The port of Maputo has seen an uptick in use by South African exporters, but many challenges have hampered its fuller utilisation, including the lack of rail service and corruption at customs. Photo: Supplied

Lewis Simelane Mbabane

GREATER use by South African shippers of Mozambique’s main port in Maputo would boost the economies of both countries, the Maputo Corridor Logistics Initiative (MCLI) said on Wednesday. However, a myriad challenges, some infrastructural and some political, have hampered fuller utilisation of the port by South African exporters.

“Lack of rail service, port congestion that leads to delays and negative perceptions about Mozambique are factors for low utilisation of the port.

“South Africa had an election and Mozambique will have an election in October and the cabinet ministers are not considering policy changes during elections. This is hampering finalisation of a one-stop border service and other needed measures,” MCLI chief executive Barbara Mommen said.

The MCLI met Swaziland and South African members and Maputo Corridor users at Ezulwini in Swaziland on Wednesday for an annual review of the lacklustre developments over the past year.

The corridor runs from Gauteng through the Lebombo-Ressano Garcia border post to the port of Maputo, a distance of 630km through some of southern Africa’s most industrialised locations. Along the way are citrus growers whose use of the Maputo port once infrastructure issues are resolved would reduce travel distance and cost compared with usage of the port of Durban, which handles most of South Africa’s citrus exports.

The MCLI is a marketing and advocacy organisation funded by three primary players, Grindrod, which runs the coal terminal at Maputo, the Maputo Port Development Company and South Africa’s Department of Transport. Secondary funders include Mozambican ports and railway authority CFM, Swaziland Railway and Transnet Freight Rail.

Corruption endemic to Mozambican customs and other officials along the transport chain have made cargo haulage by road unpredictable. A so-called single electronic window for customs clearance of goods will eliminate petty bribery by allowing prepayment of fees and preapproval of documents. However, while progress has occurred, there is no clarity on when this window will be open.

Government consultation with shipping stakeholders and cross-border traders is essential but not yet practised, as shown by Wednesday’s stone-throwing riot at the border post. South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs imposed a R3 000 “guarantee fee” for traders passing goods through the border. The sudden imposition of a fee that might represent the net income of an informal trader prompted a violent response that temporarily shut the border crossing. Mommen met with Home Affairs officials as the disruption ensued, and the surety requirement was withdrawn.

“The top priority to maximise Maputo Corridor usage remains the transforming of the N4 border crossing at Lebombo-Ressano Garcia into an efficient, one-stop 24/7 operation. Although both governments signed up to this goal in 2007, the project hasn’t been fully realised, including legal complexities and infrastructure constraints,” Mommen said in a presentation to stakeholders.

Some improvements have resulted from MCLI advocacy, including the separation of trucks from general traffic to relieve congestion. While the main border crossing can be open sometimes up to 18 hours a day, around the clock service is an elusive but necessary goal.

MCLI seeks to adhere to a 2015 deadline to become a public-private partnership, which would increase funding for advocacy programmes.

Some causes of shipping delays that have discouraged South African exporters from using Maputo have been rectified, such as the redundancy of customs officials scanning cargo twice, once at the border and once at the port. Now only one scan is performed, at the border unless border post congestion necessitates the customs scan is done at the port.

Incoming goods offloaded at Maputo port would boost corridor usage considerably if carried on the delivery trucks’ return “backhaul” trips to South Africa. At present, transport firms find that the problems associated with corridor usage are too great a hassle, and after offloading cargo at the port their trucks return across the border as soon as possible.

Mommen said: “One-directional trade is not good for anybody. If a truck is coming back empty it is bad for the environment, it snarls up the border crossing and it makes prices higher as costs have to reflect both legs of the journey.”

Nevertheless, traffic on the N4 from Gauteng to Maputo saw a double-digit increase last year. On average 800 trucks pass through the border post daily.

Increased use of the corridor would benefit more than local shippers, Mommen believes.

“There is a human side too, (including) benefits to the communities along the Maputo Corridor. Komatipoort is doing a feasibility study on setting up a special economic zone, for example. It has a strategic location on the Maputo Corridor and would create jobs and businesses.”