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The banana bridge

The banana bridge

Kazungula Ferry
Kazungula Ferry
Peter Comley

Nowhere along the length of the Zambezi has the antiquated and inefficient nature of a ferry service in dealing with modern commerce been demonstrated more vividly than at Kazungula.

The Zambezi River acts as a potent water barrier dividing southern Africa in two parts. Trade between countries on either side of the river has increased exponentially over the past twenty years as the political upheavals of the past have largely quietened. The increase in commerce has led to a huge number of road trucks attempting to cross one of the world’s major waterways with very limited options to do so.

While a new bridge links Namibia and Zambia, a major crossing of the Zambezi lies at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers where the four nations of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet.

Almost beyond belief as we reach well into the 21st century, vital trade between nations to the north of the river and the economic powerhouse of South Africa largely depends on three unreliable ferries carrying trucks between Botswana and Zambia. Trucks on both sides of the confluence can back up for kilometres. Goods can wait sometimes for up to two weeks.

For well over a decade a bridge has been proposed, but the go-ahead was delayed by intransigence from the Zimbabwean government which insisted on tolls for seating the bridge, albeit in very small part, on their soil. Finally, after interminable delays a unique design, which includes a banana-bend to avoid setting a toe on Zimbabwean rock, has been accepted. The design also allows for the later addition of a rail line which would link Johannesburg via Gaborone to Lusaka and beyond. The new toll road will boast a one-stop border facility on the Zambian side.

The project, which will cost around US$125million, will be paid for jointly by Japan (US$42M) and the African Development Bank (US$78M) with smaller amounts coming from the Infrastructure Trust Fund (US$2.5M) and the Zambian Government (US$1.57M).

With the announcement from the President of Botswana, Ian Khama, that construction will commence in January of next year, the towns of Kasane and Kazungula are bracing themselves. Construction is scheduled to take three years, which will no doubt seem like an eternity to beleaguered truck drivers and business owners alike.

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 14, Sept 2013)

Read more on Bridging the Zambezi:
Bridging the Zambezi
Bridge in the mist
The banana bridge
The dam that became a bridge
A tale of two bridges
The arteries of Tete
The bridge of high treason
Swinging high