New COVID Prevention Measures Snarl South Africa's Mineral Exports

border post
Beitbridge border post on a calmer day (MacVivo / CC BY 3.0)

Published Jan 8, 2021 8:36 PM by Brian Gicheru Kinyua

It has been extremely difficult for shippers to cross South Africa’s border with Mozambique since the implementation of new COVID-19 rules by the South African government. Truck congestion extends for kilometers, caused by a severe shortage of health officials to clear shippers and other passengers, and mineral exports are particularly affected.

Lebombo is one of the border points affected by this massive vehicular congestion, and it serves as an export conduit for chrome ore via South Africa. The Mineral Council of South Africa estimates that South Africa ships about 30 percent of its chrome via Mozambique. Reports by freight associations indicate that traffic queues at Lebombo border station extend for 25 kilometers in both directions.

Some of the logistics companies involved in chrome ore transport say that since the congestion started, they have lost around 75 percent of their productivity. Estimations by Mike Fitzmaurice, CEO of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Association (Fesarta) show that companies have cumulatively lost over $10 million since January 3 as a result of the snarl-up, translating to $2 million per day.

Truckers blame the South African government for this situation, alleging poor planning and minimal effort to involve transport stakeholders.

A similar situation has been happening at Beitbridge, which links South Africa to Zimbabwe and other northern landlocked countries. It is Africa’s busiest land crossing point, and despite several interventions at the end of the year - including exempting truck drivers from on-site COVID-19 testing – Beitbridge’s congestion remains unresolved. There were claims by the Road Freight Association that four truck drivers and a bus passenger lost their lives at the border point due to long queues coupled with high temperatures and unavailability of drinking water.

Most landlocked countries in Southern Africa depend on South African ports to import and export their goods, and these border delays will significantly impact trade in this region.

In the recent past, South Africa has seen a rising number of COVID-19 infections, leading the government to institute strict measures to control the spread. These include a nationwide curfew from 2100 hours to 0600 hours and higher surveillance at border points.