ZIMBABWE could lose millions of United States dollars in annual revenue earnings for its continued failure to maintain and upgrade its road infrastructure, amid revelations that South Africa and other Sadc countries are planning a new road network to bypass the country largely because of the bad state of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Road.
Transport minister Jorum Gumbo confirmed the plan, but said government was moving fast to expedite the long-awaited rehabilitation of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Road, saying further delays could be costly to the country.
“It is extremely important for us to work quickly on the Beitbridge-Chirundu Road because our neighbours including South Africa have made plans for a road network that by-passes Zimbabwe stretching through Kazungula,” Gumbo said.
Zimbabwe is the artery and hub of Sadc’s road transport network, linking Southern Africa with the rest of Africa.
The Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu facilitates the movement of millions of people between Southern Africa and central, east and north Africa while also facilitating regional trade.
The country has, however, failed to repair and upgrade its roads which date back to the Rhodesian era.
A 2001 Sadc assessment of the road infrastructure in the region showed that a third of Zimbabwe’s road network was in a parlous state. The Beitbridge-Chirundu Road was singled out as one of the roads that needed rehabilitation because of its importance in the region.
However, Zimbabwe has not carried out any major rehabilitation of the road and neither has it dualised the road despite many public announcements.
The move to bypass the country has, however, jolted the government into action, at least according to Gumbo who said the rehabilitation would begin soon.
“The project is not far away as we have been given the go-ahead by His Excellency (President Robert Mugabe) to conclude discussions with a certain company. What is left is to sign the MOU with this company whose identity I cannot disclose for now. We are proposing to have eight segments in the construction process and this project will create 300 000 jobs,” he said.
Although he refused to reveal the identity of the company, Gumbo said that Group Five which worked on the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Mutare Road had not been considered for the project as “we were not going to give them tenders to construct all the roads”.
Documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent in 2013 the Development Bank of Southern Africa, which funded the construction of the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Harare-Mutare highway was willing to release about US$1,1 billion for the upgrading of the Beitbridge-Chirundu Road, given its strategic importance, but the Zimbabwean government was not willing to award the tender to Group Five.
A report compiled after DBSA’s Integrated Investment Proposals Corporate Credit committee meeting held on October 13, 2010 shows that the bank felt Zimbabwe’s roads should be given priority as they would benefit the whole region.
“Given Zimbabwe’s strategic geographic positioning, the proposed roads rehabilitation programme provides for linkages with Sadc trade corridors, an initiative which addresses the DBSA’s regional integration objectives and provides for immense growth opportunities given that Zimbabwe has the ability to service the needs of over 400 million people in the region,” it says.
DBSA said key factors why a sound Zimbabwean road infrastructure was vital include that the landlocked country is strategically positioned as a gateway between Southern Africa and the rest of Africa. DBSA also considered Zimbabwe has significant imports and exports.
“Such factors render its roads network of critical importance to both itself as well as the Southern African region at large,” said DBSA.