THE recently opened multi-million-dollar Kazungula Bridge is certainly sweet music to Botswana and Zambia, but for Zimbabwe, it presents a headache over the potential loss of millions of dollars.
The bridge, built at a cost of US$269 million, links the two countries but bypasses Zimbabwe. It also offers an alternative route for road transporters from South Africa to Zambia and other northern countries in the region.
Currently, the Beitbridge-Chirundu Road is a key component of the Trans-African highway network Zimbabwean link between South Africa and Zambia. It is also part of the North-South Corridor Project and the Cape to Cairo Road, and a gateway to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
But Zimbabwe has neglected the roads that are part of the corridor. The Beitbridge-Harare Highway was built in the 1960s and has far outlived its 20-year lifespan. After haggling over tenders since 2003, government finally started work on the dualisation of the road last year, with different companies working on parts of the project to expedite completion, but this may have come too late to save the situation.
After years of haggling or just plain neglect, the Beitbridge Border Post finally is getting a makeover in a US$296 million modernisation project as Zimbabwe finally takes action to address the bottlenecks which often see haulage trucks stuck for days on end waiting to be served. The Beitbridge port is the busiest transit port for cargo from South Africa destined for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and often as far as Tanzania.
There are relatively few studies on the financial benefits the corridor brings to Zimbabwe but a situation analysis carried out in 2009 showed that the waiting time at the border was about 33 hours for south-bound traffic while for north-bound traffic waiting time was about 45 hours. It was estimated that the cost associated with waiting time was about US$29,3 million for south-bound and US$35 million for north-bound traffic per year.
In contrast, the South Africa/Botswana Groblersbrug Border Post is quick in processing documentation, at between 8-10 hours. Botswana’s roads are better maintained than Zimbabwe’s, hence fuel costs are cheaper.
Distance-wise, Johannesburg to Lusaka, Zambia, through Beitbridge is 1 525km while via Kazungula, the journey is 1 730km. But with Zimbabwe’s poor road network, congestion and long winding queues at the country’s points of entry, especially Beitbridge, truckers will likely avoid the frustration of using Zimbabwe, resulting in a potential loss to the southern African nation of billions of dollars.
Work on the Beitbridge Border Post and on the Beitbridge-Chirundu Highway have come too late, but if expedited, could help Zimbabwe salvage something, however small.