By DANIEL JONES in Victoria Falls
An aerial view of the newly built Kazungula bridge over the Zambezi river in Kazungula, Botswana, on May 10, 2021. (Photo by Monirul BHUIYAN / AFP)

THE US$259 million Kazungula Bridge, perched on the Zambezi River between Botswana and Zambia, is a landmark facility that will facilitate trade across Southern Africa and the continent as well as promote tourism within the region.

Trade relations are to improve through reduced transit time for freight and passengers and reduced time -based trade and transport costs, thereby increasing global competitiveness.

The multimillion-dollar bridge with a length of 923 metres enhances the link between South Africa and Tanzania and the whole region via Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi and Mozambique and is expected to ease access to international markets and provide connectivity in the region’s North-South Corridor.

This at a time when intra-trade between African countries is said to be only 3 percent.

While it may to be too early to start measuring benefits of the bridge, prospects are high for improved border management operations from the One-Stop-Border facility which truckers expect to reduce transit time
from three days to less than half a day.

It was thus with pomp and fanfare that five heads of State gathered on May 10 for the commissioning of the bridge.

The facility has been described as a “game changer” and a decisive step towards enhancing regional trade and integration in the region.

Zimbabwean authorities anticipate the Kazungula Bridge to ease congestion at Beitbridge, Sub-Saharan Africa’s busiest inland port between the country and South Africa.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government maintains that the country is strategically located geographically for the north-south freight as the distance that cuts through Zimbabwe through Beitbridge and Chirundu, bordering Zambia, is 200km shorter than going via Kazungula.

Already, Zimbabwe is upgrading Beitbridge border post and the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway after setting aside $300 million and $250 million respectively for the projects.

Zimbabwe joined Zambia and Botswana on the project in March 2018.

At the official opening, Mnangagwa said the bridge’s opening was timely and a milestone achievement for the region.

He pledged Zimbabwe’s commitment to pay its share of project cost to the two countries.

Felix Mhona, Zimbabwe’s Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister, mentioned benefits Zimbabwe stood to gain from the bridge.

“Kazungula Bridge only complements existing infrastructure that is key to the region. We are back in as Zimbabwe,” Mhona said, with an allusion to the government, then under Robert Mugabe (now late) snubbed.

Zimbabwe will soon rehabilitate the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls and Victoria Falls-Kazungula roads to match the developments lined to the bridge.

Kazungula Bridge gives hope to the Southern African Development (SADC) Regional Development Masterplan –Vision 2027, whose thrust is infrastructure that promotes seamless transport service and trade in the region, as well as Africa Agenda 2063, which strives for a united, integrated and prosperous Africa.

Dr Stergomena Tax, the SADC Secretary, in a post launch statement, hailed the bridge as a flagship regional project that creates an environment for economic integration and development.

“The Kazungula Bridge is expected to link the port of Durban in South Africa to DRC and Tanzania through the North-South Corridor to facilitate seamless and efficient movement of people and goods,” she said.

She added the facility was a modernization of transport infrastructure.

Prior to completion of the bridge, a ferry was used to carry haulage trucks and other goods across the river.

Officials from SADC and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) officials attended the official opening to highlight the importance of the bridge in enhancing regional trade and integration.

Africa Union (AU) chairperson, Felix Tshisekedi, described the bridge as a sign of economic independence.

“There can be no real integration without physical connection,” Tshisekedi, also the DRC president, said.

Farai Chimba, the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe national vice chairman, said the Kazungula Bridge is envisaged to promote tourism, especially in the Kavango-Zambezi Trans Frontier Area by facilitating easy movement of tourists between countries.

However, there are some qualms from a cross section of Zimbabweans feeling they would lose out on business.

Paul Shambare, Shipping and Forwarding Agents Association of Zimbabwe chairman for Victoria Falls and Kazungula branch, said 95 percent of business at the Victoria Falls border comes from traffic that carries copper and other bulky minerals.

Already Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) has directed that all commercial cargo by road will be restricted from using Victoria Falls border following completion of Kazungula.

Shambare argued clearing agents would lose out on bilateral trade and revenue.

“Trucks will now avoid Victoria Falls and Kazungula. This will affect clearing companies’ revenue. However there is greater transit movement at other ports like Beitbridge, Chirundu, and Forbes but those agents who didn’t have offices there will find it difficult to penetrate the market.

“There will be loss of jobs and already agents have started migrating from Victoria Falls and the Zimbabwe side of Kazungula as business will fall drastically in the absence of trucks,” Shambare said.

Construction of the bridge started in December 2014.

Zimbabwe initially snubbed the project.

Mnangagwa reengaged his Botswana and Zambia counterparts Mokgwetsi Masisi and Edgar Lungu respectively for inclusion.

The road and rail-bridge cuts at the quadric-point of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe borders providing a vital link between the neighbouring countries.

Besides the road strip and rail across the river, the 18,5 metres wide bridge has a One-Stop-Border Post on either side of the river.

It was co-funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency and African Development Bank while Botswana and Zambia chipped in with localized financing for components of the facility. – CAJ News