Namibian transport and logistics companies are facing an uphill battle as they struggle to deliver essential goods from South Africa, such as food and medicine, whilst combating strict regulations, such as a mandatory quarantine, and their drivers being stigmatised as potential Covid-19 carriers due to frequently leaving the country. Managing director of one of the biggest transport companies in Namibia, Stephan Terblanche of the FP du Toit Transport Group, yesterday told New Era the solution is for all stakeholders to work together to avoid “creating a crisis within the disaster”.
During an exclusive interview with New Era’s Inside Business, Terblanche confirmed that cross-border drivers are under tremendous financial and psychological strain, as they work tirelessly to ensure Namibia’s grocery shops and pharmacies remain adequately stocked. He explained that cross border drivers cannot go home unless they submit to a 14-day quarantine in a State quarantine facility. Most transport and logistics companies have their own quarantine facilities, but this is only for drivers while “on route”.
Once in these State facilities, drivers are subjected to Covid-19 tests when they arrive and before they leave, but Terblanche bemoans the fact that these tests results often take much longer than expected, thereby placing undue pressure on not only the quarantine facilities but also on drivers and the transport companies.
“When drivers don’t drive then, there is no income for the company and there is also less income for the driver. This is one vicious circle. A truck without a driver means nothing and so too a driver without a truck,” said Terblanche, adding that many drivers would rather resign than being subjected to constant pressure from all sides.
“All our drivers would rather drive local routes than cross border routes, but there is simply not enough local business to go around, 25% of our food and pharmaceuticals come from SA,” he added.
He explained that Namibia’s deep-rooted dependence on South Africa is making the impact of the pandemic so much worse.
“We need to find a balance. Everyone needs to work together to avoid creating another crisis due to this pandemic because right now the efficiency of our long-haul trips is at a paltry 50% to 60%,” said Terblanche.
When pressed for possible solutions to the numerous challenges, Terblanche proposed the constant monitoring of drivers and the need to relook at quarantine regulations for truck drivers. He, therefore, suggested close cooperation between relevant institutions, such as health and transport officials as well as the police, and even suggested the use of the army to assist in dealing with the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on cross-border trade.
Terblanche cautioned that a worst-case scenario could result in the depletion of essential stock across Namibia.
Meanwhile, the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG), as a facilitator to cross border trade and transport, said it is keeping the logistics industry informed via various platforms as developments occur at the borders.
“We are further assisting to alleviate any challenges on the corridors arising from the announcements made by the various governments in the region. Due to our mandate as a representative for the transport industry in Namibia, our goal is to ensure that the interests of the trucking community are heard,” said WBCG spokesperson, Cindy-Lu Hasheela.
Responding to questions from Inside Business, Hasheela added that in order to ensure the free flow of all material (imports and exports) and to avoid a meltdown of the Namibian economy, borders between Namibia and neighbouring countries should remain open for commercial traffic. However, there are strict restrictions on the movement of people.
Trucks carrying essential supplies such as medical products or equipment, food, hygiene and surface cleaning material and fuel, are given a priority pass at border points. Screening and surveillance points are operational at all cross-border posts around the country while truck drivers are screened by health ministry staff in line with border operational hours.
The WBCG currently serves on two national response task teams, one for health and one for trade. The Health Task Team’s directive is for everyone to observe the preventive measures put in place by the World Health Organisation and the health ministry as the lead agency.
The Trade Task Team must identify issues affecting business operations and develop solutions, specifically related to the state of emergency declared in Namibia in March amidst measures to control the spread of the virus. The WBCG’s role on these teams is to represent the transport industry’s interests.
Since South Africa closed 35 of its borders, all traffic to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia now pass through 18 South African entry points.
“This means all commercial traffic had to divert to Noordoewer/Ariamsvlei border since Monday, 16 March 2020, implying restricted cargo movements. It also placed a lot of additional strain on those border posts, which added almost 800km to all deliveries to Windhoek for example,” Hasheela stated.
To date, the WBCG has established roadside wellness clinics at Oshikango, Katima Mulilo, Walvis Bay and Windhoek, with new clinics soon to be opened in Gobabis and Otjiwarongo.
Hasheela further noted that truck drivers or anyone who access health services at these clinics will be screened as per health ministry guidelines.
“Exception will be made to patients presenting the cardinal symptoms, who will be referred to the health ministry for further assessment. This is done to ensure that the health ministry uses the national surveillance framework to report cases as they are detected. These clinics are providing collaborative assistance to the health ministry in terms of screening services for all drivers who may exhibit corona-related symptoms. Once a driver is suspected, they are then immediately reported to the health ministry officials to commence the isolation process,” Hasheela concluded.