241 | Road freight is policy bait at Beitbridge

UNDESTINED— Numerous truckers didn’t make their destination in time for Christmas.

The second surge is upon us. Just like before, when the virus marched into our country— we wait with bated breath. This time, it’s different. Not only is this variant and independent mutation, a cluster of natural changes, it has also indulged the protective nature of countries and their borders.

Brexit and Beitbridge. On the European Union front, a trade deal struck doesn’t mean that trucks will go unstuck as protective measures take toll. On the African Union front, the fragile and deteriorating geopolitical situation against the backdrop of a border development project pipeline just doesn’t untangle the extended queues of trucks praying to cross— while COVID testing preys on them.

One key thread here is that for the festive splurges, and industries gearing up for the January-February supply chain, truck drivers are spending their holiday at the borders. Fine, say they signed up for it.

Or argue that it could have been avoided. What would take a few hours, or days, now takes an extra toll— we knew, we could have anticipated, expected a crisis. It must be difficult to be surrounded by emergencies at every front, but that’s what a war is probably like.

There’s no solace. Barely a resolution. But permanence and quick fixes have never mixed this awkwardly. The permanence of promise to resolve, and the quick fixes to adapt to an evolving pandemic, economy and consumer demand. We’re at the edge of the suffocating 43 degree heat taking drivers lives, while inland, some trucks were torched and foreign drivers face a charred third degree.

On many occasions, my work around the need to regulate the road freight market; a slipping labour market; and dating even further back was the need for a more confrontational policy approach. All of these contributions revolved around the market’s fundamentals, but the most recent two notes highlighted how a “strike always looms” and how the industry’s woes are in the underbelly— institutional corners that the bargaining council cannot reach.

These dynamics explain, in part, why some association representatives argue that the bargaining council needs a new board. But it is a web of inefficiencies tied together in an aging knot drenched in institutional memory—“it’s always been like this, not any other way”. But untangling these aging politically connected strings is a tough path to chart through. Starting somewhere is critical, but managing change is simply urgent.

The first key direction is the establishing an overarching institutional coordination function, and secondly, introducing a policy that outlines the practical systems that will be in place. The Border Management Authority Act, represents the institutional entity that will serve to channel border law enforcement and encourage coordinated and cooperative exchanges.

The One Stop Border Post draft policy, appears to lean into providing the necessary systems to execute both enforcement, and funneling the hard and soft infrastructure through one channel. I haven’t see the policy yet—but I am fanilitar. The full effect of these reforms—-could take longer than the 4 year timelines. That’s already after and somewhere in between election cycles domestically and within our regional neighborhood.

While I am tempted to point to regulatory apathy, it’s easy because these are old issues that manifest themselves aggressively now. It’s been a sleeping dog, and some may have even lied about it along the way. Then again, why has there been little response at a human level? Water, abolition and good quality food given the circumstances are basic expressions of care and acknowledgement. Unfortunately, states are so tendered that even in a crisis, kindness must be procured — a vastly irregular expression of a regular emotion: empathy.

On the 27th November 2020 the relevant ministers did a walk about at Beitbridge, should they be there today pushing the policy buttons on the ground? No. There are officials tasked with doing the work. Maybe. These officials need pressure from their political heads. Yes. The severity of the situation justifies some high offices to rise to the occasion. Exemption from COVID19 testing, pre-certification and mutual recognition are only the first step, a leap for the industry involves a concerted effort to intervene and reform.

So, typing this, in my comfortable home, and family close makes me a distant seismograph, but more of a barometer of the age.

Thank you to the nearly 7000 visitors this year, you’re all welcome and I am grateful that you choose to spend a few minutes of your day reading some of my rants. I wish you and your family well, and thank you.

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