Trucks and cars queue to cross the border at Beitbridge, Zimbabwe. File Picture THAPELO MOREBUDI/SUNDAY TIMES
Trucks and cars queue to cross the border at Beitbridge, Zimbabwe. File Picture THAPELO MOREBUDI/SUNDAY TIMES

Truck drivers are spending up to 10 days at the Beitbridge border post as toll company Zimborders, which has been awarded a contract by the Zimbabwean government to upgrade the border post, began collecting toll fees.

Zimborders expects to collect more than US$1bn (R14.43bn) over 17 years from toll fees before it hands over the upgraded border facility to the Zimbabwean government through a “build, operate and transfer” deal.

With the first phase opened of the $300m (R4.33bn) upgrade, a freight terminal and the new immigration building, it has been a torrid month for truckers.

A notice shared with truckers and clearing agents by Zimborders reads that toll fees are for now accepted only in cash. Card payments will be allowed only at end-October.

“Please make sure your drivers have enough cash to pay for the toll fee. Credit cards and prepaid vouchers will not be available,” reads the notice seen by Business Day.

Adding to the logistical nightmare, payments can be made only at the Zimborders counter. 

With an average 1,000 trucks passing through Beitbridge daily, each paying $201, that translates to $73m annually — or $1.24bn over 17 years.

Limpopo bridge

The fees are for border use in both directions.

In addition to toll fees, vehicles pay $23 to access the New Limpopo Bridge into Zimbabwe. That money is collected by the Zimbabwe National Road Authority (Zinara).

The new fees exceed the previous $100 toll fee and $9 road access flat fees paid by all vehicles in the past.

Trucks registered in Zimbabwe are allowed to pay in local currency while foreign vehicles pay in US dollars.

“It’s hell, I tell you. One of us [truckers] was even robbed in the queue last week. We have nowhere to bathe, no toilets. Can you imagine 10 days in a queue stretching more than 10km?” said truck driver Simbisai Nyoni.

There are also fears that the situation could aggravate the Covid-19 situation in SA and Zimbabwe.

Zimborders CEO Francois Diedrechsen said that things are improving.

“At its worst, the queues northbound last Tuesday were at 10km and three lanes wide, with slow flow though at the border. This has now improved to mostly single-lane [small parts are still double-lane] queues of less than 8km and declining by the day,” he said.

He said matters deteriorated because the border was opened to general traffic, leading to high volumes, but curfew working hours are still in place.

Road Freight Association CEO Gavin Kelly said on Wednesday that truck queues on the Zimbabwean side have been dealt with.

“The situation already changed in the past 24 hours. The queues from Zimbabwe are gone,” said Kelly. “We are trying to eradicate the SA-side queue today [Wednesday].”

Complicated matters

But home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the Zimbabwean government is not playing ball.

Zimbabwe’s decision to “charge people $200 and demanding the money in cash” has complicated matters. “And when you are doing renovations you make no space for parking, when you know that Beitbridge is not only a passage to Zimbabwe, it’s a passage to the whole continent,” said Motsoaledi.

“We have been discussing the issue about automation forever. The newly renovated buildings have opened 75% of the place, which is new. But that newly renovated place is not automated.”

“So it doesn’t matter how many trucks you process in SA, they can only take a particular number. At some stage they could only take 10 trucks per hour. That is quite terrible for us.”

“We have a team based there permanently, which is meeting [Zimbabwean] officials every single day. And every time they meet, they say, ‘We are waiting for an answer from Harare’.”

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