Mashudu Netsianda, Deputy News Editor
THE proposed US$4,5 billion Batoka Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station on the Zambezi River across the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is set to transform Matabeleland North as townships with facilities such as banks, shops, private offices and other ancillary infrastructure will be constructed.
The townships will be located on both the north bank of the dam (in Zambia) and on the south bank (in Zimbabwe). Six alternative areas were preliminarily identified, three on either side as potential locations for the project townships.
The mega project, which will also generate direct employment for over 4 000 people and 6 000 in-direct jobs, is a flagship project in southern African region being under spearheaded by the Second Republic.
Last month, President Mnangagwa met his Zambian counterpart Hakainde Hichilema and discussed steps that will be undertaken to kickstart the project. In 2018, Zimbabwe and Zambia agreed to build the hydroelectric scheme where the Zambezi River crosses their borders. The project is expected to provide about a third of the two nations’ power needs.
Several companies including the African subsidiary of General Electric are interested in developing the potential game changing project.
Although the idea to build a dam at the Batoka Gorge was considered in the 1990s, it has been in limbo for decades and is now being revived by President Mnangagwa.
It will generate revenue of over US$750 million annually, which will consequently enhance the economies of Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In 2019, a consortium of Power Construction Corporation of China and U.S. firm General Electric won a bid to build the 2,400 MW hydropower station, about 50km downstream from Victoria Falls City, under a build, operate and transfer funding model.
The power generated from the plant will be shared equally by the two countries. Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), which is jointly owned by the two governments is the implementing agent.
According to the full environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) report for the Batoka Gorge 2 400 MW hydropower project, the townships will be located on each side of the river. The project townships will house about 8 000 staff in total, including security and support staff.
Access roads, infrastructure and the camp will also be constructed under the massive project.
During the construction phase of the project, some sites will be utilised for administration and support offices and construction materials storage.
Already, the Government has identified land where a new city will be built as part of the Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric project outside Victoria Falls.
The coming in of Batoka City will be a big boost for the broader Matabeleland North development, which has in the recent past become an economic epicentre following the designation of Victoria Falls as a special economic zone (SEZ) and the elevation of the tourism town to a city.
Zimbabwe and Zambia are implementing the hydro-power project in the gorges along Zambezi River where two 1 200MW power plants on either side of the river, a sub-station, transmission as well as a new settlement and road infrastructure will be built.
“During operation, the construction staff will be replaced with the operational staff (i.e., maintenance, police, custom/immigration services, plant operating staff, governmental institutional staff etc.). Approximately 1,500 operational staff will be required,” read the report.
“In addition to these services and amenities, project townships will also have facilities such as banks, shops, private offices. Other ancillary infrastructure includes spoils areas, construction and batching camps will also be required in Zambia and Zimbabwe.”
The report said the sites, which are yet to be defined, will be identified during the third phase of the feasibility study, although the ESIA has identified those sensitive zones where such activities will be discouraged. The construction phase, which will divided into two stages, is expected to last for nine years.
“It will be divided into two stages: the first stage will be when access roads and the first permanent camps will be built. It is expected that this phase will take one to two years.
The second phase is when the dam and plants will be constructed; this will take six to seven years,” read the ESIA report.
The report stated that the start of the project is dependent on the applicable approvals being obtained and appropriate funding finalised.
The development of a hydropower scheme on the Zambezi River downstream
of Victoria Falls has been investigated to various degrees of detail since 1904,
when geological investigations for potential sites commenced.
Extensive work with regards to a potential hydropower scheme on the Zambezi River
downstream of Victoria Falls began in 1972 and a study which was conducted concluded that the Batoka Gorge was the most suitable site for a potential hydropower scheme, from two alternatives considered.
In 2014, the ZRA initiated a further study on the proposed Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme by appointing Studio Pietrangeli (SP) Consulting Engineers of Italy to update the engineering feasibility studies for the proposed scheme, and in parallel appointed Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd to undertake the ESIA of the proposed hydropower project.
Prior to the end of 2015, ERM completed the Scoping Phase of the Project, which entailed extensive stakeholder engagement and the necessary environmental and social baseline studies.
The proposed hydropower project will be located in the central portion of the Zambezi River
Basin and will span across the international boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It will further be situated upstream of the existing Kariba Dam hydroelectric scheme on the Zambezi River and approximately 47 km downstream of the Victoria Falls.
In Zimbabwe, the proposed scheme falls within Hwange District. It includes the wards of Matetsi, Chidobe, Katchecheti, Nemanhanga, Mbizha, Jambezi, Sidinda, Mashala and Simangani.
In Zambia, the main areas of direct impact falls under the Southern Province and covers parts of the Kazungula District, most notably the wards of Mukuni and Katapazi, which fall under Chief Mukuni’s jurisdiction.
Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Richard Moyo said the Batoka project speaks to the Second Republic’s commitment to drive robust economic transformation of the province in line with Vision 2030.
He said with the proposed Batoka project, the province is geared for rapid growth.
“As Matabeleland North we are quite excited about the Batoka Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station on the Zambezi River across the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Already, as a province we have the biggest power producer in the country located here in Hwange and now this Batoka project one is also coming through,” said Minister Moyo.
“We also have solar fields in Mabale and Victoria Falls. As a province we are very proud that we are the ones to supply the whole country with electricity. Our gross domestic product will also increase as a province.”
Minister Moyo said the heightened implementation of capital projects in Matabeleland provinces under the Second Republic is stimulating local business and creating more job opportunities for communities and enhances the region’s contribution to mainstream economy.
Several projects, which had been in limbo have been reactivated and are now at various stages of completion. Among these are the giant Gwayi-Shangani Dam, Bulawayo Kraal Irrigation Scheme, Hwange Power Station’s units 7 and 8 expansion, Lupane Provincial Hospital and Elitsheni Government Complex.
The Second Republic has also moved swiftly to operationalise the Victoria Falls SEZ and established the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange, capping the city as Zimbabwe’s financial and tourism hub.