The recent decision by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to normalize relations with the Robert Mugabe regime is believed to be an attempt to save a P70 billion Pula business venture linked to President Ian Khama’s friend.
One of Khama’s aides, whose name is known to this newspaper, is reported to be behind the planned Botswana and Mozambique oil and coal habour with a railway line and oil pipeline which will pass through Zimbabwe. The new rail and pipelines will ferry coal, crude oil, liquid fuels and other goods between Botswana and Zimbabwe, and India and China, bypassing South African harbours and the nearby port of Maputo.
Botswana’s former minister, Frank Ramsden, and his Mozambique counterpart, Paulo Zucula, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and the Mozambican government has already gazetted the boundaries of a 30 000 hectares harbour and industrial zone around Ponto Techobanine. The project to develop the port and build a rail link to Botswana and Zimbabwe will cost an estimated US 7 billion dollars and take ten years to complete. A feasibility study has been completed and work is expected to begin soon. The preparatory phase, including the mobilization of finance, was expected to be completed by the end of 2011, and the first phase of construction is expected to take place between 2012 and 2015.
There are, however, fears that unless Botswana warns up to the Mugabe regime, Zimbabwe poses a threat to the project which is considered to be of strategic national importance. Strained relations between Khama and Mugabe were also expected to turn off potential financiers.
Sources close to the project say they were not surprised when a Zimbabwean newspaper reported that the BDP had endorsed President Robert Mugabe of the ZANU-PF to stand as a candidate and also embraced his policies, amongst them the land-grabbing and indigenization.
The BDP sent a delegation, led by Thabo Masalila, to the ZANU-PF annual conference, which endorsed the 87- year-old Mugabe as its candidate in the presidential elections that may be held this year or in 2013. Masalila was quoted in the Zimbabwean Standard calling on African countries to emulate Zimbabwe. “You should consider yourselves blessed to have leadership that has such wisdom,” the paper quoted Masalila as saying.”It is important to reflect on how indigenization can help to propel us forward. As Africans, our greatest resource is our land. This is one commodity that we have to guard,” the paper quoted Masalila.
The Standard further reported that President Ian Khama was working day and night to restore relations between BDP and ZANU-PF, after publicly criticizing Mugabe and openly supporting his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai.
Masalila has, however, claimed that he was quoted out of context, accusing The Standard of spicing its report when in fact there was no romance between BDP officials and ZANU-PF.
“The general tone of the message was to convey fraternal greetings and goodwill to ZANU-PF. As invited delegates, we also took notice of the theme of the conference which was, ‘Defend National Sovereignty, Consolidate Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment’ and commended the leadership for a theme which we found fit for ensuring that Zimbabwe will be assisted in propelling its economy forward and to a point of being sustainable in growth,” he told the Mmegi newspaper.
The report by the Zimbabwean newspaper follows in the wake of fears that Pretoria may block plans by Botswana and Mozambique to build a major oil and coal habour with a railway line and oil pipeline which will bypass South Africa.
The multi-billion Pula project, which is linked to one of President Khama’s aides, is expected to boost Botswana’s economic competitiveness and diversification campaign by dramatically reducing the time it takes to move the country’s imports and exports.
With Botswana’s current dependence on South African ports, it takes up to 22 days for merchandise to arrive, be unloaded and reach destination. It is expected the new port and railway will reduce the period to an average of just six days.
If it goes ahead, new rail and pipelines would ferry coal, crude oil, liquid fuels and other goods between Botswana and Zimbabwe, and India and China, bypassing South African harbours and the nearby port of Maputo.
The South African media has, however, started speaking out against the planned project, citing unnamed critics who claim that the project “could scupper the success of the tri-nation Lubombo transfrontier conservation project signed 10 years ago by the governments of South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland”.
According to the South African media, the Ponto Techobanine plan “involves digging a deep-water port inside the Maputo Elephant Reserve and neighbouring Ponta do Ouro marine reserve, and running a 1 100km railway line through the centre of a newly proclaimed elephant migration corridor to South Africa”.