How to resolve regional transport problems?

The Freight-Intra Africa Trade Conference in Pretoria, this week, has featured several news articles in the local media, and no doubt some foreign tabloids as well. The Minister of Transport has cleared up the cause of the ills plaguing cross border and regional transport. At least we are now fully informed that [historical] design issues and operational inefficiencies at South Africa’s landborders, and Beit Bridge in particular, are the fundamental causes of under-performance in intra-Africa trade.

“In most cases, the delays at the borders are caused by operational inefficiencies, which result in the duplication of processes. This is a serious cost to the economies of the countries that conduct their trade through such border posts,” the Minister said.

One has to seriously question who advises the minister which leads to such statements, and whether or not these advisers have visited any land borders in recent months.

Now the remedy – Government has budgeted and approved R845-billion for infrastructure development over the medium-term, with a significant proportion, about R262-billion of this investment being earmarked for transport infrastructure and logistics projects. Can anyone question government’s commitment in this respect? Not really. However, the Minister was quick to point out government would resolve inefficiencies at the borders by establishing a mechanism that will bring all border entities under a single command and control structure to address the fragmentation in border operations. “The ultimate vision is to create one-stop border operations to facilitate legitimate trade and travel across the borders”.

The proliferation of border management agencies (integration of enforcement and regulatory authorities under one umbrella) – which has seen the demise of many customs administrations over the last decade – has not proven an effective vehicle to manage cross border travel and trade. It is difficult to see how facilitation procedures can co-exist under a command and control environment. What the situation does create is the opportunity to consolidate a budget for security expenditure. Various Sources: Engineering News, Business Live, and personal opinion.


  1. Mike, from a “stakeholder’s” or “client’s” point of view, (both terms of which we certainly aren’t treated as,) there needs to be a shift from the “revenue-grabbing-at-all-costs” culture to a “trade-facilitation” culture by Customs. We don’t have a problem with giving to Caesar, Caesar’s due, but the ongoing insistence at Beitbridge, in particular, of levying the maximum penalties allowed, for paltry misdemeanours does not go a long way toward creating a route-of-choice for transporters and traders. Let’s hope that the reported initiative by CBRTA to meet with ZIMRA will have some effect in smoothing the movement of transport through Beitbridge. Unfortunately, ZIMRA is just as much on a revenue-chasing course, perhaps more so, than is SARS.


  2. Hi Michael. It has always intrigued me that the system works in Europe – or does it? If it does work, is this because all countries are part of the same Customs Union? I understand that the Customs work is done at the port of entry in the first country of entry into the EU – as it basically happens in SACU although there seems to be some secondary check at inter-country borders. Should the effort therefore be made to attach a Customs Unioin to the area covered by the Free Trade Agreement? Another question, how does Europe control the movement of contraband goods from one member country to another – for example, drugs produced in Italy being transport by road into Germany? Regards Chris Richards


    1. Hi Chris, the big difference between the EU and African free trade areas is that countries have to apply to participate in the EU Customs Union. This requires some stringent legislative, policy and customs alignment in order to meet EC standards. I’ll say no more.


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