A new bridge spanning the Zambezi River, between Botswana and Zambia, looks like the answer to many border troubles, but will it really make a difference?
Will the Kazungula Bridge be a bridge too far where road transport from South Africa to the rest of Africa is concerned?
The bridge between Botswana and Zambia was opened on Monday after a delay of two years, but only time will tell if the route, that skips Zimbabwe, will become more popular than the Beitbridge route.
The new bridge offers an alternative gateway to Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to the more traditional Beitbridge/Chirundu route, says Mike Fitzmaurice, executive director of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Association (FESARTA).
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“I am sure many South African transporters will use the route initially to compare with the Beitbridge/Chirundu route in terms of cost, time and efficiency,” he says.
Depending on their experience, they will choose which route to use in the future.
Fitzmaurice says it is too early to say if the bridge will ease congestion at Beitbridge, although he expects it to do so initially as truckers try the new route.
“I am not convinced that it will take away too much traffic from Beitbridge as you have to bear in mind that Zimbabwean transporters operate 56% of all heavy goods vehicle transport through Chirundu. They will continue to favour the Beitbridge/Chirundu route because their drivers have families in Zimbabwe and refuel at depots in Harare on route to Chirundu,” he says.
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Fitzmaurice says in this case it will also initially benefit Botswana as transporters try out the route to compare it with the Beitbridge/Chirundu route.
He thinks it is also likely that some of the Namibian transporters will use the new bridge over the Katima Mulilo route due to the very bad road conditions between Shesheke and Kazangula, which current takes around four hours to drive 80 kilometres.
It will not be cheaper for trucks to use the new bridge. According to Fitzmaurice, it will be four times as expensive to use the bridge. The ferry used to charge $25, while it will cost $100 to use the bridge. However, if it saves time transporters should be happy to pay extra as it currently takes around two days to cross the border at Kazangula.
He says it is too early to say how much time truckers will save by using the Kazungula bridge until new data on vehicle movements along the route is available. “Based on the infrastructure and one-stop border post facilities it should save time, but the proof in the pudding is in the eating.”
Lodging is only available on the Botswana side, but not on the Zambian side.
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Fitzmaurice says on paper the one-stop border post will make a difference.
“Experience from the one-stop border posts in East Africa shows that it reduces cross-border times by as much as 80%. Unfortunately this did not happen at Chirundu, where cross-border times have doubled since converting to an one-stop border post 2009.”
He believes it depends on a number of issues, such as:
Although building the Kazungula bridge might have been aimed at increasing trade in Africa, Fitzmaurice says the other border posts that link the route to the new bridge, such as the Groblersbrug/Martins Drift and Kopfontein/Tlokweng border posts, are unfortunately not geared for the increase in traffic volumes and have too many infrastructure constraints.
These border posts also do not operate 24 hours per day, which are the intended operating hours of the new Kazangula bridge’s one-stop border post.
“This is going to cause similar congestion to Beitbridge, which will frustrate transporters and see them return to the more traditional routes such as the Beitbridge/Chirundu route.”
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Fitzmaurice says it is also important to remember that the upgrading and modernisation of the Beitbridge/Zimbabwe border post is well on track and expected to open later this year.
“This will be the most modern and technically advanced border post in Africa and is guaranteed to reduce border crossing times by 80%.”