South Africa’s Beitbridge Border Post into Zimbabwe is still without running water this morning, which means long-distance road freight on the vital north-south route to the Copperbelt between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has ground to a halt (**).
This was confirmed early today by irate hauliers turning to the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta) for help.
Customs south of the border gave notice yesterday morning that they were suspending operations because of the service delivery issue.
It led transporters to crack jokes about civil servants downing tools because they can’t use ablution facilities, while truck drivers often have to wait in day-long queues because of cargo-processing inefficiencies at various South African transits.
One of the long-haul freighters even quipped how laughable it was that a border as important as Beitbridge should be closed down because they have no running water.
In the meantime, a wet summer has the Limpopo running very strong, begging the question of why water can’t be pumped from the river to sustain certain sanitary services at the border.
As for drinking water, surely it can be supplied through a bowser station or brought in from Musina some 20 kilometres south on the N1.
Unsurprisingly, transporters can’t be blamed for losing the sense of humour they still had yesterday.
This morning, for the most part, mirth had turned to open vitriol, with one haulier saying: “Such a big border post does not have a functional plan B. I’m lost for words.”
What’s more is the deafening silence from public sector associations supposed to be facilitating trade in the region by helping private sector concerns – associations such as the Border Management Authority (BMA) and the Cross-border Road Transport Association (C-BRTA).
Consider for good measure: the BMA and the sophisticated border services it wants to implement, was earlier this given a medium-term budget of R124.9 million for branding purposes, kitting out staff with uniforms, and splashing out on expensive gear such as 15 Toyota Land Cruisers.
While one may argue that good 4X4 vehicles are necessary to police porous borders, especially South Africa’s Limpopo line with Zimbabwe, one could easily argue that some of the BMA’s budgetary allocation should go towards essential incidentals – such as ensuring water flow to customs facilities (*).
After months of running fairly well and being snag-free, Beitbridge unfortunately seems to have reverted to its default setting: congestion central.
In that respect it’s receiving strong competition from Kasumbulesa, the Copperbelt border at the furthest end of the north-south line which, like Beitbridge, seems to easily go pear-shaped when the apple cart hits a hobble – excuse the metaphor mixing (read today’s report about Kasumbalesa).
Said one of the transporters to Fesarta: “So on the north-south corridor we only have one functioning border.”
Assuming he is referring to Chirundu between Zimbabwe and Zambia, that One-stop Border Post, touch wood, has been running relatively smoothly for a while.
But let’s not jinx things.
* Read this post for context: https://tinyurl.com/4uxkxdc9
** This report has not been updated since it was posted on Friday, 8 April.