It is the duty of the state to ensure that all citizens are protected from every threat that may erupt threats such as Covid-19 through inclusive health protocols, which the nation has to abide and adhere to. But is the government doing justice to the transport industry and its major stakeholders? The countrywide curfew has slowed down freight haulage and pushed up transport costs. Transport operators have been hit hard by Covid-19. With transit time significantly inactive, operators across the country will have to face difficult questions for their future sustainability. The right response should plan for contingencies but never forget the value of transport operators and shared transport in the process of economic development.
There is a huge predicament formed by the curfew that is negatively affecting the operations of freight companies and passengers’ transports. The consequences of the curfew are late delivery of consignments and services due to the prolonged lead-time which leads to unsatisfied customers and late arrival of passengers to certain meetings.
Curfew is hindering Namibia’s vision of transforming itself as a whole nation into an international logistics hub for the SADC region by 2025. On 6 January I travelled to Rundu from Windhoek with Silas Ndapuka’s bus and obviously, we could not make it there before 21h00, so we had to pull over at Mururani until 04h00 am. The same bus was going to continue its route to Katima Mulilo and up until Harare. During our time at Mururani, we saw many cargo trucks parked alongside the road since they could not continue hauling due to curfew. I saw Zambian, Zimbabwean, and of course Namibian registered trucks. Walvis Bay-Ndola-Lubumbashi-Development Corridor is one of the busiest corridors that connects Namibia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Majority of Zambian and Zimbabwean trucks I saw are reefer trucks that are used for transporting temperature-controlled goods such as fish.
On 11 November 2020, I attended Transport Events’ webinar that was on “Namibia: Cargo and Transhipment Gateway for Hinterland and Landlocked Countries in the SADC Region” that was sponsored by Namport. The CEO of WBCG had a presentation and in his presentation, he spoke of the challenges that they are battling with. Border transit time was one of the challenges. If curfew continues as it is chances are very high that this challenge might be prolonged making it difficult for WBCG to overcome it.
Most suppliers/warehouses dispatch inventories after hours, so if a particular company which is based in Windhoek is sending consignments to Oshakati after 17h00 does the government expect that company to arrive at Oshakati before 22h00?
Customers expect to receive their orders on time, delivering customers’ goods on time keeps them happy, and increase their desire to continue doing business with that certain supplier.
Curfew is undeniably preventing Namibia from aligning itself as a regional logistics centre, which in future will hamper the operation and performance of WBCG since it is still widely unknown how long will Covid-19 stay. In order to provide sufficient and efficient services to all SADC countries and the entire world through Walvis Bay harbour Namibia should exempt all transport operators from curfew and allow them to operate freely by handing over permits to every transport operator out there (freights or passengers transports).
Curfew is inviting an unprofitable business in the aggregate transport and logistics industry, which will force affected companies to lay off workers causing the current unemployment rate to drastically rise something that the government will not be happy with. According to reports at around 12 000 workers were retrenched just at the dawn of Covid-19 excluding 634 Air Namibia workers.
Forcing operators to reduce services might also put them out of business for good leaving thousands of people unemployed.
Exempting all transport operators and long-distance public buses to remain in operation during curfew will save the industry from declining. This shows a high need for consulting stakeholders in the industry before Covid-19 response measures. The government, Road Authority, WBCG, NABTA, and other relevant bodies should meet to address this matter in favour of keeping the industry active. The social impacts are definitely noteworthy. Those with access to private cars enjoy uncharacteristically quiet roads for poorer households that depend on shared transit suffer the most since they have to wait for buses to get full in order for them to embark on their journeys. It takes about 7 hours for a vehicle to complete a journey from Rundu to Windhoek. In order for the bus to complete that without being delayed by curfew, it needs to travel an hour earlier for passengers to get at their desired destiny before 22h00. However, that will be massively impossible because it is hard to predict the exact time the bus will be fully occupied.
It is very unfair how prominent people such as ministers are allowed to travel through a certain roadblock after curfew while ordinary people who are going for interviews will be denied access to proceed. If a person is travelling from Kavango East to an interview in Windhoek via shared transit he/she will not start travelling instantly once he/she gets in the bus would have to wait for the bus to get full for the journey to embark. No one would allow his/her bus to start moving while seats are partially occupied.
If a bus has to pull over and wait for the curfew to subside people who are supposed to attend interviews that are for instance scheduled for 08:00 am in Windhoek will not make it since they need to get home, take a shower, and do their rehearsal before the interview. Time will not be on their side anymore, which may consequently result in them missing the opportunity of being recruited. Economic evidence suggests that reducing accessibility is likely to increase unemployment, weaken access to opportunities, and hurt overall urban productivity.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government had to enforce massive restrictions on public transport in order to limit transmission of the virus. Making people sleep in a fully occupied coach, Iveco, or Quantum is not anywhere closer to limiting transmission of the virus but it is, however, encouraging the circulation of the virus between passengers. Since public transports do not require 72 hours PCR results it is difficult to spot out passengers with Covid-19 just by observing with naked eyes most especially when travellers are not symptomatic. A full coach bus carries a maximum number of 64 passengers, making them stay in the bus longer than the required period for a certain journey is not life-saving but endangering the lives of passengers. Passengers who had the chance to escape without contracting the virus are likely to catch it since they will spend more hours on the bus than it is supposed to be. This is clear and diagnosable the Ministry of Health and Social Services is not supposed to be warned or reminded about this.
Transport companies like Silas Ndapuka, Mbishi, Intercape, and Macon operate beyond the borders of Namibia, making them pull over from the road from 22h00 till 05h00 is actually impeding them to go arrive on their first stop on time and continue to their final destination which can be Harare, Luanda, Lusaka Cape Town, and Johannesburg.
Part of the response must comprise efforts to keep safe and sustainable accessibility in cases where public transport has become less viable. Within the sector itself, improving hygiene standards majority of public transports are untidy, they are operating without sanitiser they are not taking the compulsory law of masks seriously.