Tempers are raging at the Beitbridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe, where truck drivers claim that bribes of up to R1 000 are being extorted from those who want to cross the border.
The queues at the border post are now so long that some trucks are having to wait for as long as four days to get through.
“You can be number 10 in the queue, but if you or your boss don’t pay a bribe, then you’re not going anywhere,” said a source in the road freight industry, who asked not to be identified.
Freight News reported last week that truck drivers at Beitbridge were protesting against corrupt law enforcement officials who usher certain trucks to the front of the queue. The truckers claim that this preferential treatment is being doled out because bribes are being paid.
Some furious drivers drove out of the queue and blocked access to the border post, eyewitnesses told Freight News.
Both the Road Freight Association and the Cross-Border Road Transportation Authority (CBRTA) have confirmed that they are aware of cases of bribery.
Road Freight Association chief executive Gavin Kelly said the association sometimes receives hourly complaints about incidents where money is demanded from truck drivers for them to move forward in the queue.
“The average waiting time at the border post is 24 hours, but truck drivers sometimes wait for up to four days before they are allowed to move through the border post,” said Kelly.
The Beitbridge border post is notorious for long delays, but the situation has worsened because travellers now have to be screened for the Covid-19 coronavirus and both countries have imposed curfews. In Zimbabwe, the rule applies from dawn to dusk.
“Everyone knows there is corruption and bribery, especially among traffic law enforcement officials in South Africa.We report all of these cases, with comprehensive evidence,” said Kelly.
Aside from officials, there are also people who pose as law enforcement officers at the border post. Spokesperson for CBRTA, Mmenyane Seoposengwe, said the organisation was aware of the problems.
Kelly said general bribery declined during the initial part of the lockdown because there were fewer trucks on the road, but “normal levels” of bribery and corruption had become the order of the day again.
One source said that corruption among South African law enforcement officials was now so bad that foreign truck drivers would rather drive to “war-torn” places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo before they came to South Africa.
The bribery is not limited to the border post; it also happens at weigh bridges, where truck drivers or the companies for whom they work allege that they are forced to pay bribes to stop their trucks from being impounded.
“We know for a fact that the loading of our trucks is correct, but the officials pull us over and sometimes demand as much as R5 000. If you don’t do it, your truck stays where it is for as long as three days while the client waits for their freight,” a source said. According to the source, it doesn’t help to report these cases because nothing ever comes of it.
Kelly said that, although there are no reliable figures regarding how much the industry loses as a result of bribery and corruption, it recently won a court battle in which more than R350 million, which was unlawfully taxed, was paid back to road freight companies.