Delays and death at SADC borders

Delays and death at SADC borders

Hundreds of vehicles carrying fuel and fertilizer – which are among those in a ten-kilometre-long queue of vehicles – make the Forbes-Machipanda border post a dangerous cocktail

During September, a child, who was playing under a tanker in the queue at the Machipanda Border Post between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, was driven over when the vehicle moved forward; a terrible situation that has left the driver of the truck traumatised.

The tragedy is regrettable, but probably unavoidable under the circumstances. It will, hopefully, bring home to the Zimbabwean authorities the dangers of having large numbers of vehicles queueing in uncontrolled areas, with no security or facilities, for extended periods of time.

The chaos at Zimbabwean borders has followed the amendment of the Customs and Excise (General) Regulations by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The amendment requires that authorities fit all vehicles with Customs seals.

The seals are to be paid for by transporters in American dollars, and unsealed vehicles must be escorted in convoys, as and when organised by the Commissioner. This sometimes causes delays of up to five days.

The amendment is already causing considerable obstruction with vehicles being delayed for up to 24 hours while waiting for seals; removal of existing seals (which are required by consignors to verify load integrity); refusal to endorse documents (when seals are tampered with or removed); damage to vehicles (when drilling holes to fit seals); further harassment regarding routes; and police road blocks.

The costs of the seals and penalties are unacceptable additions to the already high cost of crossing Zimbabwean borders. The increased delays and stoppages experienced on the corridor are significant barriers to efficiency and contribute to reduced safety of vehicles and cargoes.

Fesarta initially addressed this matter by registering Non-tariff Barriers (NTB-000-782) as well as by engaging with the South African Development Community (SADC) in terms of the Protocol on Transport.

Fesarta representatives have also arranged urgent meetings in Harare to voice their condemnation and to insist on a review of the entire process.

The chaotic conditions are endemic to the SADC corridors, and the border and corridor management in the region indicate minimal intention by the member states to adhere to the principles of the protocol on transport, and almost total disregard for the effects of the resulting inefficiency.

Fesarta will be seeking an opportunity to engage with the international donor agencies spearheading the funding of several current and proposed developments, as there are indications that these are likely to increase the bureaucratic obstructions and continue to incur costs without addressing the root causes of the inefficiencies.

It is essential to change the apparent official perspective in many countries that see borders as the simplest point at which to extract maximum revenue from transport and trade, rendering the issue of cost-efficiency of the movement of goods as a secondary consideration.

A coordinated, analytical, professional and pragmatic appraisal of the entire SADC transport and trade network is urgently required to provide the basis for making the necessary changes.


Mike Fitzmaurice is the CEO of the Federation of East and Southern Africa Road Transport Associations (Fesarta). He has 42 years of experience in the transport and logistics industry with several major companies in South Africa, as well as overseas exposure with some of the leading transport companies in six European countries. Since 2004 he has established and run Transport Logistics Consultants. In May 2015 he became CEO of Fesarta.

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