LETTER | Dear Mr President, the freight humanitarian disaster at Beitbridge is desperate

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Endless queues at Beitbridge.
Endless queues at Beitbridge.
Road Freight Association

• The Road Freight Association's Gavin Kelly calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to resolve the humanitarian crisis at Beitbridge. 
• Queues of trucks and other vehicles are reaching 20 kilometres in both directions.
• At least four drivers have already died in their trucks in the queues.
• For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24.

The Road Freight Association (RFA) calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to immediately rectify and resolve the unacceptable crisis at Beitbridge, which has already become a massive humanitarian disaster. 

Queues of trucks and other vehicles are reaching 20 kilometres in both directions, and truck drivers are taking up to nine days to cross the border. 

With no facilities and amenities to accommodate the thousands of people waiting to cross the border, the delays have spiralled into a humanitarian catastrophe.

The freight situation at Beitbridge is desperate. This is the worst congestion in the history of Beitbridge ever. Queues stretch out from the border to Musina on the South African side, on the Zimbabwe side, and along Beitbridge Harare Highway and the Bulawayo Road.

All the truck parks are full. Trucks are in every street and all over in the surrounding towns. Although congestion at Beitbridge has been a challenge for some time, the Covid-19 checks and curfews have severely exacerbated this. With proper planning, this nightmare could have been avoided.

READ | Truck drivers say they are being targeted at the Beitbridge border post

Truck drivers are being blamed in part for this chaos, with allegations being made that they do not have the correct documentation required and are blocking traffic. This is not the case. Transporters are pre-cleared by SARS – before they reach the border post. If they are not pre-cleared, they go into a separate queue.

Growing risks

Drivers in the queue are exposed to many risks and dangers. They are not sitting in their trucks: they are continuously walking up and down the queue trying to investigate what is happening, while others are fighting those who try to bribe their way through. They are not getting sleep as they are continuously fearful of losing out. 

Exhaustion is a reality, and this impacts on their ability to function effectively and drive safely. They are not able to perform at their best, and therefore, safety is compromised. This is a serious concern.

The RFA is aware of at least four drivers having died in their trucks due to the dire situation and conditions – with unconfirmed reports of another seven from local SAPS authorities.

Moreover, there are no facilities or amenities to make the delays more manageable or provide much-needed relief. There is no food, and there is no water to drink or to bath. There are also no ablution facilities.

Criminals are taking advantage of the situation, and trucks and trailers are being broken into and looted.

Bribery and Corruption

After spending a few days in the queue that doesn't seem to move, drivers resort to jumping the queue. To be able to do so, they bribe the traffic officials to get in front of others. Those who bribe the officers pull up at the entrance. Depending on the situation at the entrance and the amount of money paid, some drivers get turned back from the entrance and are made to rejoin the queue at the back.

Some drivers pay up to a thousand Rand just to skip the queue.

The more you pay, the better your chance to get clear to the front. Those who stand innocently in queue waiting for their rightful turn, stand for weeks at the same position.

This dire situation cannot continue – it is impacting on the lives of our drivers, the surrounding areas, consumers and business. 

The delays have cost over R700-million to date, and this figure is going to increase substantially. This crisis could have been avoided. We call on Government to take speedy action to address this.

Gavin Kelly
Gavin Kelly is the Chief Executive of the Road Freight Association.

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