Botswana and Zimbabwe are locked in a border dispute along the Kazungula frontier, delaying the construction of the multi-million Pula Kazungula bridge between Botswana and Zambia.
Numerous attempts by President Festus Mogae, Presidential Affairs minister Phandu Skelemani and Foreign Affairs Minister, Mompati Merafhe, to resolve the issue amicably with Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, have so far failed and indications are that a legal battle is in the offing.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Clifford Maribe, confirmed the dispute saying the issue was being handled by the Political Affairs desk at the Office of the president and that a committee has been set up to look into the issue. Maribe referred Sunday Standard to Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President (political Affairs) Ernest Mpofu who was reported to be out of town.
The dispute has stalled construction of the Kazungula road between Botswana and Zambia which is expected to boost the regional economy.
Zimbabwe has been trying to muscle in on the bilateral project between Botswana and Zambia and, in 2003, it forced the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan to withhold a $60 million loan to Zambia because it claimed the Zambian land around the area.
Making his submission to the Zambian Parliamentary Committee Works and Supply Permanent Secretary, Biwayo Nkunika, disclosed that the Zimbabwean government was demanding to be a part of the project in which Mitsubishi Corporation was to finance the construction of the bridge on the Zambian part.
Nkunika said that the bridge would have to rest on some parts of Zimbabwean soil to connect directly to Botswana because the beacons installed on the southern bank of the Zambezi River made it impossible for Zambia to connect directly to Botswana.
“Zimbabwe is saying for the bridge to pass through their country direct to Botswana, they have to be included as third partners in the project or else they will not allow it. “But the only problem in allowing this is that the project will be costly because the gap where the bridge has to be constructed will be widened,” Nkunika said. He complained that Zimbabwe had continued to be stubborn and adamant over the issue.
“It’s a pity that Zimbabwe has continued to show resistance on this simple matter when Namibia is already agreeable with the project passing through their land,” he said.
As a result of such behaviour, the Zambian Government was also against a Zimbabwean road passing through Zambia to connect to Botswana, he said.
The government of Japan was also willing to give a grant to Zambia for the same project but rescinded its decision partly because of the dispute. Now Zimbabwe has turned around and is claiming part of the Kazungula area on the Botswana side.