Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Kazungula ferry experience … amazing indeed

We watched in awe as a truck that is huge beyond comprehension slowly slides on to the infamous pontoon to cross over tonnes of goods from Botswana to Zambia. 

The pontoon slowly drifts away from shore as one from Zambia, carrying a bus full of people comes to a steady halt on the Botswana side and the operators expertly go about their business securing the exit point for disembarking, the whole time making it look as easy as slicing a loaf bread.

For phenomenal activities to occur there needs to be a phenomenal place hence the quadripoint, the only one place in the world where the corners of four nations come together. This is a rare confluence of four nations where the corners of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana occurs; nowhere else in the world. 

Whilst in Kasane for the Botswana Tourism Organisation’s Botswana Travel and Tourism Expo (BTTE), the gang agreed that with the construction of the new Kazungula Bridge, generations to come will not be able to witness the majestic crossing of goods, vehicles and people from one country to another through the use of pontoons. 

The highlight of this crossing is the trucks which are usually carrying goods from ports in South Africa transporting them to different parts of the continent via Botswana and Zambia. The queue these trucks are lined up in awaiting the many security checks and searches and ultimately crossing goes as far back as to a tiny village about 100 kilometres away called Pandamatenga.

In pursuit of finding out the experiences of these truck drivers, we made a short trip to Kazungula to find out what transpires whilst awaiting for ones truck to be loaded on to the pontoon. Priviledge, a young Zimbabwean truck driver, was a bit apprehensive as he was not sure where the conversation was leading, rightfully so because most of the times a casual friendly conversation from someone of the opposite sex usually meant a proposition from a female sex worker who at night were literally crawling all over the place. He later relaxed and explained that unless one was carrying perishable goods they were likely to be stuck in the queue for up to a period of a month.

“We cannot leave our trucks, obviously for security reasons hence we are stuck in them for weeks on end after delivering the goods, the cycle starts again,” he said. When contacted a week later (at the time of writing this article) Priviledge indicated that he was still in the queue awaiting his turn to cross into Zambia.

Through the mid-morning heat, a young Zambian man trudges along the road between the Botswana side of the border and the river bed where the pontoon is boarded. “I take at least 30 trips to and fro  a day helping the Zambians get their goods to the pontoon as they cross by foot but have to buy their groceries and other necessities at the Choppies here in Kazungula, it becomes too heavy for them.” For as little as P2 per ride he helps them get their goods to the ferry. “I know that it is not much but it gets me by during these tough economic times. He then gets to the bank and offloads his bike. He proceeds to dip his feet into the river, washes his face and puts some of the same water in a plastic bottle and drinks it.

Shocking? Not really because clean water becomes an unattainable luxury in some environments. 

A lady with a sombre-looking face carries a 10kg bag of maize meal on her back (as if carrying  a baby) with two bottles of cooking oil under her arms and a bag of pasta on one hand and rice on the other and a 5-litre bottle of petrol balancing steadily on her head. This is not monthly groceries for her family but rather stock for her tuck-shop situated on the village situated on the Zambian side of the ferry. Apparently food is such a hard commodity to come by that they do not sell it food using the original packaging but rather scale it down to smaller quantities measured with cups and smaller bottles since that is all they can afford. 

Aside from the bicycle gentleman, much of the economic activities are facilitated by Zambian women. Clad in their colourful native cloths (chitenges) they sit patiently awaiting the next pontoon ready to load their shopping as quickly as possible as and when the trucks are loaded for crossing. These women seem to be the backbone of the small trade that occurs between these borders.

To get the gist of everything that was happening around this place, two local police ladies who chose to be anonymous gave us a breakdown of what goes on. They offered a seat and some mangoes from Zambia (which were not allowed back into Botswana due to the fruit fly) and went on to explain that they dealt with people from as far as Malawi. One of the ladies further stated that apart from constantly trying to illegally cross the border without the right paper work the people were pretty harmless and are just trying to find greener pastures for survival. 

 For some it was a once in a life-time experience but for the many locals who reside in the Kazungula villages of Zambia and Botswana (yes both villages are called Kazungula) get to use this ferry on a daily basis and has been described as one of the largest ferries in South Central Africa with the capacity of about 70 tonnes.

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