Coronavirus and freight forwarding in SADC
South Africa is the economic powerhouse in the region. Most countries rely on South Africa, in some way, for their imports. They import goods from South Africa and some import goods from global sources via South African seaports such as Durban. Other countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia are strategic transiting countries for goods transiting from Durban in South Africa and Beira in Mozambique. Unfortunately, South Africa has been hard hit by the pandemic and this has greatly affected the region.
COVID-19 has resulted in a number of countries putting in place measures to contain its spread. These measures include putting controls on ports of entry. For example movement of people across borders has been suspended to a great extent. In many countries only citizens and returning residents are allowed entry while foreigners are required to show cause why then cannot stay in their countries during this period. For example at seaports more stringent procedures have been introduced to screen people and vessels arriving at the ports. In Namibia, the following ports are closed to passengers: Oshikanjo, Katwitwi, Wenera, Buitepos, Ariamsvlei, Noordoewa, Ludentz and Walvis Bay. The same restriction was put in place in other seaports in South Africa and Mozambique.
There have also been adjustments in the clearance of commercial traffic with priority now given to clearance of essential commodities such as food stuffs and medicaments. At Beira Port in Mozambique, all vessels are required to send all information required by health authorities in advance of arrival. In Namibia, compliance with self-quarantine requirements was a pre-requisite prior to any vessels being given port clearance to come through to the port. The vessels are also medically screened and cleared by all relevant authorities. In most cases, ports operate with reduced staff and at times resulted in delays.[i]
From the seaports, goods are moved by road to landlocked countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and DRC. Just like seaports and airports, border posts also put systems in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus. This calls for coordinated border management between neighbouring countries. The customs administration in Zimbabwe has activated its risk management system. Most of the processes are done online to reduce direct contact and exposure to the virus. Most physical examination of goods is suspended. There is good collaboration between South African authorities and Zimbabwean authorities at Beitbridge border post. There is a smooth flow of trucks either way. As at 3 April 2020, there were no queues at Beitbridge border post.
At Machipanda / Forbes border post, initially there was a challenge when Mozambican customs officers panicked and briefly stopped countries entering their country. The issue was resolved within hours with the intervention of their higher offices. The incident highlighted the need to plan ahead and communicate effectively with all offices about the measures to be taken in times of pandemics such as this. The trucks have been moving to and from Mozambique, although slower than usual due to screening of drivers by truck authorities.
While there was good coordinated border management at borders with Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, the situation was not the same at Zambian border posts such as Chirundu One Stop border post and Vic Falls/Livingstone. Zambia also had issues at Kasumbalesa which she shares with DRC.
Truck drivers stuck at Livingstone border post on 30 March 2020. Photo courtesy: FCFASA Members Forum.
At Livingstone border post, Zambia has imposed a mandatory quarantine requirement for truck drivers. Truck drivers complain that to get to Livingstone border post, they would be screened at least twice in South Africa and Zimbabwe or Namibia, hence no need to detain them at Livingstone for so many days. The place has no ablution facilities. The trucks carrying highly inflammable substances were not parked separately and far away from others thereby posing a high risk of explosion. See this video LINK
At Chirundu One Stop Border Post the concern was Zambian procedures which created massive congestion at this border post resulting in trucks queuing on Zimbabwe side of the border (Northbound). On 2 April 2020, the queue was around 9km long. It’s a bush on both sides of the road. Drivers sleep in their trucks (2 nights on average) with no toilets (except the bush). Our source at the border reported that when nature calls some used plastic bags and bottles that they throw into the bush.
The trucks being held in Zambia while in transit may be carrying goods to fight the pandemic or items for essential services and special projects. Zambia has been creating a bottleneck in the movement of transiting cargo. The situation at Chirundu, Livingstone and Kasumbalesa calls for aligning of processes and procedures in the SADC region. Global and regional pandemics call for regional approach in dealing with them.
Apart from border challenges, another challenge is communication. When COVID-19 started to wreak havoc in China leading the country to impose a lockdown, this created communication challenges between ports in China and those in SADC. For example one Zimbabwe based freight forwarder had a client whose container arrived at Beira Port on 2 February. It was on a port to port arrangement. Firstly there were challenges regarding confirmation of payments which had been done in China. For more than three weeks emails were not being replied to and phones were not being answered. After making direct payment (paying twice) to the shipping line, the container, due to prolonged stay at the port, was detained by Mozambican Customs. The client was required to pay a fine to customs, and demurrage charges. The total was about USD10.7k in addition to double payment for freight charges. The trader had two options either to surrender the container to customs or pay the fine and try to recover some costs. In such situations, there was need to be flexible on the part of authorities and take this commercial reality into consideration in deciding to levy a fine or not and the level of penalty.
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