President Emmerson Mnangagwa sought to rewrite the history of his country’s attitude towards a parcel of land between Zimbabwe and Botswana.
“On the question of Kazungula border issue, between me and my dear brother, we settled it in less than seven minutes,” said Mnangagwa last week when hosting President Mokgweetsi Masisi in Zimbabwe.
After pausing for applause, he continued: “I told my brother that that dispute arises from the former expansionist mentality of the former Ian Smith regime.”
That regime, he claimed, wanted to hold on to some “100 metres of marsh.” With a dismissive wave of the hand and dramatic voice, he delivered another applause line: “Give it to Botswana!” When the applause had died down, Mnangagwa added that there was no need for Zimbabwe and Botswana “quarrelling when we know the true facts of the situation.”
The true facts of the situation are that Zimbabwe refused to free up those 100 metres of marsh for the construction of the Kazungula Bridge and that Zimbabwe retains ownership of those 100 metres. In the original design, the Bridge span was to overpass Zimbabwean territory, curving eastwards. This design was made decades after the fall of the Smith regime, when Zimbabwe was already independent and Mnangagwa was Robert Mugabe’s Vice President.
Alongside Botswana and Zambia, Zimbabwe was part of the project at conception stage but upon failing to mobilise the required funds, decided to drop out. In April 2014, a ZANU-PF MP, Felix Tapiwa Mhona, wanted the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, Obed Mpofu, to explain the government’s position on a project that he deemed detrimental to the country’s economic fortunes.
“There is a bridge that is being constructed between Botswana and Zambia known as Kasane Bridge,” the MP prefaced his question, using the wrong name for the bridge. “What is the government policy in place so as to counter this conspiracy whereby you are going to see traffic bypassing our Beitbridge, which is the gateway to southern Africa, consequently impacting negatively on our revenue?”
First describing Mhona’s question as “very important”, Mpofu stated that since there was no border between Botswana and Zambia, construction of the bridge was impossible.
“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,” the minister said.
It would seem that the question and answer were a pre-arranged charade to publicly send a message to both Botswana and Zambia – which message the two countries received loud and clear. Zimbabwe had hoped that the project would collapse if it withdrew from it – and that almost happened. Fortunately, the partners came up with a Plan B – which Botswana’s former Minister of Transport and Communications, Nonofo Molefi, has detailed to Sunday Standard. Upon hearing Mhona-like talk from other Zimbabwean politicians, Botswana and Zambia decided to make changes to the design plan.
“We approached Namibia and asked that the bridge pass through their territory and they agreed,” Molefi said.
The result was that instead of going straight into Zimbabwe from Botswana as had been the original plan, the bridge now curves westwards into Namibian territory, then makes a landfall in Zambia.
Botswana and Zambia would have the last laugh. When the Kazungula Bridge was officially opened last year, Mnangagwa and Mhona (now Minister of Transport and Infrastructure) were at the high table. Their attendance was evidently part of effort to associate Zimbabwe with this achievement.