South Africa has accused Zimbabwe of “killing business” over border delays for haulage trucks at Beitbridge.
Queues stretching for as long as 10 kilometers have developed in South Africa since October 6 after a company awarded a contract to upgrade the border on the Zimbabwean side introduced shock new toll fees without notice.
Zimborders Consortium was granted a US$300 million contract to build new terminal buildings for trucks, buses and light motor vehicles without going to tender. The company has decided to do the construction in phases, with the freight terminal the first to be completed.
The company, headed by an alleged “acolyte” of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Glynn Cohen, immediately started collecting new access toll fees of up to US$344, depending on the size of the truck.
South Africa’s home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said Zimbabwe did not warn it of the changes, and many drivers were caught by surprise. Zimbabwe’s clearance processes also remained slow, he said.
Motsoaledi said Zimbabwe was making a “mockery” of African trade. Beitbridge is a gateway to other regional markets including Zambia, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The congestion is being caused by the continued construction on the Zimbabwean side. It looks like their construction has now reached a difficult point without them making any arrangements for parking space, so they don’t allow lots of trucks from South Africa on their side because they have got no parking space where they will process their trucks,” Motsoaledi told eNCA on Tuesday.
“The second thing which has been there for a long time, but becomes worse during the end of the year when lots of people pass, is the absence of the registry clearance on the Zimbabwean side. You know it’s also exacerbated by the unavailability of clearing agents at night. On the South African side, they clear upstream and only require agents and it’s not happening on the Zimbabwean side.
“Thirdly, Zimbabwe has introduced a toll fee of US$201 for small trucks and US$344 for abnormal trucks and they demand this money in cash which means some truck drivers have to park their trucks. We have been negotiating with the Zimbabweans that even if we can’t stop them from levying that, at least they must accept electronic payments and up to October 17 they were still taking cash and we hope things will improve because we have spoken to them.”
Motsoaledi said he had tried several times to call his home affairs counterpart in Zimbabwe, Kazembe Kazembe, “and the response I get is that it has not been successful.”
He blasted: “The situation makes a mockery of the African Union free trade agreement (African Continental Free Trade Area). I’m sure you are aware the African Union signed this Africa free trade agreement with a lot of gusto and it was publicised all over. You know that Beitbridge is the gateway between South Africa and the rest of the continent.
“It’s a mockery that a country can make unilateral measures without even warning us. It’s extremely frustrating and it’s killing business between South Africa and the rest of the continent.
“One was hoping that Zimbabwe will be aware of the implications of the African agreement and what it means, but unfortunately it looks like it’s not so with our neighbours.”
Zimborders Consortium’s concession signed with Zimbabwe says the company will raise the finance for the border upgrade, and then run the facility for 17-and-a-half years while collecting toll fees to recoup its money.
Critics say the project was overpriced, and accuse Zimborders of only raising US$47 million, and then hoping to finance future construction from the toll fees it has rushed to impose.
“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,” claims former finance minister and MDC Alliance vice president Tendai Biti.
He added: “The Beitbridge border project, granted to an acolyte without tender, should not cost more than US$45 million.”
With an average 1,000 trucks passing through Beitbridge daily, and each paying an average 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 well over US$2 billion in the 17 years – a sweet deal.