Covid-19 testing: yet another nail in the operators’ coffins

Covid-19 testing: yet another nail in the operators’ coffins

Cross-border transport operators are facing all sorts of challenges – not least of which are Covid-testing protocols, as MIKE FITZMAURICE reveals…

The cross-border transport sector is currently facing a major challenge with the alignment of Covid-19 testing protocols throughout the region, as can be seen in the accompanying table.

The requirement of 72-hour validity on entry to a country is creating a huge challenge for transporters, especially for countries like Zambia and Malawi, where it is impossible to get tested in South Africa and arrive at a Zambian border within 72 hours. This means the driver must be retested at the costs being applied for testing in the country before entry into Zambia (for instance, in Zimbabwe in this case at $60 per test which will carry you through to DRC, but you must now be retested in DRC at a cost of $45 before entering Zambia, which will then carry you back to South Africa).

To summarise, a driver must be tested three times on every trip from South Africa to DRC and return at a total cost of $60 in South Africa, $60 in Zimbabwe and $45 in DRC – with a total cost of $165 or R2 475 per round trip!

Some of the medium-sized fleets which operate this route regularly will typically do 100 round trips per month at an additional cost of R247 500 per month for Covid-19 testing. This is non-recoverable from their clients or the importer/cargo owner.

To make matters worse, cross-border rates have dropped drastically over the last year during the Covid-19 lockdown, which was implemented across the region around the beginning of April 2020. Pre-Covid lockdown rates from Durban to Kolwezi (DRC) were about $300 per ton and $200 for a backload from Kolwezi to Durban. So, around $500 per ton for around trip at an average load capacity of 34 tons, which equates $17 000 or
R255 000 per round trip.

Post-Covid lockdown, the rates have dropped to $220 per ton from Durban to Kolwezi and $160 from Kolwezi to Durban – giving a total of $380 per round trip, equating to $12 920 or R193 800. This is a drop in income per round trip of R61 200 or 24%.

Over and above the cost of around R2 475 for Covid-19 Tests per round trip, the cost of diesel has increased substantially over the last year, as have driver wages, the cost of tyres, vehicle maintenance, cross-border charges across the region and the cost of Cross Border Permits (CBRTA). All of this has pushed up the vehicle running costs. Then, of course, there are the horrific road conditions in Zimbabwe, which impact heavily on vehicle maintenance and the double tolling in Zambia for foreign-registered trucks.

Due to the many delays at the regional border posts like Beitbridge, Chirundu and Kasumbalesa due to the Covid-19 protocols introduced by individual countries, which are continuously changing, border delays have impacted heavily on the time taken to complete a round trip of this nature. Where pre-Covid it was possible to do one and a half round trips over a 30-day period, it is now only possible to complete a round trip over 50 days.

This means that the transporter can only submit proof of deliveries (PODs) once every two months. The transporter only gets paid in 30 days from statement in most cases. The result? The transporter might have to wait up to three to four months to be paid after starting the trip depending on when the PODs are submitted. The company must therefore carry the running costs of the business for that period.

In my opinion, this means that cross-border transport is no longer sustainable in the long term under these conditions. This will remain the case unless there is a concerted effort by governments in the region to do something about upgrading and modernising regional border posts to improve cross-border efficiencies.


Covid- 19 Testing Protocols for Cross-border Drivers in the SADC Region
CountryType of Tests PermittedValidity of Test on EntryValidity of Test in CountryOther Conditions
AngolaPCR72 hours14 daysEffective 24 January 2021, Angola closed its borders to South Africa, Portugal and Brazil
BotswanaPCR72 hoursValid for duration of stayNo PCR test required on exit from country only on entry, exit requirements are based on entry country requirements
DRCPCR30 days30 daysIf no valid certificate on entry testing done at the border for US$45
eSwatiniPCR72 hours14 daysNo additional information available
LesothoPCR72 hours14 daysNo additional information available
MalawiPCR72 hours14 daysNo additional information available
MozambiquePCR72 hours14 daysNo additional information available
NamibiaPCR72 hours7 daysIf no valid certificate on entry, PCR testing done at the border for free the requirement for exit is based on entry requirements of entry country.
South AfricaPCR and Antigen30 days30 daysIf no valid certificate on entry, testing done at the border for R750 (PCR) R250 (Antigen)
ZambiaPCR72 hours7 daysIf no valid certificate on entry, PCR testing done at the border for free, but three-day waiting for results
ZimbabwePCR30 days30 daysIf no valid certificate on entry, testing done at the border for US$60


Published by

Mike Fitzmaurice

Mike Fitzmaurice is the CEO of the Federation of East and Southern Africa Road Transport Associations (Fesarta). He has 42 years of experience in the transport and logistics industry with several major companies in South Africa, as well as overseas exposure with some of the leading transport companies in six European countries. Since 2004 he has established and run Transport Logistics Consultants. In May 2015 he became CEO of Fesarta.
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