It’s just over a week since the new Beitbridge Border Post freight terminal has been opened to the public and the results of improved border management systems are slowly beginning to show.
Like any project, migration from old systems to new ways of doing things has its own challenges and teething problems and the Beitbridge Border Post refurbishment and modernisation project by ZimBorders is no exception.
The congestion at the Beitbridge border post started a few weeks before the opening of the new freight terminal as a result of Covid-19 lockdown regulations and curfews on both the Zimbabwe and South African sides of the border.
It continued to build up steadily over the weeks with queues on both the Southbound and Northbound routes growing over several kilometres and creating a gridlock.
ZimBorders was scheduled to go live on Monday 11 October and so on the Sunday before going live, during the dry run, trucks were let into the border yard so as to give them an opportunity to pass before the toll fees were applied as well as to alleviate the congestion that was worsening.
The trucks piled up in the freight parking and by the time the freight terminal went live on Monday; the yard was packed and ZimBorders had to kickstart operations dealing with an already congested border.
As if that was not enough, the border was opened for non-commercial traffic which aggravated the situation.
Whilst the week of the 11th of October has been characterised with images of long queues on both the northbound and southbound routes and blockages over the bridge, enormous efforts have been made by the various border stakeholders including ZimBorders and ZIMRA, to clear the southbound queues and significant progress has been made on the northbound route.
The congestion is a combination of various factors which include non-compliance of clearance documents. In response to the congestion, a crisis management committee made up of representatives from the border stakeholders was set up and they conducted surveys to find out the root cause of the delay in traffic movement.
Results from the survey exposed that more than 60 percent of the drivers had inadequate documentation required for clearance.
Historically, even though pre-clearance facilities were available, many transporters had managed to circumvent complete compliance.
The new border systems are designed to enhance efficiency and they require adherence to compliance for a truck to be released out of the border.
This resulted in growth of the queues as the trucks have to have all documentation in order.
Another major area of concern that was identified as adding to the long queues was that whilst ZIMRA, Immigration and other units were working round the clock on 24-hour shifts, clearing agents and ‘runners’ and other services were not working night shifts.
This had been caused by curfews that have been put in place as part of the Covid-19 regulations and has since been rectified.
Even though the Government of Zimbabwe had declared border officials including clearing agents as part of essential services, very few agents and runners had gone back to working 24hr shifts. This resulted in slow to non-existent movement of trucks during the night thereby creating backlogs and adding to the traffic congestion.
The crisis management committee has put in place measures to address the situation.
The movement of trucks during the day has reached a fairly acceptable rate and clearing agents and runners have been engaged to work night shifts so as to improve the traffic flow in the night.
The southbound queues have disappeared and the Northbound queues have reduced from 10kms long of 3 lanes to 8km of mostly single lane.
ZimBorders has engaged their ICT service providers who have ensured that all payment platforms including credit cards, EcoCash, transfers, swipe, prepayments and cash are up and running.
ZIMRA and SARS have collaborated and put in place measures that will enable ZIMRA to vet documentation for clearance when the trucks are still on the SA side of the border.
Non-compliant trucks will not be allowed to proceed to join the queue as they will be kept in truck stops in RSA until they are compliant side thereby avoiding congestion over the bridge.
Zimbabwe is fully committed to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement hence the refurbishment and modernisation of the Beitbridge Border Post and the rehabilitation of the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway.
We urge all transporters to adopt to the required pre-clearance processes that are required by law and urge all border officials to work 24hr shifts to complement the new border systems that will not only remove the queues but will have a fully compliant border with unmatched border efficiencies and a speedy and pleasant border crossing experience for all.
Nick Mangwana is the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services