A customs dispute which has left about 70 Namibian drivers and 200 trucks loaded with timber stranded in Zambia for close to six months may turn ugly after the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) threatened to take unspecified action against trucks from the neighbouring country using the Port of Walvis Bay.
NCCI Chief Executive Officer, Tarah Shaanika, said at a news briefing this week that the warning should not be viewed as an empty threat.
The impounded trucks, which at one time reached 517, were in transit through Zambia from the Democratic Republic of Congo with the timber destined for China.
In April, Zambian President Edgar Lungu, signed a statutory instrument barring the transportation of Mukula (Pterocarpus chrysothrix) timber from neighbouring countries through the country. Harvesting of Mukula, an endangered tree species, is banned in Zambia.
The tree species is native to Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The business chamber said Namibian transporters have lost about N$100 million because of the customs standoff.
Shaanika said the Namibian trucks had done nothing illegal, arguing that the best the Zambian Government could do was to impound the timber and release the trucks.
“We don’t want to do anything stupid,” Shaanika said.
Jacques Steenkamp of Kabt Holdings, who spoke on behalf of the truck owners whose vehicles are stranded in Zambia, said the saga has had a devastating impact on transport companies which are now struggling to meet obligations with financial institutions and commitments with international shipping liners.
Steenkamp said he suspects there may be more to the ban than meets the eye since the Zambian authorities had been supplied with all the documents needed, including import documents from China.
Narrating how the saga started, Shaanika said a number of Namibian trucks contracted by various customers to transport timber from the DRC were impounded by Zambian authorities.
“The Zambian authorities even sealed the cargo at Kasumbalesa border post between the DRC and Zambia, which under normal circumstances would be inspected again at the Sesheke-Katima Mulilo border post,” Shaanika said.
He added that Namibian truckers cannot be blamed for transporting timber imported before the ban came into force.
Shaanika said since there are more goods destined for Zambia and the DRC from Walvis Bay than goods coming from the two countries, trucks take timber from the DRC as a return load to the Namibian port.
“There is currently a lot of cargo that cannot be transported out of the Port of Walvis Bay due to lack of trucks because so many of them are kept standing in Zambia,” the NCCI CEO said.