South Africa’s Virus Rules Clog Borders, Delay Metal Exports

New South African government rules to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic are clogging up key border crossings, delaying mineral exports.

The authorities have been battling to clear shippers and travelers since new rules were introduced at the end of December. Key routes include Lebombo, a crossing to Mozambique that’s a conduit for chrome-ore shipments, and Beitbridge, which links South African ports with Zimbabwe and other northern landlocked neighbors and is one of Africa’s busiest land crossings.

South African trucks exporting mostly chrome ore through Mozambique are queuing more than 7 kilometers (4 miles) at Lebombo, according to Mike Fitzmaurice, chief executive officer of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations. Truckers are being forced to wait as long as two days to transit the border, according to Henk Langenhoven, chief economist at the Minerals Council South Africa.

South Africa ships about 30% of its chrome via Mozambique, according to the council.

‘Massive Congestion’

The “massive congestion” is due to officials implementing Covid-19 health protocols, including testing for symptoms of the virus, Fitzmaurice said. Lebombo may also be understaffed after a number of employees of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs and Port Health Services contracted the Covid-19 in recent weeks, he said.

South Africa accounted for about 78% of primary chrome-ore world supply in 2019 but exports declined between 25% to 32% last year after the government implemented one of the world’s strictest lockdown earlier in the year, the Minerals Council said.

“The current border delays will have an impact on exports,” Langenhoven said. “Border formalities are not well coordinated and the health requirements outlined by South Africa’s Department of Health are altered frequently and both countries apply different requirements.”

South Africa has introduced a series of measures to control the spread of Covid-19, including a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. nationwide curfew. The number of people infected with the disease rose by a record 21,832 cases on Thursday, with 844 deaths raising the number of fatalities to 31,368 so far.

READ: Platinum Jumps as Virus in South Africa Fuels Supply Fear: Chart

The challenges at Lebombo, South Africa’s second-busiest land-border crossing, mirror those at Beitbridge. Officials on both sides have battled since Christmas Eve to clear hundreds of trucks because of Covid-19 protocols.

The numbers of travelers at Beitbridge has swelled as thousands of mostly Zimbabwean immigrants trek back to South Africa after the holiday season. The United Nations estimates that as many as 3 million Zimbabweans live in South Africa.

Zimbabwe on Jan. 2 announced a strict 30-day lockdown to curb rising coronavirus infections in that country. The measures include the early closure of the border and the presentation of a valid Covid-negative certificate in order to pass through.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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