The days of depending on a pontoon ferry to cross the crocodile-infested Zambezi River that runs between Botswana and Zambia are about to end as the construction of the new Kazungula Bridge nears completion. The $259.3 million (R4.4 billion) rail and road bridge will bring much relief when it opens in the next two months, especially for truck drivers, some of whom have had to spend up to two weeks waiting to cross into or out of the two countries.
For decades, the only way of crossing the Zambezi River has been by using a massive pontoon known as the Kazungula Ferry, which carries up to 70 tons a trip.
The ferry, which takes about 10 minutes to cross the 400m-wide river, can carry two trucks and a smaller vehicle, as well as a number of people, on each trip.
It was on a similar ferry that tragedy struck in September 2003 when a truck slid off the pontoon and it capsized.
According to media reports, at least 18 people died in that accident after they were thrown into the water. They either drowned or were mauled by crocodiles.
A few years after the horrific accident, the Botswana and Zambian governments announced the plan to build a bridge that would replace the ferry and make it easier for people to travel between the two countries. Construction began in 2014.
Six years later, the construction of the massive 923m bridge is almost complete. It boasts a single railway track between two traffic lanes, as well as a paved walkway for pedestrians.
The bridge includes one-stop border posts in the two countries, as well as offices to house the police and traffic officers. There will be more room for almost everything that an international border facility needs.
The border towns in Botswana and Zambia – both known as Kazungula – are connected by the bridge. The Botswana border post is about 11km from Kasane town, which is the gateway into the Chobe National Park. The capital city, Gaborone, is about 920km away.
The bridge is situated at Africa’s quadripoint where Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia meet. The Kazungula Bridge, which will be the biggest of the bridges connecting the four countries, is situated about 75km from the Victoria Falls Bridge – a 198m-long rail, road and pedestrian arch across a 128m gorge. The bridge connects the towns of Livingstone in Zambia and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
The 900m Katima Mulilo Bridge links the border town of Sesheke in Zambia and Katima Mulilo in Namibia. It is situated about 140km from the Kazungula Bridge.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu has taken to social media on several occasions to share his pride about the project.
“We are focused to ensure that, as we connect our two countries, we also connect our people,” he posted on his Facebook page.
“This project will eventually enhance the intra/ extra regional trade and create more job opportunities that will eventually elevate the economy of every citizen.”
In another post, Lungu said that, when it was complete, the new bridge was “expected to reduce the time taken to cross the border from the average 30 hours to only six hours; lower the cost of crossing; enhance intra-regional trade within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and beyond; and ease the passage of freight and passengers, which will, in return, maximise profit to our traders”.
He explained that the bridge would “serve the economies of eight SADC countries, and act as the main trade route linking Durban in South Africa to Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania”.
The Botswana government said the new bridge would see some freight trucks opting to drive through the diamond-rich country from South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It said some trucks would not travel through the Beitbridge border post any more, but rather through Botswana via the Kazungula Bridge.
Botswana’s Transport Minister, Thulaganyo Segokgo, described the bridge as an “impressive structural masterpiece”.
He reiterated Lungu’s sentiments on the benefits the whole region would reap from the project.
“The new bridge is going to facilitate the easy movement of both people and goods because we will no longer be using the ferry.
“The project also has far-reaching implications beyond the two countries … it is a project which will contribute to the SADC economy. It is intended to improve trade and facilitate it along the north-to-south corridor,” Segokgo said.
“It will affect trade beyond Botswana and Zambia, going up north as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo and south as far as South Africa … it is a very significant project in that respect,” he said.
Segokgo said: “The status of the project is that we expect completion of the bridge next month.
“Similarly, we expect the completion of the one-stop border facility on the Botswana side next month and we expect the completion of the one-stop border post facility on the Zambian side in October.
“The project as a whole is nearing completion,” he said.