South African’s border posts are buckling under pressure due to strained coronavirus testing protocols. The situation at the Lebombo Border which connects South Africa with Mozambique has been described as a disaster. Both lives and livelihoods are at serious risk.
While all attention remains focused on the influx of travellers congested at the Beitbridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe, a “humanitarian crisis’ is developing at Lebombo. No ablution facilities nor running water and delays exceeding six days have distressing similarities to scenes which preceded Beitbridge Christmas Day chaos.
Despite all the warning signs and South Africa’s department of home affairs committing to divert more resources to border posts, freight associations and frustrated travellers say that the Lebombo border crossing station is severely understaffed.
There are a number of reasons why the queues stretch for more than 25km, with motorists dehydrated and hungry in temperatures exceeding 32°C. The sudden influx of cross-border travellers attempting to escape hard lockdowns in neighbouring countries or return to South Africa after the holiday period has piled on the pressure.
Freight associations argue that the South African government’s failure to align stringent Covid-19 protocols with the number of people required to test and screen is directly responsible for the border backlog.
“We support the requirements for the testing to be done, but border personnel are overwhelmed and cannot cope with the situation” Mike Fitzmaurice, CEO of the Federation of East and Southern African Transport Associations (Fesarta) said.
These delays have had a dire economic impact on the freight industry. Fitzmaurice estimated losses exceeded R166 million since 3 January. “Under normal circumstances each of our trucks moves four loads in six days. Currently, they have only moved one load in five days” says Bernard Lunga, MD of Bensco Logistics.
To add to the problem, the cargo-carrying trucks, passenger cars, busses and pedestrians are not seperated at Lebombo and testing stations which identify positive coronavirus cases are closed for decontamination which take up almost four hours.
According to freight associations monitoring the situation, several home affairs and port health officials have already been infected. With social distancing and mask wearing rarely been enforced, along the 25km backlog, these border delays may quickly devolve into “super-spreader” events.