Patrick Chitumba/Pamela Shumba, Chronicle Reporters
PRESIDENT Mugabe yesterday officially launched the $984 million Harare-Beitbridge highway project in Chirumanzu and commissioned the $300 million Tokwe-Mukosi Dam in Masvingo in pursuance of Zim-Asset ideals on infrastructure development and food security and poverty eradication.
He officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony of the road project at Gonawapotera Secondary School near Chaka Business Centre in Chirumanzu. The President called the highway project an economic game changer with a multiplier effect for the economy.
President Mugabe said the project was coming at a time when the country’s infrastructure had been negatively affected by the illegal sanctions imposed by Britain and its allies.
“Because our country has been under sanctions for more than a decade and a half, our infrastructure has deteriorated. We face several challenges in our attempts to secure lines of credit. Thus when funding such as that for this project has been secured, we cannot ever afford to maintain a business as usual approach to work,” he said.
The Harare-Beitbridge highway is the busiest and most economically significant in the country as it is part of the North-South Corridor that directly links landlocked Zimbabwe and Zambia with access to the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa.
President Mugabe said the dualisation will stimulate development for the country and the region at large. The road, he said, must meet international standards, in order for it to maintain traffic volumes and Government expects the construction of a modern high quality highway which matches similar highways elsewhere including those in developed countries.
The President told thousands of people at the ceremony who included the two Vice Presidents Cdes Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko that the highway project was a major breakthrough as Zimbabwe forges ahead with the implementation of Zim-Asset.
Austrian contractor Geiger International was last year awarded the tender for the 580km road, which will be built under the build-operate and transfer model. Construction is expected to commence after three months.
The project that will be completed in three years will create over 300 jobs for locals and indigenous companies whom President Mugabe called on to form consortiums. The dualisation of the whole stretch from Beitbridge to Harare will cost $984 million.
He said it is sad that many horrific accidents, some fatal, have for a long time been witnessed on this road mainly due to increased pressure on the narrow road.
“The latest such accident which regrettably took 30 lives recently occurred just a few kilometres from here. It was therefore with a sense of relief that following protracted negotiations with various potential financiers, Government finally resolved to engage Geiger International, an internationally reputable company to undertake the project,” he said.
President Mugabe said Government made it a pre-condition to the award of this contract that a minimum of 40 percent of the work be reserved for local contractors in line with the country’s indigenisation and economic empowerment drive. He urged local companies that will be sub-contracted to produce high standard work.
“Further I also urge suppliers of various inputs into this project not to out-price themselves out of business. The focus should be not on short term benefits but long term benefits,” he said.
The President said community leaders played a pivotal role in this project adding that they should lead a campaign in preserving our national infrastructure from senseless vandalism.
Speaking at the same event, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Dr Joram Gumbo said the first part of the project which covers the Beitbridge-Harare highway will take three years to complete.
He said Government signed a memorandum of understanding for the contract with Geiger International in 2012 but the absence of a legal framework until 2016 delayed the deal.
Mr Eric Geiger, the Vice Chairman of Geiger International, said they were happy to undertake the project after six years of negotiations that were characterised by court cases at some stages.
“Actual work on the road will start after three months if the designs are approved,” he said.
At Tokwe-Mukosi, which was constructed by an Italian company Salini Impregilo in collaboration with the Government and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), President Mugabe said the water body would give life to its drought prone surroundings.
He said its completion marks the beginning of sustained irrigation projects, generation of more power, creation of employment and the end of perennial water problems in Masvingo Province.
President Mugabe said he was happy that the dam, the largest inland lake in the country with the capacity to hold 1,8 billion cubic litres of water, is finally complete.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. I’m happy that despite the challenges we soldiered on and today we witness this monumental achievement, a trajectory for this drought prone area.
“Although plans to build this dam started in 1998 we experienced several interruptions mainly financial challenges. However, after years of hard work today we’re celebrating,” said President Mugabe.
He said Tokwe Mukosi Dam will have a hydro plant with capacity to generate 50 megawatts of power, adding that Government was in the process of identifying other dams for power generation.
“Government has come up with a deliberate policy for all new dams to produce power to reduce reliance on power imports. The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate is in the process of identifying investors for mini hydro plants at 17 other dams in the country,” said President Mugabe.
The completion of the dam, the President added, will also boost the tourism sector in the province and create employment.
He commended Government ministries, Zinwa, the International Development Bank (IDB) and all sub contractors for their hard work and contributions towards the completion of the dam. President Mugabe also commended Zanu-PF for playing a role in the completion of the dam saying no other party could do such a splendid job.
“Although it took time it happened and we give thanks to Zanu-PF. God blessed us with brains and resources. It’s therefore up to us to use them,” said President Mugabe.
He urged the local leadership to make sure Tokwe Mukosi is fully utilised for the benefit of the people and to prevent activities that affect operations at the dam.
Tokwe Mukosi Dam is one of the projects that show the Government’s commitment to fulfil its objectives enshrined in Zim-Asset.
It is envisaged the project will result in vibrant economic growth in Masvingo province.
The dam will also open opportunities for both existing and new irrigation projects, hydro power generation, tourism and hospitality, recreational facilities, a game park and fisheries. It will provide water for sugar and citrus estates in the lower veld —Chisumbanje, Chiredzi, Mwenezi, Ngundu and Chivi.
Water from the dam, which has potential to irrigate over 25 000 hectares of land, is expected to turn Masvingo into a green belt and improve food security.
Construction of Tokwe Mukosi Dam started in 1998 but stalled in 2008 due to funding constraints. The Italian company resumed in 2011.
The event was attended by Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Cde Oppah Muchinguri, Minister of State for Masvingo provincial affairs Shuvai Mahofa, traditional leaders, Zinwa senior officials, Government officials and the Masvingo community.