One of the seven border crossings between SA and Namibia was closed by immigration officers on Wednesday, allegedly in protest at a lack of water.
A clearance agent at Vioolsdrift border post, at the northern end of the N7 in the Northern Cape, said officials closed the gates at noon after losing patience regarding the lack of water.
Trucks carrying cargo between the two countries immediately began to build up on both sides of the border, said the agent, who declined to be named.
“The main issue here is it seems the department of water knew about this issue, apparently for a few months, but they haven’t done anything about it,” the agent said.
“Now these people don’t have fresh water to drink, they don’t have water to shower, they don’t have water to flush toilets, and immigration just decided enough is enough. With Covid-19, those officials need water to wash hands.”
The agent blamed the affair on government departments’ apathy. “What makes it worse, they are not in the middle of nowhere. They could bring in a temporary truck,” the agent said.
The border had been quiet during the five weeks of level 5 lockdown, but had become busier in the two weeks since level 4 was introduced.
“Just for my office alone, you are looking at 30 trucks per day coming and going through the border, and there are about six or seven different agencies at the border. We have about 200 trucks crossing that border per day.
“The other issue is that those trucks are cold trucks and they will run out of diesel [while keeping their engines running at the border].
“So they will have to run back about 70km to Steinkopf or 110km to Springbok to fill up. Otherwise they are in trouble.”
Businessman and former DA MP Pieter van Dalen said he was also affected. “I have trucks that go through there and I deal with these people. I import Namibian wood and sell it here as firewood,” said Van Dalen.
“Everybody is out of work with this Covid-19 and if we can’t get our products through to the couple of people who can still work then it’s a disaster. We can’t work like that. You can close the whole border post and stop the economy.
“You can’t believe how many trucks go through there now. Those people in Namibia need the goods. This is the main border post linking us to Namibia and the rest of the continent.”
TimesLIVE has seen communication between the departments of public works and home affairs about the issue.
In the correspondence, public works’ regional manager in the Northern Cape, Ruwayda Baulacke, said: “I am aware of the major crisis at the Vioolsdrift Port of Entry, in fact all 11 ports in the Northern Cape province are in crisis.
“Even though all maintenance activities are a national function, the Kimberley regional office has been trying all means to assist with the provision of water and desludging for the past two weeks. We are trying to resolve the crisis as soon as we can.”
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s spokesperson, Siya Qoza, has been asked to comment. His response will be added when it is received.