THE dusty small town of Beitbridge now pins its hopes for development on the proposed one-stop border post (OSBP).
By own correspondent
Yet with all its attributes, the town could have done better.
Beitbridge could have looked like Victoria Falls long back or even its sister town of Musina, just 15km south in South Africa.
In comparison to other towns in the region, Beitbridge stands far ahead and better positioned for fast-growth into a modern city.
It sits on the banks of the mighty Limpopo River right in the centre of the distance between Harare and Johannesburg, industrial capitals of Zimbabwe and South Africa, respectively.
Beitbridge handles all the goods moving by road directly between the two countries.
Interestingly, it is almost at the centre of the 225km border line of South Africa and Zimbabwe, which follows the seasonal Limpopo River.
There are two bridges at Beitbridge, the 472-metre long steel girder Beit bridge now reserved for pedestrians and trains and the commercial New Limpopo Toll bridge for vehicles, both running over a crocodile-infested weir on the Limpopo, making the town a mini tourist attraction.
The Limpopo is alive with hippos and crocodiles sharing the large pool between the spectacular Dulivhadzimo (place of the gods) Gorge and the weir downstream of the bridges.
Dulivhadzimo Gorge has the sacred pool by the same name, where ancient rain-making ceremonies were held, history says.
Together with crocodiles, the hippos share blame for the deaths of many people, mostly border-jumpers caught running from the official crossing point.
Scores of South Africans come to see the old bridge donated to the community in 1927, at the same time frown at the new toll bridge accused of reducing what used to be numerous local trips between a closely knit people of Beitbridge and Musina separated by a colonial boundary.
Beitbridge Town Council (BTC) officials say 60 000 people are resident in the small town and most depend on the border’s import and export activities for survival.
Arguably, it is the busiest inland port in sub-Saharan Africa with 14 000 people, 3 000 vehicles in transit daily making it a hive of activity.
Almost 100 buses pick and drop travellers daily at the border from all towns in the country, making Beitbridge a transport hub.
The government makes a huge chunk of its revenue from the money-spinning new Limpopo Toll Bridge, with customs and excise and immigration offices collectively banking about $3 million daily.
Reputable businesses like the International Manica Freight, One Earth Enterprises, supermarket chain stores, funeral houses and a new game park have all added to the town’s profile.
Beitbridge’s immediate surroundings have a diamond mine, world renowned citrus fruit estates in the west, two transfrontier parks at Mapungubwe in the west and Gonarezhou in the east. A coal mining company has started operations at Tshatapita village in Tshitulipasi 90km east of the border town, bringing with it hopes of employment for locals and an economic upward shift.
Beitbridge has a variety of Zimbabwe’s tribes, who converged to pluck up the benefits of the border post, an artery of Zimbabwe’s economy.
The most important resource of Beitbridge is its human capital, a mixture of Zimbabwean tribes with the local Venda dominant.
“We are a rainbow town,” Beitbridge district administrator, Kilibone Ndou Mbedzi says during meetings, borrowing from the late first President of a free South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s description of his nation.
Farmers in Beitbridge, either small scale or commercial, boast of good herds of cattle breeds, thousands of goats and sheep and millions of varieties of poultry.
Lately, with the help of some non-governmental organisations rural farmers supply Beitbridge with fresh fish.
But sadly, with all these attributes, Beitbridge remains a small town with dusty streets, haphazardly designed shop lines, a dusty bus terminus, a poor stadium and without any community recreational parks. It stands as one of Zimbabwe’s most productive cows, whose feeding time has been stolen by milking time.
“The government has been making millions of dollars from this small town, but does not plough back. It’s sad how the leadership is not ashamed of such infrastructure,” Adiel Zvimisha, a cross-border trader, said.
“This town’s public infrastructural investment reflects so little for a town with such hustle and bustle, which does so much for its country.
“I think it suffers from government neglect and fares badly compared to Musina, which shares the same type of business.”
The border post building has been outgrown by users and crowding is the order of the day.
Civil servants are poorly housed and a project to build 420 houses under President Robert Mugabe’s Beitbridge redevelopment plan died before completion, with the houses collapsing.
Existing government houses are all in different stages of advanced disrepair. Civil servants cram in those houses, with at times three families sharing a unit. Privacy is luxury.
Other government buildings are old and in desperate need of facelift.
There is need for modern shopping malls, a new government school and even tertiary colleges.
Beitbridge needs local roads that do not interfere with the highway for safety following numerous accidents involving cross-border traffic.
“We have included these houses in our plans for the OSPB. All the houses will be completed,” an official in the Department of Public Construction Shingirai Mudzamiri said.
“Most of the plans for Beitbridge redevelopment launched in 2006 will be incorporated in the construction of the OSBP,” Mudzamiri, who is also the acting chairperson of the facilities and task team for the establishment of the OSBP, said.
BTC secretary, Loud Ramakgapola said his authority now pins its hopes on the OSBP.
“We are a small local authority, but our resources have to be stretched to accommodate the transient population. Our budget is for residents, but we have to care for those in transit, who need facilities,” he said.
The council has to provide overnight lighting for pedestrians using the border post, which runs round the clock.
The travellers need ablution facilities and good roads for hundreds of taxis that ferry travellers within the border town.
The council felt the government had to give a percentage of its proceeds from the toll bridge, but the cash-strapped Treasury is believed to be taking all the cash to Harare for civil servants pay and unending trips by those in leadership.
Ramagkapola said his local authority, reeling from pressure from traffic in transit, blamed for respiratory diseases common in the border town, also wants to resurface all its roads.
“Tuberculosis is common and people have breath problems, particularly those in Dulivhadzimo and the Limpopo View suburbs,” an environmental health official employed by a non-governmental agency, who requested anonymity, said.
Residents of newly-developed low density areas are not amused with that in view of the higher rates they pay.
“Council has not built any new road despite us paying more in service charges,” aspiring MDC-T councillor for the low density suburb, Munyaradzi Chitsunge said.
Ramakgapola said the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration, which is supposed to disburse a quota to local authorities for local roads development has not been disbursing regularly.
“We have not received anything from that fund,” he said.
Funding for the OSBP has been secured from the Japanese International Co-operation Agency through an arrangement to upgrade African border posts to facilitate international trade.
Under the fund, Botswana and Zambia are building the Kazungula Bridge expected to replace ferries.
“Beitbridge is under focus because it links the world with landlocked countries like Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of Central Africa,” Constance Zhanje said.
Zhanje, who heads a team tasked with putting in preliminary structures of the OSBP, said a draft paper on Beitbridge is now in place and discussions with South Africa are advanced.
The OSBP was top among the discussions between Presidents Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe, who met for a bi-national commission in Pretoria recently.