If the South African Government does not do something urgently about the bottlenecks at the Lebombo Border Post, frustrations may boil over and lead to radical moves by those affected.
This is the fear of frustrated transport carriers, many tourists and the local business community all affected by this gridlock of traffic on the N4 outside Komatipoort.
Truckers are not only exasperated by the slow-moving traffic across the border to Mozambique, but due to the long hours they must wait before getting their freight through, and this causes serious security and health issues for them.
They do not have access to toilet facilities and must thus relieve themselves next to the road. They also suffer in the sweltering heat in the truck cabs. Over the past year, criminal gangs who are suspected to be based in Ressano Garcia, a small town just across the Mozambican border, target motorists and truckers stuck on the highway.
According to Jan Engelbrecht, the convener of the Komatipoort Business Chamber (KBC), representatives of the trucking companies had already suggested in January that the traffic flow via the border can be alleviated by widening the gates. The truck industry’s calculations are that it may cost R54 000 and four days of work, sponsored by the private sector, to bring instant relief. Such a move will increase the current two lanes to three. One of these lanes can then be used as a dedicated lane for freight trucks that already have their clearance certificates.
When this suggestion was made in writing in January to both the South African and Mozambican authorities, the Mozambican Government approved it within the hour. Six months later, neither the Provincial Government or the South African Government, nor the office of Fikile Mbalula, the minister of transport, have responded to the suggestion.
An infuriated freight owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Lowveld Media over the weekend that the situation is so frustrating, that “we should just go ahead and do the job ourselves. Soon it will be high season again for traffic to Mozambique and everyone will relive the crisis that has existed over the past year and a half. Truckers live in fear daily of the armed gangs that have attacked, assaulted and robbed truckers and plundered their trucks over the past months.”
Two of the most serious cases include a woman who was hacked with a panga over the head and another driver was shot and killed. Ironically enough, last week, Brigadier Selvy Mohlala, a provincial police spokesperson, issued a warning to truckers not to stop along the N4 and N12 near eMalahleni (Witbank) due to robberies happening there. Nothing was said about the N4 in the Onderberg.
When asked by Lowveld Media if there are similar crime incidents on the N4 near Komatipoort, Mohlala said they do not have records of attacks on truckers. “However, we have attacks on motorists who were en route to Mozambique and were stuck in traffic.” On the number of crime incidents that were reported to the police in Komatipoort over the past three months, Mohlala said they only have a record of five kidnappings, two rapes and an armed robbery. He denied that a trucker had been killed.
“We now have enough manpower deployed in the area. We managed to catch a suspect for a serious crime on Friday and he will appear in court this week,” said Mohlala.
Asked what the police were doing to stop illegal immigrants and criminals from crossing the border into South Africa, he said, “The SANDF has been deployed to stop illegals from coming into the country and the Department of Home Affairs is dealing with undocumented immigrants.
“A meeting that will include various stakeholders, including local and national government departments, Mozambican authorities, farmers and organised business, was schedule for last week, but has been postponed until this week.”
According to Engelbrecht, there was slightly less traffic flowing through the border this past week, but this was due to the strike and roadblock in the Mbombela area. “Despite the lower amount of traffic on the N4 at the border post, a trucker was attacked and ransacked. This was, however, not related to the strike action, but criminals who acted opportunistically,” the chamber commented.
“It is important to do what is required in quieter times, before December. Budget is an issue, but the private sector voiced its interest to make an input to assist. Should this be accepted, it could be a quicker relief.”
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