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Kazungula is Beitbridge Border Post death knell?

12 May 2021 at 06:39hrs | Views
On Monday, President Mnangagwa witnessed the commissioning of the US$260 million Kazungula Bridge built by Botswana and Zambia across the Zambezi River.

The bridge, situated at the point where Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia borders intersect on the giant river, becomes an option to Beitbridge on the north-south corridor, the main artery for the movement of goods to and from sea ports in South Africa and other Sadc countries.

Zimbabwe was not part of the project when its construction started but President Mnangagwa took a forward-looking decision when he made it clear that the country wanted to become a joint owner of that piece of infrastructure.

There is no doubt that the Kazungula Bridge would be useful in spreading the options for north or south-bound traffic in the region. That should ease the traditional congestion at Beitbridge Border Post, until Monday, the only viable entry and exit point for traffic on the northern section of corridor and South Africa.

In addition, the new bridge furthers Sadc's regional integration goal. The President, speaking at the commissioning, highlighted these and other benefits that would accrue to the region thanks to the bridge.

"This is indeed a milestone achievement in our region," he said.

"I wish to sincerely thank my dear brothers and colleagues, His Excellency President of Botswana Masisi, and your Excellency President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, who extended an invitation to Zimbabwe to be part of this grand project. In the fullness of time Zimbabwe will be part of this project to accelerate our regional integration. My country continues to harness and modernise serious infrastructural development projects to enhance efficient connection with Botswana and Zambia. The completion of the Kazungula Bridge is therefore timely. I reiterate Zimbabwe's commitment to be part of this project for the benefit of our Sadc region."

As the President said, the bridge is clearly a positive development for the region in general and Zimbabwe in particular seeing that the country has been formally invited and would soon be a full member of the project. But since truckers have been presented with an alternative, it is a fact that some of them might decide to use Kazungula Bridge instead of Beitbridge, a port which has had its own fair share of challenges.

It is thus important for Zimbabwe and South Africa to escalate work to address the challenges that have been raised over Beitbridge. The border post must rise to the challenge likely to be presented by the new alternative. Congestion has been cited as the biggest challenge there.

This lengthens the turnaround times for cargo, which is not good for business. Corruption by border officials is yet another challenge. It is gratifying that Zimbabwe had, well ahead of the commissioning of the new bridge, already started upgrading and modernising Beitbridge Border Post under a US$300 million facility.

The Zimborders Consortium, made up of a group of Zimbabweans, South Africans, international entrepreneurs and financial institutions and experts, won the right to execute the project.

The project, being implemented under a public-private partnership with the Government, will be privately-funded with a 17 and half years' operating concession period following the completion of the construction works expected within two years. Successful implementation of the project will ensure that Beitbridge remains a preferred choice for business. It will help reduce queuing and processing delays as new equipment and software will be installed, allowing for automated queuing and payment for commercial cargo.

Linked to the Government-Zimborders Consortium deal is the ongoing initiative by Zimbabwe and South Africa to build a one-stop-border-post (OSBP) at Beitbridge.

The OSBP will, when fully operationalised, facilitate faster clearance of traffic and human traffic at the entry point, thus reducing the cost of doing business. But having a state-of-the-art Beitbridge Border Post only without a modern, efficient road and rail link into the country and further northward would not make sense at all.

That is why the Government took, some two years ago, another futuristic decision to dualise and rehabilitate the Beitbridge-Masvingo-Harare-Chirundu highway.

The US$250 million project is advanced and those who have driven on the reworked road have given positive feedback. Previously treacherous sections of the road in mountainous Chirundu have been widened and paved which will minimise accidents and speed up movement of vehicles along the stretch.

Yet another key factor to ensure that the country will remain the hub on the corridor is that the existing route through Beitbridge to Chirundu is 200km shorter than if one drove through the new bridge. So, yes the Kazungula Bridge is a welcome alternative route on the corridor but, contrary to some views, it will not spell the end of Beitbridge Border Post.

Source - chronicle
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