The SA Revenue Service (Sars) tends to get the “short end of the stick” in respect of the chaotic congestion that has gridlocked traffic transiting South Africa’s Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe, Easy Clear general manager Michael Henning has said.
Earlier this week the software solutions executive for cargo clearing remarked that although there had been some respite – especially for the northbound queue intermittently backed-up all the way to Musina – Beitbridge remained a fickle crossing.
“It changes as the day progresses and it’s dependent on many different parties pulling together. If one doesn’t cooperate then suddenly you start to get a backlog and the queue starts to develop.”
However, the bottlenecking at Beitbridge, Henning argued, “is through no lack of trying from Sars”.
Because Easy Clear had clients that had been delayed at the border, it had a vested interest in what was happening at South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe, he said.
“What we do see coming out of the mix is a culmination of traffic police on the N1 that don’t seem to be doing their job, immigration who are applying resources in the wrong place, and truck yards north of the Limpopo running empty.”
The latter, Henning said, was because of timing in respect of truck queueing, and clearance between customs in SA and Zim not being synchronised.
It illustrates, he added, how important it was to forge ahead with the Border Management Authority (BMA), especially in light of the role that a BMA commissioner could play in getting all parties to pull together.
In relation to the department of home affairs, Henning said immigration had a lot to answer for when it came to actions that had a direct impact on border flows.
He mentioned among other things, for example, an immigration officer who had been moved from one office to another, forcing truck drivers entering the “commercial” end of the border to park their trucks and walk across to where they had to get their passports stamped and back again.
Why they had done it was unclear, he said, “but it was ludicrous. It just caused unnecessary delays”.
Henning also questioned claims that according to clearing data southbound cargo was processed in at least 50 minutes.
In the interests of accuracy, Easy Clear was triple checking its own data, but from what they were seeing it was taking at least three hours between a status 40 and 41 – the point when a truck enters and exits the customs area.
“That’s looking at customer declarations and clearances that are done within a day. It excludes the exceptions where there’s a problem with supervision, missing documents and that sort of thing. When you start looking at the exceptions, that average turnaround time is going through roof.
“On the export side it’s even worse,” Henning commented, with regard to the northbound queue that has been such a problem for transporters in the last few weeks.
The average turnaround time for cargo into Zimbabwe, he said, was five to six hours.
Most importantly of all, Henning remarked, was that “transporters are the ones that are caught in the middle of this. They are the ones that are losing out – and the loss to trade is running into the millions”.
Lastly he touched on the new bridge south of Kazungula in Zambia, the construction of which is finally complete, with industry speculating as to when it will open for traffic.
“If that happens and we haven’t got Beitbridge sorted we’re going to see companies sending their trucks through Botswana. It will hit trade into Zimbabwe hard and most likely result in job losses.” – Eugene Goddard