Zimbabwe: Zimborders causes chaos at new Beitbridge border

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Thursday, 21 October 2021 14:30

South Africa Beitbridge
South Africa's tyre importers say road users will be at risk if higher duties are imposed on Chinese tyres. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Border post company Zimborders Consortium is facing criticism after their new $240m Beitbridge project created large queues and complicated electronic payments - potentially violating the newly-signed Africa Continental Free Trade Area. Behind the deal: Businessman Glynn Cohen, a close ally of Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

In November 2020, Zimborders, through a US private investment company, assigned Raubex construction company a $172.2m contract for the project that is expected to take two and a half years. Zimborders says it will also upgrade key infrastructure in Beitbridge town, such as residential housing units and a water reservoir, which have been neglected over the years.

However, it seems that the border upgrade has faced considerable delays, resulting in an expenditure of $300m. Zimborders says the project could create revenues of up to $2bn from toll fees.

Last year, drivers died in their trucks after waiting nine days to cross the border, the terminal between South Africa and Zimbabwe, which was opened on 6 October.

New toll fees of $201 shocked many truckers, the majority of whom did not expect electronic payments either. The result was large queues on both the north and south sides of South Africa’s biggest border crossing, leaving truckers disgruntled and resulting in vast delays for companies relying on Zimborders ‘seamless’ services.

In a video on Twitter, Rudzani Tshivase, a truck driver, said: “They are very reluctant to move us. At least if they can get us to the truck stop it will be safe for us.”

[The] Beitbridge Border project should not cost more than $45m yet it has been granted without [a] tender to an acolyte.”

South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi lashed out at the Zimbabwean Government for causing congestion at the Beitbridge border. Motsoaledi said the new toll fees on trucks violates the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The South African Institute of International Affairs (Saiia) estimates that more than 400 trucks cross the Beitbridge border post daily.

Delays like those seen in past weeks could have consequences on the price of goods such as sugar and cost companies thousands. Last week, the South African government announced that it was considering “stopping the movement of commercial vehicles towards Musina to manage and decongest the border post.”

The project was awarded to Monaco-based businessman Glynn Cohen, owner of GDC logistics and Super Group. While the border post has been highly criticised in the past due to allegations of corruption and poor infrastructure, Cohen has been accused of turning this venture into a profitable scheme with little improvement to the situation.

Since the 1980s, his companies have created the largest trucking monopoly in the region. Glynn owns La Frontiere Group, a government border post company, whose founders created Zimborders. The company’s website says ​ they aim to complete projects “without any financial assistance from [the] government.”

In agreement with the Zimbabwean government, the project is structured so toll fees can be collected outside of the country. This is said to be due to a currency risk shortage in Zimbabwe.

Last year, Tendai Biti, former finance minister of Zimbabwe openly criticised the deal, calling it a “major feeding trough for [President] Emmerson [Mnangagwa] and his acolytes.” He said the “Beitbridge Border project should not cost more than $45m yet it has been granted without [a] tender to an acolyte.”

“The Beitbridge border project, granted to an acolyte without tender, should not cost more than $45m”, Biti told reporters. “The biggest challenge that democrats face is how to disentangle the umbilical cord between Mnangagwa and the vile tentacles of Rhodesian white capital whose sole function has been to loot Zimbabwe dry since the Loot Commission of 1895.”

The Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), part of the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), contributed $43.7m in funding for the project. Zimborders says it raised some of the money for construction from selling a “significant equity stake” to two South African private equity firms, Harith General Partners and the Phembani Remgro Infrastructure Fund.

The deal to operate Beitbridge has been granted for a period of 17.5 years, with a possibility of extending it up to an additional 5 years.

The Zimbabwe police are also currently investigating the sexual assault of a 20-year-old at the Beitbridge border. The victim was attacked on 12 October after apparently trying to illegally cross the border, where smuggling and trafficking are commonplace.

Both Raubex and the La Frontiere Group did not reply to requests for comment. 

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