Enough is enough

Enough is enough

I’ve said it before: doing business in Africa is not for sissies. But, right now, things are becoming unbearable for transport operators and truck drivers alike. Enough is enough!

I’ve decided to write this column following the death of a truck driver. His name was Robert Sakala and he hailed from Malawi. Robert was in the wrong place at the wrong time. For Robert, that “wrong place” was the perpetually long queue to the Beitbridge border post. He was sitting in his Powerstar, waiting for his chance to cross the border, when two unknown gunmen (who are still on the run), attacked him. They stole Robert’s mobile telephone and money.

The incident happened on March 29. Robert was hospitalised and, very sadly, he passed away at Polokwane General Hospital on April 9.

Not surprisingly, Robert’s death has been greeted by anger within the transport community. “This has to be taken further. Surely enough is enough? There is a whole defence force and they not deployed on a short 10 km road from Mussina to the border – in a situation where SARS cannot do its job and the backlogs are there. Can this not be tabled in Parliament and some sanity brought back to Beitbridge?” one transport operator wrote on social media.

Another – equally fed-up – transport operator concurred with his sentiments. “Commanders and heads of all government departments having anything to do with the border must be fired with immediate effect. They’re enjoying the life others can’t have because there are no consequences for their actions or non-actions,” he noted.

I think that these transport operators have a point and I concur that enough is indeed enough. If I had a rand for every article I’ve written about the dangers and frustrations of trucking in Africa, I would be a millionaire. We all know about these issues. Yet absolutely nothing gets done about them.

Instead, drivers have to place their lives at risk on a daily basis. If they’re not being attacked at the border post, their trucks are being set on fire. Or they’re contracting Covid while waiting in endless queues.

Those queues don’t only threaten drivers’ lives. They also threaten the livelihood of many transport operators. As I wrote in my column in December 2020, entitled What a lousy year, congestion is costing millions. In October 2020, Transport Logistics Consultants and Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta) calculated the exact cost of those delays – and it came to an astronomical R12,4 million. That’s the cost per day. Not per month.

Meanwhile, the very existence of many transport operators is now under threat for other reasons too. Check out Mike Fitzmaurice’s outstanding article on page 4 of this issue of FOCUS (well, rather read and weep). He reveals that Covid tests are crippling transport operators that are already battling for survival. A driver must now 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! How can transport operators afford these extra costs?

One wonders if this challenge will be addressed. I also wonder if the congestion will ever be addressed. Or the drivers’ safety (or rather lack thereof).

How many more Roberts need to die before something actually happens?

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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