Sifelani Tsiko and Rumbidzayi Zinyuke—
Zimbabwe stands to lose millions of dollars worth of transit fee revenue if it does not expedite the dualisation of the long-awaited 900km Beitbridge-Chirundu highway, one of Southern Africa’s main trunk roads, industrialists have warned. Some industrialists attending the just ended Sadc Industrialisation Week (2017) which was hosted by South Africa under the theme: “Partnering with the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains,” said Zimbabwe is now losing cargo business to Botswana – Zambia trunk road into Africa’s interior.
This comes at a time when Botswana and Zambia have stepped up work for the expeditious completion of the multi-million dollar 923-metre Kazungula Rail- Road Bridge across the Zambezi River to promote regional integration and increase trade and economic growth.
The construction of the $259,3 million bridge started in 2014 and was expected to be completed by December last year.
However, the completion time has been extended to 2019 due to operational challenges.
The Kazungula bridge project was being undertaken by Zambia and Botswana with financial assistance from the Japan International Co-operation Agency and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
“Zimbabwe stands to lose business running into millions of dollars if it doesn’t quickly move to speed up the completion of the Beitbridge – Chirundu highway,” said one industrialist.
“Shipping and forwarding agents are now relocating to Botswana as cargo movement along the route is building up slowly and steadily. It’s competition at play and a healthy one for that matter.
“Truckers are moving cargo from South Africa to Zambia and DRC in less than four days despite the use of ferries across the Zambezi River. To move cargo across Zimbabwe to DRC for instance may take a week or more. Roadblocks, potholes and the poor state of the highway make Beitbridge – Chirundu trunk road unattractive.”
More than 6 000 trucks are cleared at the Beitbridge Border Post every month raking in more than $816 000 monthly to the fiscus, according to the Shipping and Forwarding Agents’ Association of Zimbabwe.
Clearing agents get about $30 000 every month while other key government departments collect between $100 000 and $150 000 every month.
Industrialists estimate that Zimbabwe stands to lose more than one third of business and transit fee revenue if it does not make bold steps to upgrade the Beitbridge – Chirundu highway on time.
This year, Zimbabwe contracted the China -based Austrian firm Geiger International to upgrade the Beitbridge-Harare segment at a cost of $984 million under a 25 year Build, Operate and Transfer model.
The project will be done over three years and will have at least 37 new two lane bridges and eight tollgates.
The highway starts in Beitbridge in the south on the border with South Africa, passes through Masvingo (290 km) and Harare (290 km), and extends to Chirundu to the north on the border with Zambia (352 km).
“Truckers have repeatedly complained about delays at Beitbridge Border Post, roadblocks and the poor state of the Beitbridge – Chirundu highway and the Zimbabwe government has been slow to act on this,” said another industrialist attending the Sadc industrialisation week.
“Truckers now have an option via Kasane River bridge project. We’ve already started pushing cargo via this trunk road and we’re looking forward to its completion in December 2019. There’re no major hustles along this route and Botswana is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which removes trade barriers and ensures swift movement of cargo.”
The Kazungula rail-road bridge will have two one-stop border posts on either side; in Zambia and Botswana.
The much-awaited dualisation of the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway, estimated to cost $3 billion, is the main artery of Sadc’s road transport network linking Southern Africa with the rest of Africa.
The highway facilitates the movement of millions of people between southern Africa and central, east and north Africa while also facilitating regional trade.
The highway is also widely seen as Zimbabwe’s busiest and most economically significant, and 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.
Shipping and Forwarding Agents’ Association of Zimbabwe chief executive officer Mr Joseph Musariri said transporters were now avoiding the Beitbridge Border Post due to the numerous challenges they face at the port and along the route to Zambia.
“We’ve already started seeing transporters avoiding Beitbridge because of the many challenges both monetary and non-monetary, associated with using this route,” he said.
“So with the completion of the Kazungula Bridge, you will find that more traffic will divert from Zimbabwe to use the Botswana route. It’ll not be good for business.
“Currently, transit cargo use the pontoon to cross from Botswana to Zambia so once the bridge is complete it will mean transporters can easily use the bridge.”
Mr Musariri said despite the difficulties experienced in the passage of cargo from Botswana to Zambia using ferries, the port at Kasane cleared goods much faster than Beitbridge and Chirundu.
“Botswana and South Africa are part of SACU so you find that there’s easy passage at the border between those two countries,” he said.
“The only challenge they face is at the Botswana-Zambia border which takes a bit of time. But that border is considerably faster than Chirundu or Beitbridge border posts even without the bridge. So if trucks are going to DRC, it will be faster and cheaper to use Kazungula.”
Apart, from delays at the Beitbridge and Chirundu ports, he said, Zimbabwe’s transit costs were considerably higher than prevailing rates in most neighbouring countries.
“We also have the issue of the numerous roadblocks on our roads which delay the trucks considerably. This makes our case worse and we need to improve the ease of doing business here first,” Mr Musariri said.
“As freight forwarders, we stand to lose a lot of business once this happens. We’ll lose agency fees. Most of the agents at Beitbridge are indigenous operators and rely on agency fees, and once they lose these, the ripple effect will be too much. There’ll be loss of employment and sources of income for a lot of families.
“On the part of government, the losses will be huge as well. Government can’t afford to lose such business at a time the economy needs as much revenue as it can get.”
Engineers say the Beitbridge highway has been in use for over 56 years, way beyond its design life of 20 years.
The most stubbornly persistent problems along the route include roadside checkpoints, traffic accidents and the poor state of the road.
Engineers, cargo transporters and freight agencies say the completion of the Kazungula River bridge project will have damaging consequences for Zimbabwe in terms of lost business and revenue for the state.
The Kazungula bridge as well as the Beitbridge – Chirundu routes, form part of the North South Corridor (NSC) in the Sadc region which has been targeted for infrastructure development to boost regional integration.
The NSC serves the economies of eight Sadc countries and are key trade routes linking the port of Durban in South Africa to the inland countries of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, the DRC, and Mozambique and up to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
The Kasane river bridge project is close to where four countries almost meet; Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Kazungula — Kasane area straddles the border between the four countries and all the countries are expected to benefit from transit revenue after an agreement was struck for the project to be undertaken.
The project which is expected to benefit the four countries will also have spillover benefits for the entire Sadc region and beyond.