Africa Moyo recently in BEITBRIDGE
Users of Beitbridge Border Post, principally truck drivers and cross-border traders, are excited that the automation of arguably the largest and busiest border in Southern Africa, has considerably reduced the amount of time they spend as they travel.
Beitbridge Border Post had earned the unwanted tag of being the slowest and most corrupt port of entry and exit before its modernisation under a US$300 million deal, which has brought about massive automation.
The introduction of separate routes for buses and trucks has ensured that there is no congregation of travellers in huge numbers, as each group uses its own route.
Light vehicles and pedestrians, who are presently being served through the bus terminal, will from November have their own route, a move that will further increase the pace at which travellers are cleared at the border.
Regular engagements held almost daily between the Zimborders Consortium, which won the tender to modernise the border, and Government agencies such as the Environmental Management Agency, Zimra, Immigration and police, have been game-changing.
In a bid to further pace up processes at the border, some Government agencies are busy investing in technology.
In separate interviews during a tour of the border post recently, truck drivers told The Herald that they no longer spend long hours crossing the border as they did before the modernisation.
Mr Steven Jari said he had arrived at the border post at 0845 hours from South Africa, but had almost completed the process in one hour.
“There has been a vast improvement since this new system started. In today’s case, I have spent less than an hour and I am almost good to go,” said Mr Jari.
Another truck driver, Mr Paradzai Mupedzi, who said he was travelling to Ngezi Platinum Mine from South Africa, said: “This is wonderful, we no longer spend a lot of time here. This is good. “Even as we drive on the Harare to Beitbridge Highway, we don’t take a lot of time as the road is being upgraded too. I can say so far so good.”
A Beitbridge resident, Ms Pretty Samhu who stays in Dulivhadzimu, said: “The modernisation has helped a lot. It has helped improve infrastructure, but more importantly, we are no longer spending a lot of time clearing our goods.
“Inside the border, there is a lot of space and staffers are processing travellers quickly. There are no more fears that one would lose their goods or even valuables in pockets to thieves and other travellers as there are not many people at the border at any given time due to the speed at which travellers are processed.”
Zimborders Consortium general manager, Mr Nqobile Ncube, said it was important to bring efficiencies at the Beitbridge Border Post since “it functions as a nerve centre, not only between us and South Africa, but with the whole SADC region going as far as DRC”.
The need to upgrade the Beitbridge Border Post came about around 2016 when South Africa and Zimbabwe upgraded their relations from the Joint Permanent Commission of Cooperation to Bi-National Commission.
Mr Ncube said Beitbridge became a pivotal conversation, and the need to ensure that the movement of trade and the facilitation of trade was done more efficiently.
“After so many studies, it was discovered that one of the major inhibitors was the infrastructure that was in place,” said Mr Ncube.
“You will recall that the infrastructure that is slowly being replaced here was put up a long time ago, just around the time South Africa was about to get independence.
“As more trade occurred, the infrastructure was no longer adequate to cater for the volumes. So one of the discoveries that was made was that the border needed to be revamped, to be modernised and we also needed to automate to bring the efficiencies that are needed to help our economy.”
Mr Nyathi said the scope of work required could not have happened overnight and “it has been a journey from the First Dispensation and it only got successfully implemented during the Second Dispensation”.
“It is a massive project. I think you have seen the numbers that have been touted in the media, of between US$250 million and US$300 million,” he said.
He added that because of the massive nature of the project, it had to be structured in such a way that it would not become a white elephant, but still cost-effective.
“You would recall that one of the key cries outside infrastructure was the efficiencies around Beitbridge. Literally, almost everybody does not like or did not like coming to Beitbridge because of the delays that were being brought about.
“So besides, looking into the infrastructure issues, there was need to look into the efficiencies because we might have the superstructures that are beautiful, world-class, but if our processes don’t work to aid us, we will still find ourselves in the same situation like we were at the old border,” said Mr Ncube.
He added that the border modernisation project was multi-pronged as it brings about modern infrastructure that would be suitable when the time comes for a one-stop-border to be established between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe already has a one-stop-border with Zambia at Chirundu, all in an effort to reduce the time that travellers spend before reaching their destinations.
“The real goal is to minimise time at ports of entry as much as possible because ports are not recreational points. They are just facilitation points that are meant to keep you for a short period of time so that you continue and go to your business that is beneficial to yourself and the nation.
“So one of the things that you would be glad to hear is that the designs of this infrastructure (new border) have been made to be so adaptable such that once the agreement to have the one-stop-border with South Africa is enacted, we will not have to destroy them at all, we will just adapt and do a few internal modifications and we will be ready to host our South African brothers.
“There is a futuristic mindset in this whole project, but the issue of automation comes in. There has been a lot of talk over the years; we happen to have the unenviable honour of being called one of the most corrupt border posts.
“One of the things that was being seen to be creating that is the amount of human interface that is brought into the processes. So you realise that as we move into this project, a lot of the processes have been automated and automation has also brought about an opportunity to self-measure ourselves,” said Mr Ncube.
Instead of having people controlling the movement of traffic, now there are booms doing that task, making it impossible to convince a trucker to select a route that will enable them to evade Zimra officials.
Once the profile of a truck has been taken, the route becomes clearly determined and booms will only open in the specific route where that truck is supposed to go and nowhere else.
Mr Ncube said the booms also allow them to measure the amount of time that a truck spends from the moment it gets to the border up to the point it exits either into South Africa or Zimbabwe.
“This will enable us to look into the efficiencies. You will remember when we kick-started the project, Phase One, last year we really had a crisis and we had queues in South Africa going as far as 15km but once the process took root, we have since stopped having trucks spending between 12 hours and 24 hours to exit Beitbridge Border Post, which was one of the biggest cries from the freight industry because we are told they make more money when the wheels are turning and when a trucker is to stop for 12 hours, that is a massive loss.
“There are certain computations that I have seen in certain regional groups that say a truck loses between US$20 to US$25 an hour when it is parked, so you can imagine someone who has pushed 20 trucks into Beitbridge and they park for 24 hours; that is a massive loss.
“But I am happy to say that before we have even wrapped up this project, we have managed to turn the efficiencies in our Phase One, which is our freight channel. At the present moment, we are now confidently able to push at least 65 percent of our daily traffic into Zimbabwe in under three hours. That is a massive feat, but we are not stopping,” said Mr Ncube.
He said they wish to clear at least 90 percent of whatever truck traffic that arrives in the parking bays travelling to Zimbabwe and beyond, within 3 hours by year end.
He said going forward, they will continue to engage other Government agencies to ensure traffic was speedily processed.
“The automation process has now come in, we are now able to sit down and analyse our statistics. We are now able to compartmentalise and see where there are challenges and we are then able to talk to the responsible agency where we feel there is no proficient service delivery and these conversations are ongoing and literally every day.
“I can assure you that we have struck such a wonderful rapport with Government agencies such that they understand when we knock at their doors to say ‘we feel you had certain challenges and we feel you can improve if you implement some interventions’.
“And you know because of that scope that says we all communally own this project, we have been getting a lot of support from the Government agencies and some of them are working very hard and some are going to upgrade their equipment,” said Mr Ncube.
He said Zimra was working towards procuring newer, drive-through scanners that would be “much faster” than the ones that take up to 15 minutes to scan one truck.
Phase Three of the project, which would be completed in November this year, implies Zimbabwe will have its first festive season with a fully revamped border, with all channels of traffic in use.
Presently, the buses and trucks channels are in use, with the last being the private vehicles and pedestrians.
As Beitbridge residents and other users of the border praise the infrastructure, South African border officials have also been amazed by the work being done.
Said Mr Ncube: “Our brothers from across (the Limpopo River) are also very keen and taking notes from us and we are glad with that. I jokingly tell them that this time we are one step ahead and you need to emulate and mirror us.
“I trust this is the beginning of more good things where we are the ones who are setting the standard. Of course there is the component where people have to understand that this comes at a cost.
“But we are out there in the public, we are out there in the community engaging them and seeing how best we can have a win-win relationship because the efficiencies are going to enhance whatever the community needs, even the local Beitbridge community should be able to benefit from this.”
Beitbridge largely depends on Musina town, for industry and retail needs.
Mr Ncube said they have been engaging the community with a view to establishing how the border can help further benefit local people.
To ensure seamless processing of travellers at the border, each of the three terminals – for trucks, buses and private vehicles and pedestrians will have a 20kVA generator in case of a power outage.
Meanwhile, Mr Ncube said if given a chance by the Government, he believes Zimborders Consortium bosses would gladly want to replicate the modernisation they have done at Beitbridge, as it speaks to Vision 2030 of an empowered upper middle income.
“If we were to transform three or four border posts and make it possible for everyone in the region to believe that either going through Zimbabwe or coming through Zimbabwe is the most efficient way, I believe we would recoup the benefits and help Zimbabwe to achieve the vision.
“I am speaking without authority but if that opportunity arises (of modernising more border posts), my principals would be glad to take up the modelling and efficiencies we are seeing here, even before the project is complete,” said Mr Ncube.
The project has benefited a number of Beitbridge residents mainly through job creation and the general revamp of infrastructure.
The biggest company contracted by Zimborders to undertake the modernisation project is Raubex, a Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed firm, which employs 750 locals out of the 800 staffers it has.
Other firms, such as the cleaning company, were directed to ensure it employed locals only.
Toilets at the border are cleaned every 30 minutes to ensure cleanliness, unlike in the past when there was largely no water at the border post.