SA’s land borders may reopen next week – with a strict new 700m limit on truck queues

Business Insider SA

South Africa borders Beitbridge
Trucks parked at Beitbridge. (Gallo)
  • South Africa’s land borders look to reopen on Monday 15 February but with a host of new interventions to mitigate the chaos witnessed over the festive period.
  • Truckers will be limited to a 700-metre queue, with additional traffic officers diverting vehicles to holding areas.
  • A ticket system will also be implemented to ease the burden on Covid-19 testing facilities.
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South Africa is aiming to open its land borders with neighbouring countries, which have been closed since January, but must first implement a host of new protocols to prevent the dire levels of congestion experienced over the festive period.

These new initiatives include the deployment of additional healthcare workers, ticketing systems for Covid tests and queue limits.

If all goes according to plan, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) could reopen South Africa’s land borders on Monday 15 February 2021. This is the date referenced by the Department of Home Affairs, which provided a detailed reopening plan to parliament on Tuesday morning.

The briefing on the readiness of reopening South Africa’s ports of entry highlighted critical problems – arising from neighbouring countries’ lockdowns and ill-prepared border processing systems – which ultimately led to closures on 11 January.

The congestion at border posts, particularly at Beitbridge (connecting Zimbabwe) and Lebombo (linking Mozambique), was described as a “humanitarian crisis” and “super-spreader” events.

The reopening plan includes a crackdown on fake Covid-19 test certificates, as well as increasing personnel and enforcing queue limits.

Truck drivers travelling through Beitbridge, who were blamed by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi for causing the queueing chaos shortly before Christmas, will be forced to stay in designated holding areas when borders reopen.

The queue between the weighbridge and Beitbridge border post will be limited to just 700 metres. Previously, these queues extended for several kilometres.

“We are going to keep the queue (for trucks) on the N1 (at) 700 metres,” explained South Africa’s Border Management Authority (BMA) commissioner, Gene Ravele, who added that additional traffic enforcement officers would be deployed to enforce the new limitations. “If it [the queue] becomes more than that [700 metres], we will divert trucks to the truck stops.”

The BMA has also engaged with trucking associations to ensure that their members and drivers comply with the new rules.

Additional holding areas, provided by the Musina Local Municipality in December, will be used to accommodate any overflow from the truck stop nearest to Beitbridge border post. These additional holding sites will be equipped with ablution facilities and running water.

Travel regulations require all persons entering South Africa from abroad – whether via land or air – to present a negative Covid-19 test result.

But the cost of these tests in neighbouring countries – which range from R800 to R900 in Lesotho and Zimbabwe, respectively – led to travellers opting for on-site testing at South Africa’s border posts. Testing stations, managed by the National Health Laboratory Services at busy land-entry points, offer testing for just R170.

The big demand overwhelmed testing services and resulted in major delays.

To mitigate this strain when borders reopen, the BMA has proposed a ticket system which will limit the number of tests that can be performed. Additional private testing centres will be available.

More port health officials, as well as military health staff, will be deployed and there will be at least three testing facilities at Beitbridge. 

Sanitising stations, information posters and fences aimed at enforcing social distancing will also be deployed to border posts.

The BMA is expected to complete the implementation of new queue management systems and Covid-19 compliance protocols by 14 February.

“We spoke to the service providers and they’ve confirmed that everything will be there by no later than the 14th [of February],” says Ravele. “We’re having final discussions this afternoon with [the department of] health and National Health Laboratories to look into [increased] capacity to be deployed.”

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