Latest News Editor's Choice

News / Local

Truckers face Beitbridge chaos

by Staff reporter
18 Oct 2021 at 18:32hrs | Views
When it was controversially awarded a US$240 million contract to upgrade the Beitbridge border post in 2018, the Zimborders Consortium said it would provide "world class border facilities that optimise border efficiencies and revenue collection."

After spending nine days in a never-ending queue of haulage trucks last week, efficiency is the last word driver Kaleb Moyo would use to describe his experience.

"It was hell. I joined the queue just after Musina, and for days I didn't move at all in the scorching heat. A driver ahead of me was robbed one night. I only crossed the border on Friday, nine days after I left Johannesburg," Moyo told ZimLive by phone.

The border upgrade, initially set to be completed in 24 months, has suffered delays. The project cost has, meanwhile, ballooned to US$300 million.

Split into three phases, Zimborders has completed the first of those – a freight terminal and the new immigration building.

On October 6, the freight terminal was opened for all commercial traffic – an average 1,000 trucks daily. Almost immediately, there was a problem.

The concession that Zimborders signed with the Zimbabwe government in a public private partnership grants the South Africa-registered company a revenue share for the next 17 years, which money will be raised through new toll fees on both inbound and outbound traffic.

Few to none of the drivers arriving at the border that day were ready for the new US$201 toll fee levied by Zimborders – over and above the other charges by ZINARA and ZIMRA.

The situation got considerably worse when Zimborders demanded credit card payments. In its sweet deal, Zimborders secured authority from the government to keep its revenues offshore to account for Zimbabwe's notorious currency risk.

Few or none of the drivers had credit cards, and with cash payments being rejected, queues began building for both north-bound and south-bound traffic. On a few occasions, frustrated truck drivers blocked roads – causing delays for buses and light vehicles which are not yet using the new systems.

The situation got so bad the South African government on Friday announced it was considering "stopping the movement of commercial vehicles towards Musina to manage and decongest the border post."

Speaking to ZimLive on Sunday, a border official said there was an improvement in the flow of traffic after Zimborders was forced into concessions, including accepting cash payments.

"As government stakeholders, the departments of immigration, customs and ZINARA sat down with Zimborders and pointed out the challenges of cumulative traffic, the threat of losing traffic to other borders like Kazungula and also congestion of Plumtree and the robberies that were starting to surface on the South African side," the official said.

"We had to reach a consensus where they were going to accept cash from drivers.

"The other challenge was that because of the biometric system being used, drivers and their trucks had to be within the yard to make payments, whereas the freight industry is largely run through advance payments so that drivers spend minimal time in queues. That was now becoming a problem, so Zimborders had to allow clearing agents and their runners to buy in advance the clearance tickets required by Zimborders to access the border. That helped a bit, but we still had minimal impact on the queues.

"The last measure that was taken was to increase the number of lanes that trucks could use northbound. An extra green lane was added on the old terminal, this lane started being operational as of Saturday evening and there has been a positive change. In the next 24 to 48 hours there is hope the trucks in South Africa would be cleared.

"On the southbound side, we still have some trucks queueing, we think in most cases its drivers waiting for the weekend to end so that their employers are able to send them the toll fees."

The awarding of the huge contract to Zimborders, which is fronted by Kadoma-born businessman Glynn Cohen, 61, has been fiercely opposed by the opposition MDC Alliance, which says Cohen is a "long-standing acolyte" of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the project is overpriced.

"This is a huge extraction project that will cause major prejudice to Zimbabwe. Glyn Cohen is amongst a coterie of elite looters that are bleeding Zimbabwe or have bled Zimbabwe, aided and abated by Zanu-PF's patronage system," charges former finance minister and MDC Alliance vice president Tendai Biti.

"The Beitbridge border project, granted to an acolyte without tender, should not cost more than US$45 million. The biggest challenge that democrats face is how to disentangle the umbilical cord between Mnangagwa and the vile tentacles of Rhodesian white capital whose sole function has been to loot Zimbabwe dry since the Loot Commission of 1895."

With an average 1,000 trucks passing through Beitbridge daily, and each paying US$201, that would translate to about US$73 million every year, or US$1.24 billion in 17 years.

Zimborders has not said how much buses and light motor vehicles will pay as access toll fees when the two outstanding terminals are completed. On average, 3,500 light motor vehicles and 120 buses buses pass through the border daily, which could push Zimborders' revenues from toll fees alone to US$2 billion in the 17 years.

On its website, Zimborders through its CEO Francois Diedrechsen maintains that it is "proud to have been awarded the project following a tendering process that was transparent and fair, in line with the anti-corruption and pro-business approach brought about by the change in the country's leadership."

Glynn Cohen, the son of the late Victor Cohen who founded Cone Textiles and Waverly Blankets, and Diedrechsen are the founders of La Frontiere, which builds and upgrades border posts. The pair put together the Zimborders Consortium which has accountant Rugare Pasipamire and development banker Caleb Dengu among senior management.

The Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), part of the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), provided US$43.7 million funding for the border project. Zimborders said it raised some of the money for construction from selling equity to two South African private equity firms, Harith General Partners and the Phembani Remgro Infrastructure Fund, although no figures have been published.

The contractor is Raubex, a construction company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Other partners are Mauritius-based RLB Systems, which supplies IT solutions to governments for borders and vehicle tolling, and the architects Osmond Lange, the company that designed the OR Tambo International Airport terminal and the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Did you enjoy this report? We need your support

Source - ZimLive