An often impenetrable logjam of trucks laden with coal at South Africa’s crossing with Mozambique has brought chaos to a sleepy border town.

Elephants escaping from the nearby Kruger National Park often caused the biggest commotion in Komatipoort. These days residents check their CCTV cameras on their phones at barbecues on the weekend. The congestion created opportunities for criminals who saw drivers stranded in the queue for days on end as easy targets after nightfall. Robberies, theft and assaults spread from the highway to the town. Road accidents increased.

The trucks began trundling through in ever greater numbers on their way to Maputo port, where their cargos are loaded onto ships and sent around the world, after South Africa became one of Europe’s main alternatives to Russian coal following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The procession continues even though European fears of an energy crisis have faded for now. Suppliers are finding new buyers in India and China. And miners of chrome, used to manufacture stainless steel, are increasingly using the same routes.