CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Kazungula
IN THE scotching heat at Kazungula border town, Alex Moyo fills the brazier with charcoal to prepare a meal for two other colleagues a few metres from their articulated truck carrying bulky heavy goods.
There is no rush as this is ‘home’ for the next five or more days before being cleared to cross the border into Botswana en route to the port of Durban in South Africa, where the goods will be shipped overseas.
“This is our way of life and we are used, I know it can be better if I don’t spend a week here at Kazungula for clearance and queue up for the pontoon to [ferry] us across the Zambezi River to the other side,” Mr Moyo says with spots of sweat on his forehead.
Mr Moyo’s predicament is not different from hundreds of other truck drivers transporting different types of cargo that is normally marooned at the border on either sides of the river while in transit across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
The situation could be better for other motorists and indeed passengers on the route, especially with one-stop border facilities in place.
The good news is that the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is beginning to glare as works on the construction of the US$259 million Kazungula Bridge project between Zambia and Botswana advance with about 35 percent work done so far.
This came to light during the commemoration of the SADC Day on August 17 this year which coincided with the SADC Heads of State and Government summit in South Africa, which President Lungu attended.
Kazungula is one of the 13 districts in Southern Province of Zambia with a population of over 120,230. It is the largest district in the province, covering an area of 16,835 square kilometres.
The district shares international boundaries with three countries namely Zimbabwe to the south-east, Botswana and Namibia to the south-west.
It stretches along the Zambezi River and shares boundaries with Mwandi, Mulobezi, Kaoma, Itezhi-Tezhi, Namwala, Zimba, Kalomo districts and encompasses Livingstone.
Kazungula district commissioner Pascalina Musokotwane says Kazungula is ideal for economic investments owing to its strategic location and link to other SADC countries.
“Given this background, Kazungula is strategically located and therefore of choice for investment,” Ms Musokotwane said.
The works on the multi-million bridge, which are being undertaken by Daewoo Engineering Company, started in 2015 and are expected to be completed in 2019.
Daewoo Engineering Company construction consultant Joseph Nyirenda assured residents in the region that the works will be completed on schedule as they are putting in extra working hours to compensate for the lost time.
Mr Nyirenda said the two-month delay of the project was a result of excessive rains and broken down equipment whose spare parts are sourced abroad.
“We will cover up for the lost time. Some works are being done at night,” he said.
Mr Nyirenda said the bridge will increase traffic flow and that trucks carrying cargo to Zambia and Botswana and beyond will be cleared in less than a day instead of seven days.
He said Kazungula is a strategic place for the construction of the multi-million dollar project as it is at a point where Zambia and Botswana interface and connect to other SADC countries.
Southern Province permanent secretary Sibanze Simuchoba said the project is an important economic infrastructure which will enhance trade between Zambia and Botswana and across the entire region.
The bridge, which will have a rail track between two traffic lanes and pedestrian sidewalks, is expected to help preserve the lifespan of Zambian roads as some heavy goods will be transported by rail.
“The people of Southern Province will also find it easier to cross into Botswana because whenever you have a border like this, you always have people with relatives on either side of the border and this enhances socio-economic activities between the two countries.
“The completion of the bridge may result in extended border operating hours, which is beneficial to the economy,” Mr Simuchoba said.
And Road Development Agency acting communication and corporate director Anthony Mulowa said the bridge project is progressing and will also see the construction of one-stop border facilities between Kazungula and Kasane in Zambia and Botswana, respectively.
Mr Mulowa said the construction phase of the bridge has created about 450 jobs for both Zambians and Batswana.
“Construction of phase two of the project is going on well for the one-stop border facility, which will have about 10 buildings.
“Phase three is at mobilisation stage with about 30 percent works done,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Kampamba Mulenga challenged journalists to highlight success stories of infrastructure development in the SADC region.
Ms Mulenga, who is chief Government spokesperson observed that Kazungula Bridge will significantly reduce crossing time and costs when the current ferry transport arrangement is eliminated.
She said SADC remains a beacon of peace and stability in the post-colonial era as member states continue to work together in deepening regional integration and development for the benefit of the citizenry.
The minister said it is unfortunate that the endowments and achievements scored by the region remain largely untold and, therefore, unseen and unappreciated.
Ms Mulenga said in a speech read for her by Mr Simuchoba that the rest of the world has no obligation to market the SADC region and the African continent if its inhabitants do not do so.
“I, therefore, challenge the media in Zambia and the region at large to lead the way in telling the region’s success story to the outside world.
“To achieve this, I urge the media to re-focus and redefine its reportorial agenda from over-concentration on politics at the expense and exclusion of more urgent and important issues of the economy and other developmental programmes and projects,” she said.
Further, Ms Mulenga said the current situation at the border is under-capacity and limited cross-border traffic flow.
“The project is expected to ease movement of goods and people and reduce the transit time considerably, thereby deepening regional integration, trade facilitation and economic growth,” she said.
The SADC region, with a population of over 200 million citizens, has evolved into an important economic bloc over the years.
Regional integration is gradually becoming a reality through infrastructure such as Kazungula Bridge, which will undoubtedly enhance trade.