Closure of Botswana borders pays dividends to Zim Freight Forwarders

William Makomo

At least 95% of all South-North-bound trucks which had previously defected to Botswana had once again resumed the Zimbabwe transit hub congesting Beitbridge and Chirundu border posts, a development which has been welcomed by the Shipping and Freight Forwarding Agents Association of Zimbabwe (SFAAZ).

“Corona virus has brought positives to the Shipping and Freight Forwarding industry in Zimbabwe. The majority of our members, especially Transit Bond holders have been busy since the lockdown period, clearing trucks which had diverted from the Botswana route due to stringent measures introduced by that country to curb the spread of the virus,” said Joseph Musariri, the President of Shipping and Freight Forwarding Agents Association of Zimbabwe (SFAAZ).

SFAAZ, whose membership base has risen to 140 members in the country over the past few years, is a voluntary-membership-driven organization whose mandate is to lobby for policies and set industry standards. Their affliation with the regional freight forwarders and clearing agents association in the Region and FIATA globally who both set guidelines on how the industry should operate during the lockdown to curb the spread of the virus has been the responsibily of the association locally to ensure the industry adheres to the set guidelines and control measures, most importantly in compliance with ZIMRA regulations.

Although the industry has welcomed this development, Transit fraud has been a major Zimra concern since 2017 with pointers indicating that only 40% of transiting cargo pass through the border. This alone had forced the Authority to introduce Geo-Fenced transit routes complimented by the transit tracking seals introduced from the port of entry to port Port of exit for easy cargo tracking.

Zimbabwe is the shortest transit hub linking the busiest Ports of Durban in the South and Beira in Mozambique to the Northern corridor. Recent developments had enabled the majority of SFAAZ members to record brisky business while other industries in the country face closure during the lockdown.

“Chirundu Border Post is now operating 24 hours a day inorderato curb the congestion. The only challenge we are facing is ZIMRA’ Documents Processing Centres (DPC) closing at 15:00hours operating in accordance with the Government’s lockdown directives,” said Joseph Musariri in an interview.

Between June 1 and June 30, a total of 11,869 drivers were cleared at the points of entry at Chirundu border post whilst 9,260 drivers exited into Zambia. In a report issued by IOM Zimbabwe for the month of the period under review, statistical data indicate that 37% of the drivers cleared at immigration at both exit and entry were non-Zimbabwe passport holders whilst the 63% were Zimbabweans employed by foreign registered truckers.

Customs clearing system in Zimbabwe requires documents to be loaded into the ZIMRA system through Asycuda ++, a border management software used by Clearing Agents to declare goods at ports of entries. A turnaround clearance time of 3-hours is what appears on Zimra Charter currently not fulfilled by the Authority due to delays at ports of entry and the 3 o’clock deadline introduced by the Government. If a truck is not cleared by the cut-off time, drivers have no option, instead they have to sleep at the borders for clearance the following day.

Zimbabwe Revenue Authority has only 3 DPCs countrywide where clearance documents are processed, Masvingo serving Mutare, Forbes border and Beitbridge. Harare DPC serves Harare Airport, Harare Port, Chirundu and Nyamapanda whilst Bulawayo serves Kazungula, Victoria Falls, Plumtree and Bulawayo central Ports.

As part of the Government’s efforts to curb the virus, ZIMRA, the main regulator of Customs clearing Agents in Zimbabwe has introduced a paperless clearing system inorder to reduce human interaction and observance of social distancing introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and enforced by SADC, FIATA and Ministry of Health in Zimbabwe with the assistance of IOM Zimbabwe’s Migration Health Unit (MHU) who are always on the ground assessing the level of preparedness and awareness supporting the authorities on developing, revising and strengthening the national contigency plans for Covid-19.

“As the Secretariat of the Industry, currently we are lobbying with Zimra to introduce a paperless release instruction issued after clearance of goods and for the Authority to reduce physical examinations as a way to further reduce human interaction at ports of entries,”said Mr Musariri.

Since all the processes by Zimra had gone paperless, the industry has urged the Authority to become innovative by introducing a new electronic paperless release order for the safety of both Zimra workers and Clearing Agents.

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