PATSON PHIRI, Kazungula
â€œIT has been three hours since I arrived in Kasane. I am not tired of driving but I am tired of being here,â€ said frustrated John Moyo, a South African truck driver.
He had arrived at the Botswana border town of Kasane at 06:00 hours on October 25 this year and only managed to cross a few minutes after 9:00 hours.
â€œA good three hours of being here is too much,â€ said Mr Moyo as he stared back across the river.
This was just one of the many challenges faced by drivers and other road users crossing Zambezi River in Kazungula district.
There is no alternative route apart from the expensive air travel which is unsuitable for bulk transporters, ordinary traders and travellers. Africa has not accustomed to air travel due to economic hardships and the inherent fear of spending above normal.
Two pontoon ferries wobbling across the river on hourly intervals are the only links available between Botswana and Zambia, subjecting travellers to delays.
It is worse for Mr Moyo who drives a long truck. Pontoon operators prefer the short 10-tonne trucks that occupy less space, thereby allowing three to four trucks at once to cross.
Mr Moyo has to persevere with long waits to allow the shorter trucks to be ferried even when it is his turn.
The universal rule of first-come-first serve does not apply because the officials who run the pontoons use their discretion to manage the affairs of the travelling public.
Extra preference is given to trucks laden with petroleum products due to their importance to the economies of the region.Â However, hopes for a better situation are not faded.
â€œWe hear there is a plan to construct a bridge here; that is a great job,â€ Mr Moyo said.
He added: â€œThat is the way to go. We wonder why this [construction of bridge] was not done many years ago, it could have been better than waiting in long queues for hours just to crossâ€.
â€œThere is a combination of factors. Traders have to queue before immigration officers, declare their goods before customs officers, which involves filling declaration forms and then the pontoon takes hours to pick them,â€ said John Chibanga, a currency dealer at the border.
In addressing these challenges, Zambia and Botswana are cruising towards the construction of the Kazungula Bridge to reduce cross-border bureaucracy.
Initially, Zimbabwe was to be part of the project but kept a low profile having experienced poor relations with Botswana, according to Victoria Falls 24.com, a web-based news service.
Zambia and Botswana officially launched the commencement of construction works for Kazungula Bridge across the Zambezi River in September this year.
The planned bridge covers a distance of about 400 metres across the river and is situated about 70 kilometres from Livingstone in Zambia and eight kilometres from Botswanaâ€™s border town of Kasane.
Zambiaâ€™s Acting President Guy Scott and Botswana Vice-President Ponatshego Kedikilwe officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony for the bridge construction in Kasene recently.
The bridge will cost about US259.3 million, and construction works are scheduled to start before the end of this year. Completion is set for 2018.
It will be financed by the Governments of Zambia and Botswana with financial assistance from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
During the ground-breaking ceremony, Dr Scott said it was good that the project was finally being implemented as it had been on the drawing board for more than 10 years.
Dr Scott appealed to the project team and the contractor, Daewoo Engineering and Construction including the supervising engineers, to ensure that the project was completed within the planned timeframe and cost.
He said the project should also be implemented according to stipulated standards and quality that the two governments had prescribed in the contract that was signed a week before.
Dr Scott said the project would create jobs, facilitate the movement of products within the region such as agricultural inputs and mining equipment and increase opportunities for regional trade activities.
When constructed, the bridge is expected to reduce the transit time from 36 hours to two hours and reduce transportation costs as well as the cost of doing business in general, ultimately increasing revenue for the two countries.
â€œThe two peoples of Botswana and Zambia have waited for this project for this long and some imagined that this day would come in their life-time. The two governments are equally delighted that the long awaited project is finally taking off today,â€ Dr Scott said.
The Kazungula route had become increasingly popular to transporters shipping freight between the major ports of South Africa, to and from Lusaka, the mining towns of northern Zambia and Katanga Province in the the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The current border facilities on both sides of Botswana and Zambia are inadequate as only an average of 30 trucks can be ferried in each direction in a day.
Speaking at the same function, Dr Kedikilwe urged the ministries of transport in the two countries to remain diligent in their work and guard against unnecessary cost escalations during the construction period.
Dr Kedikilwe also urged the responsible ministries to exercise professionalism to avoid delays and unnecessary litigation, saying peopleâ€™s expectations on the project were very high.
The ground-breaking ceremony was a landmark project to Botswana and Zambia, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Africa as a whole.
â€œThis project demonstrates our resolve and determination to promote job creation as well as boost trade and regional integration,â€ he said.
The bridge is envisaged to be a hub for economic activities for countries in the SADC region.
The project is expected to ease movement of goods and services, but most importantly, it will help transform Kazungula into a modern transit centre like Chirundu at the Zambia/Zimbabwe border.
Embassy of Japan first secretary for economic co-operation Seiji Tashiro said negotiations have advanced and is optimistic that construction of the bridge will commence during the course of the year.
â€œWe are engaged in talks with Zambia and Botswana and hope to conclude negotiations so that we can start later this year. The project will take five years to complete,â€ he said.
And deputy chief of mission Atsushi Kuwabara said Japan has allocated over US$35 million for the development of the bridge and a one-stop border post on the Zambian side.
Mr. Kuwabara said apart from the Kazungula project, Japan is assisting Zambia in the energy sector and has since provided US$48 million towards the on-going increased access to electricity project.
PATSON PHIRI, Kazungula