Border post meltdown in Africa

9 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineApril 17, 2020

A disaster is looming on the borders in southern Africa – as some truck drivers are being quarantined (often in horrific conditions), others are queuing for up to 90km, others are having their passports confiscated and others are terrified of being injected with a so-called Covid-19 vaccine.

It‘s a right royal mess – and people could die.

Fellow International Truck of the Year Jury associate publication in South Africa, FOCUS on Transport and Logistics, has been being inundated with reports from regional transport authorities, transport operators and drivers – and there is one constant theme: it‘s a complete and utter disaster.

The complete chaos is jeopardising loads (which can be flammable), it is stopping the passage of vitally important goods (medicine and fresh food, for instance) and the drivers‘ lives are at risk – because the conditions are utterly abominable. Naturally, when drivers are queuing for weeks on end, they will also mingle and chat – meaning social distancing simply isn‘t happening.

Mass confusion appears to reign at many border posts, with some officials acting irrationally. Drivers have reported, for instance, that their passports have been confiscated – for no apparent reason. Adding to the disastrous situation is a lack of power at some border posts, which is only resulting in further delays.

Many drivers are also fearing for their lives after a ‘fake news‘ video – which reported that Covid-19 tests were contaminated with the virus – was widely circulated amongst truck drivers. There is mandatory testing at some of the border posts, and the drivers are – quite understandably – petrified that they will die after being tested. Here are just some of the horror stories….

Quarantine chaos at Lusaka Dry Port

According to Zambia‘s Daily Nation, at least 120 trucks have been quarantined at the Lusaka Dry Port. The quarantine period is 14 days and the Daily Nation reports that the “truck drivers will be in isolation”. That‘s the theory. In reality, Zambian Muma Chomba writes on Facebook that the situation is “a time bomb”. “The truck drivers park their trucks but don‘t stay in their quarantine areas. They go to markets to buy food and essentials and – in some cases since bars are closed – ladies of the night are frequenting these quarantine areas to ply their trade. These ladies go back to their respective compounds after finishing their jobs in these areas, most probably having contracted the virus if it‘s there,” he says.

According to Chomba, the authorities should be “providing adequate meals to the required standards of those quarantined and social amenities to encourage them [the drivers] to stay inside”. They should also provide “security to make sure they [the drivers] don‘t leave and no one comes into these areas”, he notes.

Kasumbalesa border post blues

The situation at this border post – between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – is dire. According to Mike Fitzmaurice, executive director of the Federation of East and Southern Africa Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), the queue on the Zambian side has currently reached Kitwe, some 90km from the actual border post. “There are several reasons for this situation. Firstly, the slow screening process of drivers for symptoms of Covid-19 and secondly, the continual downtime of the customs system on the DRC side,” he explains.

The situation is being exacerbated by the sheer volume of trucks entering the queue. “Large numbers of trucks enter the queue from Chirundu every day. Vehicles come from South Africa via Beitbridge, from the Port of Beira via Forbes/Machipanda border post and from the Port of Dar es Salaam via Tunduma Nakonde border post. This means that the number of vehicles entering the queue at Kasumbalesa is more than 800 per day from all corridors!” Fitzmaurice reveals.

Drivers stuck in the 90km queue are subjected to inhumane conditions which, says Fitzmaurice, are a violation of human rights. “The drivers have no access to fresh running water, they have a limited food supply, and they have no sanitation facilities, which is leading to dangerously unhygienic conditions. There is also no security and many trucks have been broken into by criminals, robbing drivers of their possessions such as cell phones and money. Besides the inhumane elements of this situation, there is a very real danger of a catastrophic disaster in the queue as there are many fuel and acid tankers destined for the mines in DRC mixed with essential food cargo and medical supplies in the queue. There is grave danger of a repeat of the 2013 Kasumbalesa disaster when two tankers collided and ignited, destroying 43 laden trucks, with loss of lives and many injured,” he warns.

Kazungula border post is typically chaotic

This border post between Zambia and Botswana has long seen ridiculously long queues and, with the arrival of the Covid-19 virus, things are only worse.

According to the SA Long-distance Truckers‘ Facebook page, trucks are now queuing for nine days and counting. “Police have escorted trucks into Lusaka and parked off… All the drivers were loaded into a bus and taken to a university building and left there under heavy police guard to live in inhumane conditions,” it reports. This despite drivers not showing any symptoms of the virus. Trucks were also not allowed to offload.

One operator has reported that his drivers were beaten up after asking for the return of their passports. Meanwhile, the wife of a truck driver writes on Facebook that her husband is being detained there. “They are being forced to do all sorts of tests at gunpoint. The rooms they are staying in are so bad – broken windows and no blankets. How do they expect them to survive? They might escape the coronavirus – but they will come out from there with some other disease. Something must be done!” she urges.

Fitzmaurice says, along with many other transport associations, Fesarta is trying to get something done. “We estimate that about 5000 drivers are stranded or in quarantine – often in barbaric situations. We‘re doing our very best to help them. This horrific and inhumane situation needs a human rights intervention. Someone needs to be held accountable,” he stresses.

Meanwhile, those drivers wonder if they will ever return home.