30 December 2020
The Director General of Home Affairs, Mr Tommy Makhode
Directors-General from National Joints Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS)
Members of the public listening through various platforms
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me take this opportunity to extend a special welcome to Mr Makhode, as the new Director General of the Department of Home Affairs. This is his first press conference in his new responsibility.
I also wish to extend apologies from the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Njabulo Nzuza. He will not be with us today because he has tested positive for COVID-19. He is isolating at home but still symptomless. We wish him a speedy recovery during these trying times.
We have called this press conference to achieve two objectives:
- To inform members of the public who will be crossing our land borders from 02 to 14 January 2021 about the plans in place to facilitate smooth movement. Our message will specifically target those who will be crossing into South Africa from neighbouring countries.
- To provide facts about the port operations, especially as it pertains to the busiest land port of entry in our country, the Beitbridge Border Post.
In the period around Christmas last week, from the 23rd to the 26th of December 2020, events at Beitbridge generated a lot of news around the country spilling into our neighbouring countries and abroad. Needless to say, the massive congestion that was observed at Beitbridge was quite unusual, even by the standards of this time of the year.
What generated news, which were mostly negative, was the debate about what people thought was the reason behind the congestion. Many factually inaccurate stories peppered the news and caused a lot of confusion. Amongst those inaccuracies were claims that the Government, particularly the Department of Home Affairs, failed to plan ahead and should have foreseen that this year there would be a lot of travellers crossing the border back to their homes into neighbouring countries because they never went home for a long time as a result of the lockdown.
It was also claimed that as a result of this lack of planning, four or five truck drivers died of dehydration while waiting in the queue because the State failed to provide water and ablution facilities. The Department of Home Affairs was also accused of scapegoating on truck drivers and blaming them for what is in essence, failure of the state to plan. Another common narrative was that many more people died there from hunger, thirst and sheer exhaustion as a result of the three-day congestion. Figures of the people who died were put at five, eight, sometimes at 10 or even 15. These figures were repeated with almost every news bulletin, news analysis and other programmes all over the media.
If we are to solve the country’s problems, which affect us all, I believe it is important to sift fact from fiction. And since numbers don’t lie, we wish to provide some statistics for context.
Listening to the media last week, it was generally accepted, as an incontestable fact, that this year there were many more travellers who crossed Beitbridge than it was the case in the previous years. Our statistics show otherwise.
In December 2019, there were 368 895 travellers that crossed Beitbridge. In contrast, by 27 December 2020, there were only 103 224 who crossed Beitbridge. Simply put, only 27 percent of the travellers who crossed Beitbridge last year did so this year. It is out of question to claim that this year there were many people who were not planned for and who caused congestion
The question which arises is what caused the congestion if the number of travellers were much fewer this year than the previous years as indicated by the statistics?
It is well known that Botswana introduced tight lockdown regulations and a strict curfew to protect her own citizens from the ravages of Covid-19. Many trucking companies found it unprofitable to cross into the region through Botswana. The SA border post with Botswana which is closest to Beitbridge is Groblersbrug. Usually at this time of the year, Groblersbrug is used as an overflow area when Beitbridge cannot cope with the number of trucks. This year it was the other way round. Trucking companies diverted their trucks away from Groblersbrug to Beitbridge because they did not accept the waiting times imposed by the Covid-19 protocols in Botswana.
In December last year, 6 706 trucks went through Groblersbrug. By 27 December 2020, only 2 968 trucks had gone through Groblersbrug. This means only 45% of the total number of truck processed last year went through Groblersbrug.
In contrast, 19 800 trucks went through Beitbridge in December 2019, compared to 21 800 by 27 December 2020. A simple analysis will show that Groblersbrug has 3 738 fewer trucks this year compared to 2019, and at least 2000 of these trucks found their way to Beitbridge, hence the congestion.
With this increased number of trucks, many truck drivers at Beitbridge panicked. They abandoned all the prior arrangements which were made with the authorities for a smooth flow of traffic. The normal arrangement is that trucks park in holding areas or truck stops where they finalise a myriad of documents demanded by SARS and various trade protocols. By the time they leave the holding areas most of this administrative work will have be completed which will result in a smooth transition at the border post. Unfortunately, these holding areas were abandoned and trucks parked on the road and even occupied lanes of incoming traffic, consequently even blocking traffic from the Zimbabwean side heading into South Africa.
It is not apportioning blame to truck companies when these facts are stated. They are just facts which are backed by figures. And we cannot spin them in any other way as the Road Freight Association of SA tried to in the past week. Indeed, facts are stubborn.
The holding areas have parking, water and ablution facilities. When you abandon the holding areas with all these facilities and park on the N1 and then blame the State for not providing water and ablution facilities, you are being disingenuous and dishonest. Unfortunately people who are listening and don’t know these normal arrangements will believe you. Since people find it is easy to blame the State, they will definitely do so, and putting the blame on the State becomes the main news bulletin of the day. It is as if the adults who are in charge of the trucks are ordinary school boys with no responsibility of their own but who need to be shepherded all the time. To add more flavour to this type of narrative the issue of death was brought in to the picture in a very unfortunate manner. It was reported that 4 or 5 truck drivers died of dehydration, hunger or exhaustion while waiting in the trucks.
Ladies and gentlemen
Death is a very emotive issue which flairs up passions to those who are listening. These emotions turn into anger because it’s traumatic and psychologically debilitating to listen to stories of death continuously. This generates anger against the state.
We are not advocating that where death occurs it must be hidden from the public. No, that is not what we are saying.
The story about the alleged deaths of truck drivers was promptly broadcast by the Road Freight Association, and as expected picked-up by the media and distributed all over the country. Needless to say, it will go into history books where it will be very difficult if not impossible to expunge even when new facts come to the fore. The Road Freight Association is an important stakeholder in the border environment because they are the owners of the trucks and hence are taken seriously as they should. So strong was their message that they even called for the President of the country to intervene.
I am saying all these things because in our bid to ascertain the veracity of the claims placed strongly in the media space by the Road Freight Association, the Department of Home Affairs wrote to the CEO of the Association asking him to provide the names of the truck drivers whom he had said they had died at the border.
Yesterday, the CEO referred us to a police officer in Limpopo. When we phoned this police officer, he told us that he doesn’t know where all this is coming from and why we are being referred to him.
We contacted the Department of Health in Limpopo who usually work with the police at the border whenever there is a death. Both the police and the Limpopo Department of Health have a record of death of one truck driver whose family actually disclosed what the cause of death was. This family knew the cause of the unfortunate demise of their loved one and never tried to play politics with it.
Beitbridge is an area of intense human activity where there are many people involved in diverse activities. There is a lot of wheeling and dealing in that environment. It would be expecting a miracle to believe such an area of human activity won’t have some form of mortality at all.
Indeed, most people who demised at Beitbridge and, if I may add, it is a whole-year event, which has got nothing to do with road congestion as it was widely reported over the Christmas period. The border area is regarded as covering a 10 kilometre radius from the border line. In the case of Beitbridge it commences from the Limpopo River into the town of Musina. Apart from the truck driver who demised on 23 December 2020, the day the congestion peaked, the other deaths occurred long before the increased activity associated with the holiday season started. There was of course some mortality of people who have nothing to do with truck driving, but are always in that area, and this occurred on the 08th, 13th, 14th and the 22nd of December i.e. before the period of congestion. On the 23rd and 24th the deaths that occurred were that of the truck driver as mentioned and two other people who are not in the truck industry and who died of various ailments which unfortunately for obvious reasons we are unable to disclose here.
Regarding the plans for 02 to 14 January 2021, we hope that there will be a common sense cooperation between the Freight Association and the authorities which doesn’t include propaganda. It will serve neither the economy, the freight industry nor the State if we to continue on the propaganda mode.
It is a well-known fact that SARS systems in SA are fully automated and can process many trucks per hour on any one day while the Zimbabwe systems are largely manual and can process only 20 trucks per hour, at most 30 at peak performance. The South Africa side cannot send more trucks than the Zimbabwean can handle. When truckers leave the holding area to get hastily to the border with the vain hope that they’ll put pressure on the SA authorities to process them as quickly as possible, they are expecting a miracle because the system works in a cooperative way like a relay race.
The following are our plans for the expected activity when people return back to the country. These plans are approved by NatJoints.
- The Department of Home Affairs will deploy an additional 160 officials at six busiest land ports of entry to process returning travellers until the 14 January 2021. These are:
i) Beitbridge Border Post with Zimbabwe
ii) Lebombo Border Post with Mozambique
iii) Oshoek Border Post with Kingdom of Eswatini
iv) Maseru Bridge with Lesotho
v) Ficksburg with Lesotho, and
vi) Kopfontein with Botswana
- Another 60 additional immigration law enforcement officers will be deployed to support the SA National Defence Force at identified high risk areas along the borderline where people have a tendency to cross illegally into SA. The immigration officers and the soldiers are not there to stop people from coming into South Africa. They are there to insist that anybody wishing to visit South Africa, must use the official ports of entry and produce all the requisite documentation, otherwise they won’t be allowed in.
- The Department of Health, via its Port Health unit, will deploy additional Port Health officials to all ports of entry to ensure that only travellers with a valid PCR test are allowed into the country. Alternatively, those without a PCR test will be subjected to a rapid anti-gent tests at the port of entry at their own cost. South Africa will not allow any traveller into the country without a valid PCR test or the ANTI-GEN test for COVID-19. As announced last week by the Director-General of the Department of Health, only truck drivers are exempted from this test requirements as it was the case at the beginning of the lockdown. Any other traveller is warned once more that they will never be allowed in the country without producing the authentic tests.
- More than 259 Port Health officials will be deployed to all ports of entry. In addition, 278 community service personnel on contract will be deployed. The National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) will enlist private laboratories to provide additional support for testing. South African Military Health Services has been requested to provide 73 additional military health personnel to help in the testing.
- The ProvincialJoints (PROVJOINTS) have been activated for policing and will conduct roadblocks and vehicle control points within the border law enforcement area.
- Provincial authorities will also conduct roadblocks mainly in Limpopo, Free State, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. We wish to take this opportunity to announce that the Kosibay Border Post between KZN and Mozambique, which has been closed since the beginning of the lockdown in March this year, will be opened from 01 January 2021.
- The Cross Border Road Transport Agency will also deploy inspectors at Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg for the same duration. That means from the 02 to 14 January 2021.
Thank you very much.
ISSUED BY DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS