Harare – After years of delays, the Kazungula Bridge over the Zambezi River – a key regional integration initiative – could finally open by the end of 2020.
Located where the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet, the bridge is part of a broader infrastructure initiative that will ultimately connect the Port of Durban in South Africa to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But there is a catch: Zimbabwe – centrally located and initially a crucial player in the 923m and US$259,3 million project – is not part of the Kazungula Bridge initiative.
The Kazungula Bridge was initially meant to connect Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, but Gaborone and Lusaka ended up going it alone after Harare failed to raise its share of the required capital.
Now the project is 98 percent complete and following a tour of the site last week, the Press Secretary at Zambia’s Embassy in Zimbabwe said: “At its completion, the hallmark facility is expected to ease trade by significantly reducing time in transit across the borders and expand access through most land linked Southern African Development Community member states.”
Years of economic malaise occasioned by a variety of factors, including Western sanctions and economic mismanagement, mean Zimbabwe is a spectator to this major infrastructure and regional integration initiative.
Not only that; Zimbabwe has also failed to spruce up the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Corridor that is a vital 528km trade artery linking South Africa to Zambia and onwards to the DRC and Tanzania.
But it is not all doom and gloom.
After years of not pulling its weight, Zimbabwe is beginning to play its part in the infrastructure development-regional integration agenda.
Work has begun on the Beitbridge-Harare section of the trade corridor, and last week Zimbabwe’s Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube toured sites were progressing has been registered.
“Currently we have five companies that are renovating about 20km each. Some of them are moving faster than the others, but they are competing well; the progress is fantastic.
“There are certain parts that you might have seen as we drove down from Harare where the road markings are already done, resurfacing has been completed (and) it is very good progress,” Prof Ncube said.
What is more, the five firms doing the work - Bitumen World, Fossil Contractors, Exodus & Company, Masimba Construction and Tensor Systems – have tapped into domestic resources to carry out the work, which includes widening the road to meet international standards.
The next stage of the project involves constructing a dual carriageway for better flow of traffic on what is often said to be the busiest trade corridor in Africa.
Further, Zimbabwe wants to build dry ports along the route.
“We are trying to negotiate for (a piece of land) and locate a dry port here (near the City of Masvingo). The dry port will help us decongest Beitbridge so that there is clearance of trucks and imported goods right here,” Prof Ncube explained.”
The government is also planning to rehabilitate the Harare-Chirundu section of the artery for better commerce with Zambia.
The Zimbabwe-Zambia border has been a poster boy of regional integration via the Chirundu One-Stop Border Post, and Harare wants to replicate that success story with its biggest trading partner, South Africa.
Zimbabwe is investing in the US$241 million modernisation of the Beitbridge Border Post, which the government says should be complete within three years after work started in 2018.
“We will have three new terminal buildings each for their own traffic stream with warehouses, scanning facilities and everything else,” a representative of Raubex Construction, which is undertaking the project, told Prof Ncube during a tour of the facility last week.
An average of 200,000 travellers, 30,000 buses, 100,000 light vehicles, and 35,000 commercial trucks use Beitbridge Border Post monthly, making it Africa’s busiest inland port.
The Zimbabwe government has also been aggressively investing in an upgrade of international airports.
Work is already underway to expand the largest airport, Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, at a cost of US$153 million. Upon completion, RGM International Airport will be able handle six million passengers annually from the current 2,5 million.