Zimbabwe’s snail-paced approach to modernizing the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway has left the country counting losses as the Kazungula bridge nearing completion, which connects Botswana and Zambia, is widely tipped to be the new gateway into the continent’s most industrialized economy, South Africa, bypassing the Beitbridge border post.
Stretching 923-metres with a width of 18.5-metres, the bridge will avoid neighbors Zimbabwe and Namibia, while creating smooth passage of goods to and from the south into the vast expanse of central Africa.
With Zimbabwe’s Beitbridge-Chirundu highway, traditionally the most preferred link between South Africa and the interior now in bad shape owing to years of embezzlement of funds to modernize it, a new route will definitely deprive Zimbabwe of potential business, particularly now that the African Continental Free Trade Area has come into effect.
“The 923-metre-long Bridge will give an alternative to traffic currently paying transit fees to use the local highway to connect South Africa, Zambia, DRC and Namibia,” economic expert Victor Bhoroma said.
“Considering the volume of trade between SADC countries and the centrality of Zimbabwe in the North to South corridor, the government now needs to look at long term alternatives to road so as to facilitate trade,” he added.
The Kazungula Bridge will feature a single-line railway track between two traffic lanes and pavements for pedestrians, making it a much more attractive trade route.
But corrupt activities in financing the modernization of the A4 highway which included flawed tender awarding among a plethora of other challenges have been the major drawback for over a decade now and for Zimbabwe to lose out on traffic to an alternative route such as the Kazungula Bridge, is somewhat self-inflicted, analysts say.
The Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) tasked with administration and construction of road has been rocked with a multi-million embezzlement scandal derailing any progress on the project in the near future.
As far back as in 2002, ZimHighways, a consortium of local construction companies given the tender failed to deliver citing astronomical inflation during the years that followed had eroded earlier projected quotations.
A US$ 985 million tender won by Geiger International, an Austrian company in 2016 was revalued to US$ 2.7 billion was never delivered leading to yet another tender awarding to Chinese company called Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Corporation (AFECC) in 2018.
Viability of the project has been another major bottleneck.
“Key concerns from AFECC in late 2018 were that the traffic volumes along the highway were not sufficient to recoup the investment cost over a specified period of time. Feasibility studies had indicated the entire highway required 6 000 vehicles daily, paying toll feesat each of the planned 8 tollgates and this was deemed impossible. Traffic volumes on the Beitbridge-Harare Highway are under 2 600 vehicles per day currently while on the Harare-Chirundu Highway, an estimated 1 050 vehicles ply the road per day,”
Zimbabwe has been benefitting immensely from transit fees and other various forms of tax charges from goods passing through the Beitbridge border post, arguable Africa’s busiest border.
However, experts say the coming in of the African Continental Free Trade Area is expected to open floodgates of traffic as intra-African trade flourishes and this provides viability to the project.
“Zimbabwe still has a few issues to iron out before we are able to say we are ready for the continental free trade area. Many issues are around production so that we can fully benefit form opening our borders but much importantly is for us to deal with our road infrastructure and more the Beitbridge-Chirundu road which should be our main focus point for goods in transit,” top industrialist, Sifelani Jabangwe told 263Chat Business recently.