From sleeping in the bush to deaths: Here's what you need to know about the Beitbridge border post 'chaos'

28 December 2020 - 13:32 By cebelihle bhengu
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Trucks waited for days to cross the Beitbridge border post between SA and Zimbabwe.
Trucks waited for days to cross the Beitbridge border post between SA and Zimbabwe.
Image: File image

After days of congestion and complaints from truck drivers and travellers, traffic has finally been cleared at the Beitbridge border post.

By December 22, some travellers had spent three nights at the border post known as the gateway to Africa.

While this was nothing new, especially during the festive season, the curfews in SA and Zimbabwe, and Covid-19 health protocols, reportedly added to the congestion.

Here's a wrap of everything you need to know about the traffic jam that had Mzansi talking:

December 22: Sleeping in the bush with no security

Motorists and travellers said they were concerned about their safety because they were sleeping in bushes and inside their parked cars without protection.

Alice Magwinye, who was travelling from Johannesburg to Masvingo in Zimbabwe, spent two days at the border after he was asked to redo his Covid-19 tests.

A border official said there was a need for SA and Zimbabwe to reassess its curfews as this added to the traffic hold up at the border post.

He said officials only cleared commercial cargo after 10pm, in line with the curfew.

December 24: Five die waiting in line, drivers bribe their way to the front 

By last Thursday afternoon, five people had died, including two women and a truck driver.

The Road Freight Association (RFA) said there were also unconfirmed reports of seven deaths of police officials.

The association condemned the situation as drivers and travellers stranded at the border post were left with no amenities to accommodate them.

Gavin Kelly, CEO of the RFA, said this was the worst congestion in the history of the Beitbridge border post.

“Trucks are on every street and all over in the surrounding towns. Though congestion at Beitbridge has been a challenge for some time, the Covid-19 checks and curfews have severely worsened this. With proper planning, this nightmare could have been avoided,” he said.

Some drivers who wanted to skip the queue paid up to R1,000 in bribes.

December 26: Organisations call for Zweli Mkhize's intervention

Organisations in the freight industry penned an open letter to health minister Zweli Mkhize, asking for his intervention regarding the Covid-19 testing stations, safety and wellbeing of truck drivers who were left without water or food while they endured long queues at the border post.

Federation Eastern and Southern Africa Road Transport Associations CEO Mike Fitzmaurice wrote: “There is only one place for testing with a single entry and exit point, creating a huge bottleneck that stretches from Musina [Limpopo] on the SA side to the border post, and for more than 20km on the Zimbabwe side.

“The congestion, aggravated by the annual increase in traffic at this time of the year, has already cost SA lost revenue. During the first three weeks of December, the cost of delays at Beitbridge was almost R88m per week. Queue time delays for trucks amounted to R609m per week, amounting to R2,092,860,000 to date.”

SA Association of Freight Forwarders chairperson Dr Juanita Maree expressed concern regarding the safety of drivers.

“Criminals are looting and stealing from the trucks and drivers have given up hope of getting home to be with their families while sitting in unbearable heat of more than 40ºC.”

She said government intervention was needed and would help ensure the delivery of essential items throughout the continent.

December 27: Congestion cleared 

The department of home affairs said on Saturday congestion at the border post had been cleared.

“All lanes around the border have been cleared and the border has been easily accessible from the afternoon of December 24. This means all travellers through Beitbridge have been processed and cleared.

“The department of home affairs worked with the department of health, the army, police, the SA Revenue Service and the Limpopo provincial government to resolve the impasse that had led to traffic congestion at Beitbridge.”

It said the Musina local municipality provided ablution facilities and water along the route from the town of Musina to the port of entry.

The department urged travellers to observe Covid-19 protocols to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

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