BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
THE Kazungula Bridge and Beitbridge Border Post are not competing but complementing each other, economists have said.
Located on Zambezi River where Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia borders connect, the Kazungula Bridge is seen as strategic in southern Africa, connecting the region to the rest of Africa, and beyond.
Construction of the Kazungula Bridge commenced in December 2014 and it was commissioned in May 2021.
It is jointly owned by the governments of Zambia and Botswana.
The border post and access roads in each country will be owned by the respective governments, along with the newly formed Kazungula Bridge Authority.
The African Development Bank supported the project through an African Development Fund loan of US$76,5 million to the government of Zambia under its 10-year strategy (2013-2022), whose core priority areas include infrastructure development and regional integration.
In addition to funding from the governments of Zambia and Botswana, the overall project was co-financed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund.
Zimbabwe was later drafted in to be part of the project in 2018, joining the two countries, but to date, nothing concrete has been done by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government in terms of footing the bill.
The late Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza once told a regional summit on infrastructure that Zimbabwe’s incorporation into the project had a cost factor and the government should pay US$200 million to be part of the project.
The entire project cost US$259,3 million and with funding provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the African Development Bank, so it was unclear why Matiza thought Zimbabwe had to pay almost the entire cost of the venture.
When the bridge was completed in May 2021, it was thought that Zimbabwe would lose a lot in terms of revenue and traffic.
Currently, an average of 84% of revenue or US$302,4 million based on last year’s total tourism revenue of nearly US$360 million (2019:US$1,24 billion) comes from tourists transiting or visiting Zimbabwe by land.
And if the travellers from just South Africa, who numbered 152 845 visitors last year, down from 562 643 in 2019 owing to COVID-19 are factored in, Kazungula’s impact would be huge.
Annually, Zimbabwe could lose millions in potential revenue.
However, economic analysts who spoke to the Weekly Digest said the Kazungula Bridge was complementing Zimbabwe by making the Beitbridge Border Post efficient.
“The impact of Kazungula Bridge essentially was to decongest the Beitbridge border post. In as much as it is taking traffic away, the Beitbridge was already overwhelmed,” Stevenson Dhlamini, an applied economics lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology, said.
“Also, we appreciate that even though truck drivers may prefer the Kazungula Bridge, there are some drivers whose routes will force them to pass through inner cities instead of going through the Kazungula Bridge.”
“So, it’s not all traffic that will prefer the Beitbridge but also the Kazungula Bridge goes a long way in improving the volume of traffic. Instead of trucks spending so many days in queue at the Beitbridge border post, now there will be ease of doing business, faster transactions which is good for economic growth.”
“So, the Kazungula Bridge is actually a complement more than a competition. It improves efficiency, the volume of traffic per day. The two are also complementing each other in the sense that more traffic can go through and it makes Zimbabwe a more preferred destination of business now that there are multiple ports of entry rather than people shunning it because of limited ports of entry. It also increases streams of revenue for the government. I don’t think Beitbridge will be much affected by the Kazungula Bridge as people would anticipate,” he said.
Talkmore Chidede, researcher at the Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa, recently told South African media that the diversion of some trucks from Beitbridge to the Kazungula Bridge was a welcome move as currently the infrastructure and resources at Beitbridge Border Post were limited and could not cope with the current volumes of incoming and outgoing traffic.
Zimbabwe still needs to address the bottlenecks at its Beitbridge Border Post which often sees haulage trucks stuck for days on end waiting for service. The Beitbridge port is the busiest transit border for cargo from South African ports with destinations in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and often as far as Tanzania.
There are relatively few studies on the financial benefit the corridor brings to Zimbabwe, but a situation analysis carried out in 2009 showed that the waiting time at the border was about 33 hours for south-bound traffic while for north-bound traffic waiting time was about 45 hours.
It was estimated that the cost associated with this waiting time was about US$29,3 million for south-bound and US$35 million for north-bound traffic per year.
In contrast, the South Africa/Botswana Groblersbrug border post is quicker to process documentation at between eight to 10 hours. Botswana roads are better maintained than Zimbabwe’s and fuel costs are lower, which makes Beitbridge a costly option.
There is also congestion across most towns in Zimbabwe, which makes it difficult and expensive for haulage trucks passing through Zimbabwe.
Chidede said Zimbabwe will only lose revenue associated with the clearance of transit cargo and toll fees, but argues that gains made through the decongestion of Beitbridge will outweigh the revenue earned through the clearance and movement of transit cargo through Zimbabwe.
Beitbridge is currently being overhauled through a private consortium agreement with Zimborders, a US$300 million upgrade expected to eradicate bottlenecks.
He said both projects can work harmoniously to contribute to a much-needed improvement in southern African trade.
“Kazungula Bridge relieves pressure on Beitbridge, making it more efficient, and this development may lead to significant downstream benefits for local and regional industry.
“Trucks that were spending long hours at Beitbridge will now take less hours, thereby increasing efficiency and productivity.
“Less time taken to clear cargo at Beitbridge will see a decrease in the overall import and export costs even to local industry,” he is quoted as saying.
The relief on Beitbridge could in turn result in significant downstream benefits for local and regional industry, she wrote.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba has said Kazungula Bridge is one part of several routes servicing the north-south corridor.
“It isn’t the only route. Besides, part of the Kazungula traffic passes through Zimbabwe, a country naturally placed as a sub-regional hub. Any other route through Kazungula which avoids Zimbabwe has to contend with an extra 200 plus kilometres. No sensible logistician ignores that spatial fact in logistical calculus,” he tweeted.
“Add to those services for cargo in transit, through-Zimbabwe routes become a logical preference. The route through Botswana complements services on the north-south corridor. It doesn’t compete with routes through Zimbabwe. The north-south corridor is the fastest growing corridor on the continent. The sky will be large enough for all birds to fly.”
Distance-wise, Johannesburg to Lusaka, Zambia through Beitbridge is 1 525km while via Kazungula, the journey is 1 730km. But with Zimbabwe’s poor road network, congestion and long winding queues at the country’s points of entry, especially Beitbridge, truckers will likely avoid the frustrations of using the Zimbabwe route, losing the southern African nation billions of dollars in potential revenue to the new crossing point.
According to a recent study, delays at Beitbridge are costing transport operators up to US$350 per day per truck, negating the cost benefit of its connectivity to multiple seaports in Durban and Mozambique.
Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe president Wengayi Nhau told our sister newspaper NewsDay that the Kazungula bridge will affect the economy both on trade and tourism.
“The bridge is changing the whole scenario because now Zimbabwe is no longer the only link to South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa,” Nhawu said, adding: “We now have Beitbridge and Kazungula. Traffic can now go into Botswana, go all the way from Martins Drift (border post on the Botswana side) or Groblersbrug (border crossing between South Africa and Botswana) and all other ports of entry between South Africa and Botswana.”
“They can travel right through and still experience the attractions on the way. Then, crossing over (to Zambia) is now through the bridge as opposed to using a ferry that was very unreliable. That is now a thing of the past. It is now a two-lane bridge where traffic going north or south does not have to wait for one another; they can now go straight through.
“On the other hand, Zimbabwe has a congested border post in Beitbridge. We have a lot of stop and check points along the way, police, Vehicle Inspectorate Department roadblocks and checkpoints. Some of the roads now need attention in terms of potholes. They need to be attended to so while travelling distance remains the same, time has actually increased a lot,” Nhau said.
- Follow Mthandazo on Twitter @MthandazoNyoni
- This article first appeared in Weekly Digest, an AMH digital publication