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African countries are excessively dependent on the exportation of raw materials and more so in the SADC region. Inversely due to a lack of adequate manufacturing industries, most African countries also heavily depend on the importation of consumer products. Most SADC countries are landlocked and given the region’s dilapidated and virtually non-existent railway network, imports and exports are largely transported by road and in some instances through multiple borders.  This has led to a thriving cross border trucking and haulage business in Africa.

While transporting tons of heavy products across the continent by road is plagued by a myriad of problems such as exorbitant costs, risk of theft and destruction of goods in transit, damage to the already bleeding road network infrastructure and irregular regulations across borders; African commerce would undoubtedly find itself in the grave were it not for the cross border trucking and haulage business.

In the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the 1996 SADC Protocol on Trade is one of the most important instruments guiding trade in the SADC region. The Protocol envisioned a SADC Free Trade Area by 2008. A Free Trade Agreement which in turn creates a Free Trade Area is an agreement between member states to reduce customs duties and other barriers on imports and exports amongst member states. The SADC Free Trade Area (SADC FTA) was officially launched at the 2008 SADC Summit held in Johannesburg. Thirteen of the sixteen SADC member states namely Botswana, Kingdom of Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are members of the SADC FTA. Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Comoros are yet to become members.

It is important to note that Free Trade Agreements are not just about customs duties, although that is one of the major driving factors. They are about mutual economic growth for member counties. However mutually beneficial does not always translate to equally beneficial.  SADC also aims to develop robust infrastructure programmes designed to consolidate the regional market through interconnectivity of all modes of transport and the promotion of competitiveness through adequate supplies of vital resources.

SADC encourages several strategies as means to foster dynamic trade within the region namely: the gradual elimination of tariffs; adoption of common rules of origin; harmonization of customs rules and procedures; attainment of internationally acceptable standards, quality, accreditation, and metrology; harmonization of sanitary measures; elimination of any and all  non-tariff barriers and liberalization of trade in services (laissez-faire trade).

From the onset, the success of any business is premised on excellent management, adequate planning, risk management and mitigation and a careful study of the markets and the competition. There is an old saying that a bad craftsperson blames his tools . While that is true when applied to personal business fortitude, there are other factors which influence business success which are beyond any measure of forethought, mitigation and planning.  

The success of the trucking business is largely dependent on the legal and economic climate of each country, as well as regional and global policies. Undoubtedly, global events also have a major impact on the freight business as has been the case in recent times with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and the war between Russia and Ukraine which has put a huge dent on the oil (and fuel market).

The SADC Common Agenda outlines a series of integration milestones that SADC aims to achieve in light of the community’s goal to eradicate poverty and attain other regional development goals. These are the formation of a free trade area; establishment of a customs union; creation of a common market; creation of a monetary union and the adoption of a single currency. The goal was to establish a customs union by 2010, however due to a lack of capacity, the milestone is yet to be achieved with deadline dates having been moved twice in the past.

The preamble of the SADC Protocol on Trade recognises that trade in goods and services and the enhancement of cross-border investments are major areas of cooperation among member states and that an integrated regional market increases new opportunities for a dynamic business sector. In summary, efficient services at ports of entry translate to efficient cross border trading.  In light of this stark reality, the 1996 SADC Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology is aimed at promoting movement between member states for economic activity.

Article 4 of the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology stipulates that member countries must ensure and sustain the development of an adequate road network and further adopt a common definition of Regional Trunk Road Network and Route Numbering System. Despite this mandate, it has been noted from the World Health Organisation 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety, that roads in the SADC region are extremely unsafe with SADC countries registering the most deaths on the road.

The SADC Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology further mandates the development of road traffic information systems to give adequate information on route delays, road accidents, and road works. It further mandates the observation, data processing and communication of meteorological systems in accordance with the Weather Watch Programme. Depending on the type of weather, bad weather can cause severe delays, accidents, damage to the goods in transit, reduced visibility, overheating of the motor vehicles and extra strain to the abnormal load; and truck drivers must adequately prepare for such weather.

Article 3.3 of the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology stipulates that member counties must enhance efficient shipment of cargoes and the processing of cargoes and persons at shipment points, frontiers and distribution points. Further, member counties are also mandated to implement measures to enhance the security of cargoes and to protect the life and property of all passengers and to limit waiting and processing times at border posts.

SADC protocols are truly long pieces of literature with expensive signatures as the objectives and mandates hardly translate into tangible consequences. Transport safety and security in the region remains notoriously poor. The Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (FESARTA) has been lamenting the lack of security on public roads and border towns for the better part of the last decade.

The SADC FTA and the SACU (Southern African Customs Union) whose member states are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa, call for non-discriminatory treatment of vehicles in transit and of goods transported by them. This mandate has been constantly flouted due to protest actions which have been motivated by xenophobia.  Local nationals have in the past attacked trucks on suspicion that they were being driven by foreign nationals.

In 2019 the Zambian Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) was called upon to intervene when local truck drivers in Ndola threatened to paralyze the transport network by blockading selected highways due to the fact that trucking companies were employing foreign drivers over nationals. Between 2019 and 2022, the All Truck Drivers’ Foundation and Allied South Africa (ATDF ASA) has embarked on several strike and protest actions against the employing of foreign drivers over nationals. It has been reported that over 1 400 trucks have been burnt, looted or destroyed with trucking depots also damaged, thereby causing delays in delivery of goods and in some extremely unfortunate cases, death of truck drivers.

The South African Police Service failed to intervene in the ATDF strikes of 2019 stating that they did not have a duty to protect individual property or to arrest the protesters (Impangle Logistics (Pty) Ltd and Another v All Truck Drivers’ Foundation). SADC’s silence was deafening during those protests.

Truck drivers learn armed struggle and rebel forces diplomacy on the road when they encounter the militia in the DRC and in Mozambique. They are also fearful of their lives and livelihoods at most border posts as they wait in long queues to be cleared and at informal truck parks created to accommodate severe congestion at various borders.

The Kasumbalesa Border Post between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo is arguably the biggest link to trade routes in Africa and arguably every truck driver’s nightmare. The DRC Customs Authority, OFIDA (Office des Douanes et Assises) mandates that all cargo trucks to pre-wait at the Kisanga Truck Park near Lubumbashi for their turn to be cleared. Truck drivers have been robbed and it has been reported on several accounts that it has not always been by common thieves but uniformed soldiers instead.  SADC has yet again failed to engage stakeholders to resolve the delays at Kasumbalesa or to proffer a solution for the lack of safety and security.

At the Beitbridge/Musina Border Post trucks can be delayed for up to seven days. The only solution to the delays at Beitbridge will be the Kazungula Bridge, whose success is yet to be quantified. It is important to note that the Kazungula Bridge is not by any doing of SADC but the creation of Botswana and Zambia.  At the Lebombo (Ressano Garcia)/Komatipoort Border Post, trucks can be delayed for up to five days. The Association of Truck Drivers of SADC has lamented their loss due to the delays at the Komatipoort Border Post with some opting to use the Durban or Richards Bay harbours to avoid the delays. Again, SADC has failed to intervene despite the SADC FTA being in place and covering trade between South Africa and Mozambique.

While the official tariff at the ports of entry might comply with the SADC FTA, the reality is there are ‘hidden costs’ for safe and easy passage.  Security forces have been known to extort cross border truck drivers who are usually easily identifiable from their foreign number plates and vulnerable due to the language barrier and limited knowledge of ‘how things work’.  In 2021, truck drivers from SADC threatened to blockade Mozambican border posts, in protest of the infamously corrupt Mozambican traffic police.

SADC’s Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCOO) is concerned with combating cross border crimes in the region.  SARPCOO has a list of priority crimes namely: crimes against women and children; illegal immigration and theft of travel documents; terrorism; crimes against wildlife and endangered species; motor vehicle thefts; human trafficking; crimes relating to drugs and counterfeit pharmaceuticals; economic and commercial crimes; smuggling of firearms and explosives and the trafficking of precious stones and metals.

Although the destruction of trucks and violence against truck drivers can be classified as economic and commercial crimes, such crimes have not warranted the full attention of SADC and SARPCOO. There are still no solutions to the numerous difficulties faced by the trucking and haulage industry save for a few countries which have set up anti-corruption toll free lines and attempted to boost police presence at border posts (the same police who extort truck drivers). SADC has failed to establish a viable security regime and is unlikely to attain the status of a security community in the foreseeable future.

Article 6.6 of the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology recognises that there is a need to balance financial interests and the interests of preserving the SADC region’s road infrastructure, optimise road operations and enhance road traffic safety. It can be appreciated that cross border truck business operators are motivated by financial gain in their economic activities hence their loads must justify their cost to run the route lest they incur severe losses. However, there must be effective load control. Article 6.7 of the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology gives guidelines on abnormal loads as well as hazardous substance loads in line with the 1989 Basel Convention on the Transboundary Transportation of Hazardous Substances and their Disposal. It stipulates that there must be harmonized standards for classification of loads, labelling of loads, speed limits, issuing of authorisations and clearances for the transportation of such loads, speed limits, escort vehicles and the fees and penalties relevant to such loads.

Operating a trucking business in a harsh economic climate has its toll on business owners who also become victims of a capitalist society. The cutting of costs to maximise profits is a common practice in the trucking business. It has been widely reported that most business owners, especially smaller or individual truck owners, poorly maintain their vehicles and in turn offer little to no roadside assistance t their drivers especially in foreign territories. Some trucks lack the requisite Hazchem signage, fuel tankers are ill maintained, abnormal loads are improperly secured, truck beds are uncovered, gravel or coal is not covered by tarpaulin thereby causing danger to other motorists. In addition, trucking companies manage their drivers as if they were machines with little support thereby endangering the lives of their drivers.

Trucking businesses in SADC all seem to have one common problem; the truck driver. It has been reported that truck drivers are reckless, dishonest and that they sabotage the business by stealing fuel and goods in transit, inflating costs of vehicle maintenance and failing to adhere to prescribed time schedules amongst others. There is enough evidence on social media and in the news to show that truck drivers drive recklessly by exceeding the prescribed speed limit, overtaking in no overtaking zones, failing to be courteous to other drivers to a malicious extent and falling asleep behind the wheel due to exhaustion and fatigue.

Mashofe!! Mashofe!! Mashofe!! Please drive cautiously. We all want to arrive alive.

Truck drivers’ working hours are dictated by economics on a global scale which mandates working around the clock for extended periods of time away from their families and social support systems. For maximum productivity, they adopt unhealthy lifestyles, eating and sleeping habits and sexual lifestyles. Truck drivers are at higher of contracting and developing various health conditions such as chronic fatigue, stress, depression, obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections and communicable diseases such as Ebola, COVID-19, malaria, cholera and typhoid.

They are subjected to inhumane working conditions. They serve as drivers and security personnel for the vehicles as well as the goods in transit and are thus forced to sleep in their trucks for days on end, yet some trucks are not equipped with proper sleeping bunks.  Most truck drivers are forced to continue and complete the trip even when they fall sick because there is simply no one else to complete the delivery. There are two recurring themes whenever truck drivers are interrogated about their lifestyle choices and reckless driving; the load and time.

With the lengthy time periods between loading and unloading coupled with clogged yet porous borders and a business owner in a control room screaming on top of their voice about the thousands of millions in whatever currency they are about to lose, truck drivers seem to choose the expedient transportation of the load (goods in transit) over all else, regardless of how dangerous such a feat might be. This is obviously not a valid reason to endanger their lives and the lives of other road users, yet truck drivers remain resolute in their aim to recover time lost due to bad weather and congested borders, reach their destination as quickly as possible and with their load intact.

There are various measures that trucking and haulage business owners can employ to ensure that their drivers comply with road safety regulations and to ensure the safety of other road users. Haulage trucks in some trucking companies are now equipped with projectors which project their views onto the back of their vehicles for the benefit of other drivers behind them. Electronic logging devices and driver monitoring systems can also be employed to monitor trucks and the awareness of drivers. Electronic logging devices log the hours driven, location of the vehicle, vehicle efficiency percentage, track speed and fuel consumption.

Driver monitoring systems, either sensors or cameras, monitor the driver’s attention, distractions, fatigue and drowsiness and alert the driver or their control centre that the driver needs to rest.  Most truck drivers are against the use of these systems out of fear that such systems are used to spy on them.  If the health of drivers was of any concern to their employers, then they would hire adequate personnel to ensure that all long-distance cross border trucks have two drivers and also cultivate a healthy network of contacts to secure safe parking for drivers in transit to rest and receive roadside assistance.  Evidently, most of these measures are expensive and eat into the business profits. Health and lifestyle support programs at ports and borders like the work being done by Doctors Without Borders in Mozambique to combat HIV/AIDS amongst truck drivers and sex workers could go a long way in promoting the health of truck drivers.

SADC seems to be all bark and no bite.  The European Free Trade Association is a notable example of an effectively managed free trade agreement. Its member states are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The system is regulated by a Council which meets regularly to negotiate and decide on policy issues that come up between member nations, something which is lacking in the SADC region. Lest we forget that in 2021,  Rwandese peacekeeping forces were deployed to Mozambique faster and in a more organised fashion than the SADC forces. Further, truck drivers themselves have formed networks on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook where they share information on how to navigate in certain countries, share meteorological data, routes to avoid due to strike action or accidents, employers to avoid and important and useful contacts in case of emergency with no input from SADC.

SADC does not have the funds within itself to support the infrastructural development it so encourages, or to create its own network of meteorological data or to bolster safety and security at border posts. More so, member states are unequally yoked economically. Those faring better economically will not likely pour their resources into projects which only benefit the economic growth of the poorer countries. Good policies must be capable of implementation and enforcement. Hats off to the policy writers and fine legal minds at SADC for drafting almost perfect protocols at every turn. Unfortunately, their neat pieces of policy are not supported by adequate funding and sufficient enforcement measures.

Sources- Impangle Logistics (Pty) Ltd and Another v All Truck Drivers’ Foundation (ATDF) and Others; Mbali Coal Proprietary Limited v Ntuthuko and Others (3647/2019; 3564/2019) [2019] ZAMPMHC 11; 2020 (1) SACR 536 (ML) (25 October 2019)- ; For more reading on SADC visit ; Global status report on road safety 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BYNC-SA 3.0 IGO