Community unites against criminality on Mozambique border
Nkomazi residents protest at Lebombo border gate over massive congestion and safety issues caused by queuing trucks
The Komatipoort Business Chamber has appealed to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Mpumalanga premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane and provincial safety & security MEC Vusi Shongwe to help “improve the traffic management” situation at the troubled Lebombo border after a protest by frustrated residents.
The chamber wrote to authorities a day after a peaceful protest was held by Nkomazi residents at the border gate over the massive congestion caused by trucks queuing at the post and the safety issues that arise from this.
It is believed more than 1,000 trucks pass through the border each day, causing massive congestion and resulting in criminal acts.
Thursday's letter highlighted issues at the post, including reckless driving, disrespect for the deployed forces, inadequate policing and alleged bribing of officers.
“We request the office of the president do the necessary and increase all efforts to immediately improve the traffic management. The days are few because we fear a war may start and people (tipper truck drivers and taxi operators) may shoot each other soon,” part of the lengthy letter reads.
On Wednesday a memorandum was handed to the newly established border management authority (BMA) with similar grievances and the entity was given 30 days to respond.
In July, another memorandum was sent to Ramaphosa addressing the same issues and requesting urgent intervention.
A month earlier, state entities, including the BMA and police, operating at the border promised to deal with unspecified “technical challenges” with urgency.
A local businessman and farmer, who didn't want to be named for fear of victimisation, explained the years-long issues at the border.
“Over the years there have been more and more trucks delivering mining materials to Mozambique. The congestion issues have got worse and worse over the past few years. We've had very limited numbers of law enforcers on the road. For example, four or five months ago the traffic department would only work from 6am to 8pm and then from then until 6am the next morning there's no law enforcement on the road.
“What would happen is the trucks would jump the queue and take over the entire road. When that happens it creates congestion and nobody can move for two to three hours.
Residents are saying they're tired of illegal immigrants coming over the border. The fence isn't fixed so they are coming back and forth and this is where our crime comes from. We're having a lot of murders and attacks.Nkomazi district CPF's Nadine Edgecombe
“A criminal gang started up about two years ago and they originate from Mozambique and have been nicknamed the Challengers,” the farmer said.
The gang, described as a dangerous group that apparently moves freely between South Africa and Mozambique, initially targeted truck drivers stuck in the long queues, allegedly breaking into their vehicles and robbing them.
They then moved to kidnapping the drivers for ransom, before setting their sights on taxis moving between South Africa and Mozambique and caught up in the congestion.
“The crimes got out of hand and nobody was on the road to help or do anything. The taxi association stepped in and took control of the road. They brought law and order back and by doing that, they chased the gang away,” the farmer said.
This was apparently not enough to deter the gang, which then moved to farm labourers working at night in the Nkomazi area.
The Nkomazi district community policing forum's Nadine Edgecombe, commenting on Wednesday's march, said: “Residents are saying they're tired of illegal immigrants coming over the border. The fence isn't fixed so they are coming back and forth and this is where our crime is coming in. We're having a lot of murders and attacks.
“On Wednesday, we had three truck drivers [allegedly] attacked by the Challengers. One is in hospital. He's seriously injured. We need BMA, the army and the police to take control of our borders. It's extremely important. We can't let this carry on because we've got lots of lives in danger at all times. Travelling on the N4 near the border is becoming too dangerous,” she said.
Edgecombe said the Challengers had allegedly been linked to kidnappings, rapes and murders at the border.
The gang apparently took advantage of the absence of law enforcement, which previously used to operate between 6am and 8pm only.
The situation improved after officials began operating 24 hours and when taxi associations with routes between South Africa and Mozambique “took control” of the route. According to Edgecombe, this brought relative calm and stability until this week, when a legal challenge forced them to stop. This apparently is what led to Wednesday's attack, she said.
Macabane Nkalanga, from the Lebombo taxi association, confirmed their participation in the protest, saying they too were affected by the congestion and criminality.
He said among their demands were the removal of bushes where criminals wait to spring on unsuspecting passengers, the installation of street lights on the N4 and police to do their jobs and “stop accepting bribes”.
Commenting on the handing over of the letter to the BMA, he said: “They said they would look at our memo and attend to those things under their jurisdiction and pass on the rest to relevant authorities. We asked for a response within 30 days,” he said.
A case was opened but no one has been arrested. There are suspects police arrested for similar offences such as kidnapping where suspects allegedly demanded ransoms and their matters are before the courtsCol Donald Mdhluli, Mpumalanga police spokesperson
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Col Donald Mdhluli confirmed one incident of a robbery with a weapon other than a firearm was reported in Komatipoort.
“The driver of a truck from Matola in Mozambique alleges on October 19 at around 1.30am he was queuing on the N4 next to a fuel garage on his way to Mozambique,” he said.
“It is alleged he was accosted by two males armed with pangas. The men smashed the windows of the truck before demanding that he hand over all his personal items, cash, cellular phones and wallet. They fled with these items.
“A case was opened but no one has been arrested. There are suspects police arrested for similar offences such as kidnapping where suspects allegedly demanded ransoms and their matters are before the courts.”
Police confirmed the suspects often operated as a group but couldn't confirm it was known as the Challengers gang.
The BMA said this week: “Reports received highlight that the [protest] action emanates from criminal actions taking place during the congestions and delays experienced relating to clearing vehicles through the border process. The BMA calls for the challenges to be resolved to continue harnessing the economic opportunity in the Maputo corridor.”
It was “concerned these criminal activities, if not addressed, will culminate in massive loss of trade revenue”.
The BMA said engagements had been initiated between its officials, the department of transport, Sanral and the Mozambique government to foster a “positive border management control system”.
BMA commissioner Dr Michael Masiapato said the Lebombo border has been earmarked for future redevelopment as an initiative to ensure efficient cross-border management and movement of people, goods and services.
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