Food imports should continue in Maputo despite new border controls

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The main South African supermarket chains in Mozambique are not anticipating a shortage of goods in Maputo, even as South Africa tightens border controls against the spread of Covid-19. Meanwhile, foods continue to be imported through sea ports.

South Africa’s closure of 35 land borders on Monday should not cause “any significant impact on the supply of food to our stores in Mozambique,” Spar’s Risk and Sustainability Executive, Kevin O’Brien, told Zitamar News on Thursday.

South Africa closed three border crossings with Mozambique — at Ponta D’Ouro in the far south of Mozambique, and Giriyondo, and Pafuri, accessed through Kruger park. But the Ressano Garcia border, by far the busiest crossing between the two countries, remains open.

Mozambique has no plans to close its borders, including the crossing to South Africa at Ressano Garcia, immigration service SENAMI spokesman Celestinho Matsinhe told Zitamar on Monday. Matsinhe said people and products will continue to circulate normally, and that the authorities will follow the President’s recommendations to continue screening travellers.

South Africa’s Home Affairs department did not respond to requests for comment as to whether the border post will be closed from its side.

However, supermarket suppliers are confident commercial goods will continue to flow between the countries.

“As far as we are aware the South African government or Mozambican government has not indicated that borders will be closed from transporting commercial goods. As of today, it is still business as usual,” a spokesperson for Woolworths said on Wednesday.

Kobus Botha, a South African who heads up a major agricultural concern in Mozambique, said he believes South Africa will keep the border open so as not to risk an economic crisis that could be worse than the virus itself.

“The unfortunate deaths of many will pale against the destruction of the livelihood of millions,” he said. “South Africa goes into semi-shutdown anyway over the Easter holidays.. it’s the slowest time of the economy all year — slower than December or New Year, but South Africa won’t stop exporting. I think the way they’re looking at it is that it’s a 14-day thing. If things get better in the next 14 days I’m sure things go back to normal.”

Spar is still taking precautions, however, as shutting Ressano Garcia would have a “significant impact on our ability to deliver to Mozambique,” said O’Brien.

“Currently we are servicing the increased demand due to panic buying and are also in a position to service our stores who are needing to stock up given the possibility of the Ressano Garcia boarding being closed,” he said.

Neither supermarket chain intends to divert supplies to the domestic market, even as the crisis continues and could start impacting agricultural production in South Africa.

“This is not a consideration. We service all our Spar members equally and plan to fulfil all demand as best we can, given the current situation,” said O’Brien.

Similarly, Woolworths said it services “all our markets outside RSA in the same way we service our stores in RSA. All our markets on the continent are treated as one business,” the spokesman said.

ShopRite did not return requests for comment.

Ports remain open

Meanwhile, goods continue to be imported through Mozambique’s sea ports.

Alessandro Maddalena, who imports Italian food through company Alma Indian Ocean, says there has been no problem shipping in food from Italy, the epicentre of the corona crisis in Europe.

“We have a 40ft container in the port, which is full of food, and should come out today,” he told Zitamar. “And we have two containers on their way, which should arrive on 21 April. A fourth will be shipped from Italy at the beginning of April.”

Production from some of his usual food suppliers has slowed because of a shortage of staff, but “there are options and food is coming,” he said. “There will not be any problems, and there is no need to buy cases of tomato sauce because the refills will keep coming.”

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