Botswana leads the pack in SADC as the major trade partner of South Africa in 2020 by listing the highest trade value of 29% (R81,3 billion) from the total trade value of R278,9 billion of some commercial border posts in southern Africa, a new report shows.
The report released by South Africa’s Cross Border Road Transport Agency shows that Zimbabwe and Mozambique became the second and third trade partners with 25% and 21%, amounting to R70 billion and R58 billion, respectively.
Zimbabwe registered the third importer of South Africa by importing approximately 12% (3,3 billion pieces of goods) of South Africa’s total export volumes (27,2 billion pieces of goods) transported by road.
Eswatini was the principal exporter to South Africa by exporting about 38% (1,4 billion pieces of goods) of the total trade volumes (3,7 billion pieces of goods), compared to the neighbouring countries.
Botswana was the second exporter to South Africa since South Africa imported around 27% (999 million pieces of goods) of its total import volumes (3,7 billion pieces of goods), transported by road.
Grobler’s bridge and Ramatlabama border post administered about 9% (349 million and 329 million pieces of goods, separately) of South Africa’s total trade volumes imported from all neighbouring countries, and this made them the highest in handling South Africa’s imports compared to other commercial border posts of Botswana in 2020.
Mozambique and Zimbabwe registered fourth and fifth exporting partners of South Africa by exporting around 15% and 12% to South Africa, separately.
In 2019, South Africa had an exceptionally healthy trade balance with Botswana. It exported around R95,3 billion to Botswana and imported about R11,2 billion from Botswana, equaling a trade surplus of R84,1 billion.
In 2020, South Africa’s exports to Botswana valued about R74,0 billion, which was 22% lower than the exports of 2019. The value of South Africa’s imports in 2020 declined 35% to R7,3 billion from R11,2 billion in 2019. Consequently, South Africa enjoyed a trade surplus of approximately R66,6 billion, although it experienced a 21% decrease from 2019 (R84,1 billion).
The report explained that the decline of inter-trade between South Africa and Botswana in 2020 was mainly driven by restrictive measures imposed by member states due to the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 led to limited travel and freight movements to the essential goods and essential workers only. However, there was a noteworthy difference in the decline of cross-border commercial vehicle activities across South Africa and Botswana borders.
“Ultimately, these national lockdowns led to long delays in the movement of the essential goods at Botswana’s border posts due to required COVID-19 testing by the truck drivers and truck crews for COVID-19 before crossing the border, long delays of up to five days before the truckers being cleared to deliver goods in Botswana, or transit through the country, partially due to reduced business hours at the border posts and the need for trucks to be disinfected in some instances,” the report says.
South Africa’s total volumes exported to Botswana through four commercial border posts documented about 9,8 billion pieces of goods in 2019. In 2020, exports recorded about 6,5 billion pieces of goods, resulting in a decline of 34%.
The report says the highest decline in export values were realized in April 2020 compared to April 2019, with a negative 71% and all the subsequent months till the end of December 2020 also recorded a decrease.
“In 2020, Skilpadshek border posts processed the highest export volumes, constituting about 38% compared to other Botswana commercial border posts with the highest total value amounting to 36% (R26,3 billion).
Ramatlabama border post followed Skilpadshek with 25% of volumes of goods that were cleared. These goods valued the least percentage of 9% amounting to R6,9 billion concerning other commercial border posts in Botswana,” the report says.
Kopfontein border post registered the third South African exporting passage by processing volumes of goods equaling 23% of South Africa’s total exports to Botswana in 2020. The total value of goods administered in Kopfontein was approximately R28,9 billion during the year, scoring the second-highest value totalling 34% after Skilpadshek.
The last border post that processed the smallest volume of goods was Grobler’s’ bridge with 13%. The respective value of the same goods was around R15,8 billion, which was 21% of the total value of exported goods from South Africa to Botswana.
The highest volumes of South Africa’s exports to Botswana that traversed all Botswana commercial border posts in 2020 were; Crude, Coal, Petroleum and Electricity with about 1,1 billion litres contributing 17,1%; Salt, sulphur, stone and plastering material with about 934 million kilograms registering 14,4%; Cell phones, Electrical Equipment and Machinery with 92,6 million pieces documenting 14,3%.
In 2020, Grobler’s bridge border posts processed the highest imports volumes that recorded about 35% associated with other Botswana commercial border posts with the second-highest total value amounting to 26% (R1,9 billion) after Kopfontein border post, which processed the lowest volumes of goods border post with approximately high value of R2,2 billion (31%).
Skilpadshek border post followed Grobler’s bridge with 33% of volumes of goods that were cleared, and these goods valued about 25%, amounting to R1,9 billion compared to other commercial border posts in Botswana (Figure 2).
Ramatlabama border post registered third South Africa’s importing passage in 2020 by processing volumes of goods equaling 20% (329 million pieces of goods) from Botswana. The total value of goods administered in Ramatlabama during 2020 was approximately R1,3 billion, scoring the lowest with 18% after Skilpadshek.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.