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African trade bludgeoned by rubber stamps

In competitive global mining, it is essential to cross borders in a fast and efficient manner, but alas, most of bureaucracy does not support African business.

Despite growing importance of intra-Africa trade, on transport routes that have for many centuries been key drivers of economic development and growth, these arteries are usually blocked, slowing African trade to a trickle. Border posts have even stopped some trader commodities entirely. From a mining viewpoint, if a primary crusher has a breakdown, and spares are on the way, inordinate delays at border crossings could cost miners dearly.


Beit Bridge border post is the SADC region's busiest. It links South Africa and its largest African trading partner, Zimbabwe. It is also the conduit for goods moving further north, to Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Some 1500 trucks pass these gates each day. Clearing customs on the South African side is quick and easy, as documents could be completed prior to setting off, and goods are then pre-cleared. However the Zimbabwe side can be a nightmare. There are frequent power outages, computer systems are often down despite power, officials are unhelpful and inefficient. The average time for a truck to clear both sides of the border is 48 hours.


Lebombo is a very busy border post between South Africa and Mozambique, supposed to be the forerunner of a Maputo Corridor deal. Large sums were spent in upgrading N4 toll road, rail links, bridges and transport logistics. However the border post is still lagging development of the corridor. On average, 6600 vehicles pass through this border every day, of which over 1000 are trucks.
The plan to convert this into a one stop border post is still 'under implementation', despite 2009 being the finalization target date. Part of the problem lies in getting officials, through various trade unions, to keep the border open for longer hours. Only recently have opening hours been extended from 12 hours per day to 16 hours. On the SA side, goods are not cleared at the Lebombo border post, but 4km in, on the N4 highway, in a facility built in 1998 at an old airport, and still named 'Airport'. Commercial traffic is inspected in Komatipoort. This facility and its operations have improved, thanks to provision of more infrastructure for commercial processes and to the shift of cargo processing to these facilities. The commercial facility has an area for clearing agents and facilities for many people crossing the border, contributed to decongestion at the border post.


The border post between the Zambian Copperbelt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has often been in the news for the wrong reasons. It is a key entry point for mining equipment, spares and consumables to copper and cobalt mines in DRC. Likewise it is a key exit point for copper, cobalt and
concentrates to various Southern African ports. In September 2009 year, trucks queued for up to 5km before the gate, and crossing time was 12 days to 20 days. Currently it takes 3 days to clear both sides. Ad hoc government action from DRC side, and inefficiency of officials, could often push this out to 8 days or 10 days. Corruption is rife, power supply intermittent, and systems often not functional.


Truckers and freight forwarders say the SA sides are not the problem. Goods can be cleared before departure, and electronic document interchange (EDI) is accepted by SA customs authorities. Officials are reasonably efficient, and corruption is not a major problem. However at borders of other countries, the picture is bleak. There is no single administrative document to clear customs, and EDI systems are not working. Border posts are not open around the clock, roads are narrow, there is insufficient parking for trucks. Officials are corrupt, inefficient and unhelpful, aided by power outages and systems failures. Delivery times could not be given with any degree of certainty.


Intra Africa trade is at the mercy of a few rubber stamps and back pockets. Suppliers, customers, freight forwarders, logistics agents, and the South African government, should exert significant pressure on African neighbours to open their borders for longer hours, fix their systems, use electronic clearance methods, upgrade their border officials, and allow Africa to live, instead of suffocating the goose that lays golden eggs.

* Darryl Moss, GM, Distributors & Marketing Metso Mining
and Construction Technology, SA.







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