More than 1000 Batswana have lost their jobs because South Africa and Zimbabwe have conspired to close down Botswana Railways ? parliament has been told.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Mompati Merafhe, last week asked former Botswana Railways manager and Member of Parliament for Tswapong South, Oratile Molebatsi, to brief him outside parliament on the alleged Zimbabwe/South Africa conspiracy.
Molebatsi, who is pressuring the minister to take the issue up with South Africa and Zimbabwe, revealed for the first time how Zimbabwe and South Africa teamed up and used intimidation and other underhand methods to divert rail traffic away from Botswana Railways.
The Sunday Standard can reveal that in 1999 the National Railways of Zimbabwe imposed a traffic embargo on Botswana Railways and trains labeled to go through Botswana from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as those destined for South Africa were diverted to go through the Beitbridge route. A meeting Between President Festus Mogae and Robert Mugabe failed to resolve the issue. South African Railways stations also labeled most of the wagons or trains which would normally go through Botswana to go through Beitbridge.
The Sunday Standard?s investigations further revealed that South Africa has invested heavily in the Beitbridge railway line that diverted traffic away from the Botswana Railways route that went through Plumtree.
The New Limpopo Bridge Projects Limited, the company that owns the Beitbridge Bulawayo Railway line that diverted rail traffic from Botswana Railways is an investment holding company registered in Mauritius and held by South African Financial Institutions with strong Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) interests, among them Nedbank, Old Mutual and Sanlam. The business to operate the new route was awarded to Spoornet, South Africa?s National Railways, a division of South African parastatals company, Transnet.
It is understood that part of the agreement between New Limpopo Bridge Projects and the Zimbabwean government was that the Bulawayo Beitbridge Railways which would be handed over to the Zimbabwean government after 30 years would only be profitable if rail traffic is diverted away from Botswana Railways.
In an interview with The Sunday Standard, Molebatsi detailed for the first time how South Africa and Zimbabwe teamed up and used underhand methods and intimidation to force rail traffic away from Botswana Railways. To hold on to their rail traffic, Botswana Railways agreed with Trade Minister, Neo Moroka, then BP Managing Director in Zambia, that BP petrol tankers, ordered from Tarlton in South Africa would be relabeled at Serule in Botswana to create an impression that the petrol was bought from Botswana so that it would not be diverted away from Botswana Railways to Beitbridge.
Molebatsi says after a few tankers were hauled through Botswana Railways, Zimbabwean Railways threatened that if the tankers were not diverted to the Beitbridge railway, the National Railways of Zimbabwe would not haul them to Zambia. BP Zambia was thus forced to divert its tankers away from Botswana Railways although it was P1.04 per ton cheaper to use BR instead of Beitbridge.
Then there were South African coal suppliers who wished to import coal from Wankie in Zimbabwe through Botswana Railways which was cheaper, but the Zimbabwean Railways intervened and scuttled the deal.
Molebatsi told The Sunday Standard that in another bid to resolve the controversy, Botswana Railways agreed on a ?shortest route? principle with their counterparts in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Under the agreement, goods trains would be required to take the shortest route between the Botswana Railways Route and the Beitbridge route from their destinations in South Africa. ?To frustrate this agreement, South Africa decided to haul all in northbound goods trains to a marshalling yard in Central Rand Station from where the Beitbridge route would be shorter.?
Following the diversion of rail traffic to Beitbridge, Botswana railways has lost millions of pula in freight traffic and has had to cut down its staff from about 2000 to 900.