-finding missions”.
Although many are grateful that something is being done to unblock the border, many feel that authorities should know by now what’s wrong and should talk less and do more.
* Read our story from 2014 for context: https://tinyurl.com/nxefdam6