Cry our beloved drivers

Cry our beloved drivers

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting so tired of reading about corruption on our continent. It just never seems to end, and I feel desperately sorry for the drivers who are constantly targeted. Sometimes I think that they have the worst job on the planet.

Recently I came across an article about trucking into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It reminded me – once again – why I don’t want to be a truck driver who works in Africa. It’s simply too dangerous.

However, the article wasn’t about those dangers. Instead, it was about corruption, which when it comes to the DRC appears to be going through the roof. I never thought I would say this, but the DRC actually makes South Africa’s levels of corruption seem rather insignificant (yes, really!).

The driver quoted in the article tells the most incredible tale of the endless bribes that have to be paid. As he puts it: “There is no truck driver who enters Congo and leaves without a story to tell. Entering Congo is hell. Congolese officials, traffigo (sic) and citizens take turns in siphoning money from every truck driver.”

We assume that “traffigo” means “traffic officials”. According to the driver, he pays a 1,000 Congolese Franc bribe on entering the country (about R8), then 2,000 Francs to the customs officials and another 2,000 Francs to the immigration officers. At the truck park, he has to pay 1,000 Francs to the traffigo, then 1,000 Francs to the scanner controller. This is followed by another 1,000 Francs to the traffigo after the scan (the bribe if you want a parking space), a further 1,000 Francs to the traffigo on exiting the truck park, and then 2,000 Francs to the immigration officers outside the park.

But that’s not all! When drivers go into Whiskey Parking, there are more bribes to be paid. First, there is 1,000 Francs to the police, 2,000 Francs to other immigration officers, 1,000 Francs to officials checking documents, and 2,000 Francs to the data collector. Inside Whiskey Parking, the traffigo erect five roadblocks; the bribe to pass each one is 1,000 Francs. On exiting, the customs officials demand a 1,000 Franc bribe as well as a 1,000 Franc ‘Covid fee’. “Congo is the only country still charging truck drivers a Covid fee,” says the driver.

Once the trucks leave Whiskey Parking, locals stand at the speed humps and jump onto trucks when they slow. “They demand money in full view of the police. The locals harass and rob us. If you don’t give them money, they cut your Suzi pipes linking the horse and trailer,” he adds.

The police in Kimpembe (we don’t know of this town; we’re guessing it is spelt incorrectly) and the police in Likasi each demand a 1,000 Franc bribe. Once the truck is finally inside the mines, offloading commences. “You pay them a minimum of 10,000 Francs in order to be considered to be offloaded after many days of waiting,” the driver says.

Then there is the constant harassment. According to the driver, there are four “border points” within the DRC: Mutaka, Kanyaka, Whiskey, and Kasumbalesa. “At all these points, truck drivers spend many, many days on a queue called ‘musululu’ in their language. We are subjected to inhuman treatment and delays caused by the corruption of controlling officials, who are always on the lookout for a slight mistake so they can charge you exorbitantly. They create fake document verification points that you can’t pass without paying them bribes. This is just a quarter of the abuse we encounter…”

Our wonderful columnist, Jim Ward (read his latest column on page 24 of this issue; it is heartbreaking but a great read), warns that this horrible situation is beginning to echo corners of South Africa too.

“It is reminiscent of the broken windows theory. If you fail to act swiftly and put a stop to corruption at the lowest level – like a speed trap where police ask for a Coke or lunch money – it quickly evolves into something much bigger. From the Mozambican roadblock lament, ‘what will you give me to remember you?’… it is a short step to operators faxing documents and getting back a COF in return,” he notes.

Ward says that, at national borders, truck drivers bear the brunt of this corruption. “Taking three weeks to cross a border gets absorbed into the rate which, in turn, fuels inflation and reduces utilisation to a joke. If there was a genuine will to fix the situation, all borders could be cleaned up. But that will does not appear to burn too brightly. There are too many officials benefiting from an illicit secondary income. DRC seems to be especially bad. It’s a tough life being a long-distance truck driver in Africa…” he opines.

Zambian logistician Christopher Kavungu concurs. He reports that in the DRC it can take eight solid days to drive from Kanyaka to the Kasumbalesa border. This is a distance of a mere 66km. “No truckers have shown such bravery to drive in the Congo like the Zambians, Tanzanians, and Zimbabweans… even without risk allowances,” he says.

Those drivers are bravely moving copper, sulphur, sodium, steel, and chemicals. “Regardless of the hardships, drivers have kept on scoring for their transporters, shippers, and suppliers,” Kavungu points out.

These hardships are indeed horrendous (and I have not even begun talking about the dangers of the route). Not surprisingly, the driver I’ve quoted would like to see truckers boycott the DRC. “My prayer is one day all trucks stop entering Congo because of the inhuman treatment we receive. Every driver has his own tale to tell. No driver is happy to enter Congo. Never!” he stresses.

I can certainly understand why.

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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