There are 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 planned port and pipeline are 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”.
Botswana’s minister, Frank Ramsden, and his Mozambique counterpart, Paulo Zucula, have already 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, is expected to be completed by the end of 2011, and the first phase of construction is expected to take place between 2012 and 2015.