The Minister of Transport and Communications, Tshenolo Mabeo has revealed that the governments of the Botswana and Zambia, who are the owners of the P2.54 billion Kazungula Bridge, have each paid a 50 percent advance payment to the contractor to facilitate mobilisation to site.
“The mobilisation process has since started and as soon as it is done, construction will commence. This will take about four years to complete,” said Mabeo, adding that site hand-over to the contractor was done on December 5 last year.
The contractor is South Korean Daewoo Engineering & Construction which built the Serowe-Orapa road in 1986. The Kazungula Bridge project is funded by Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the European Union (EU) as well as the governments of both southern African countries. JICA will contribute 57.5 percent, AfDB 31.5 percent, Botswana and Zambia an equal 9.2 percent while the remaining 1.8 percent will come from the EU under its Infrastructure Trust Fund grant.
The Kazungula Bridge and Border Project, as it is officially known, entails implementation of new infrastructure to replace the existing ferry and border facilities between Zambia and Botswana at Kazungula. The project comprises construction of a road bridge over the river Zambezi, border facilities in each country and approximately 10┬ákilometres of bridge approach and access roads. Due to the absence of a bridge, hundreds of vehicles have to wait for a week or two to pass through the existing pontoons, costing the regional economy a lot of money.?The bridge is seen as a vital economic link between Botswana and Zambia and the rest of Africa and is expected to integrate the economies served by the North South Corridor as well as develop the mining sectors of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. More importantly, it would serve as the “gateway to the north”, connecting the SADC region to the entire continent. The bridge will eliminate the risks associated with operating pontoons, and reduce transit time from 36 hours to 2 hours.┬áThe latter will kill off one trade (prostitution) whose existence was solely based on truckers waiting for long periods to get on the pontoon and across the border.
Instead of going straight into Zimbabwe (a small portion of the bridge was to go past the country’s territorial waters) as had been the original plan, from Botswana the bridge will now go westwards into Namibia, then curve into Zambia. This is a result of Zimbabwe pulling out of the project due to lack of funds and subsequently making an unsuccessful attempt to sabotage it. Early last year, a ruling party MP in Zimbabwe, Felix Tapiwa, raised the matter of the construction of the bridge through a parliamentary question. He described the construction plan as “a conspiracy.” What he saw as conspiratorial was Botswana and Zambia’s plan to construct the Kazungula Bridge because it would divert traffic (and money) away from Zimbabwe’s own Beitbridge border post.
“I have engaged my colleague in Zambia and this engagement has also been escalated to the principals of the two countries, and the matter is at that level. Our understanding is supported by the United Nations on boundaries; that there is no boundary between Botswana and Zambia. If they want to build a bridge on that piece of land, Zimbabwe has to be involved,” said the minister, Obert Mpofu, adding that there was no need for another bridge just a few kilometres from the Victoria Falls Bridge.
Upon hearing this, Botswana and Zambia approached Namibia and sought permission to have the bridge pass through its territory. The latter agreed and changes were made to the original design plan. MP Tapiwa’s fears will be fully realised when the bridge is complete in four years and compete directly with Beitbridge border post which presently generates tollgates revenue that the cash-strapped Zimbabwean government desperately needs.