Zim engages Chinese firm over Harare-Beitbridge road

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Golden Sibanda
Government says it will engage China’s Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company (AFECC) to resolve fresh issues that appear to have stalled progress on the implementation of the $1 billion Harare – Beitbridge Highway project.

AFECC was awarded the tender for the Harare – Beitbridge dualisation last year after Austrian firm Geiger International and its Chinese partner China Harbour Engineering Company (Chec) Ltd, failed to secure funding.

Several plans have been drawn regarding the highway but not implemented and while a number of deals were signed for the dualisation of the key transportation artery, linking Beitbridge to the south and Chirundu to the north, nothing materialised.

Newly appointed Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza, revealed in an interview after he was sworn in on Monday that he would pick from where his predecessor in the ministry left.

Prior to Minister Matiza’s recent appointment the Transport and Infrastructure Development portfolio was headed by Joram Gumbo who has been reassigned to the Energy and Power Development Ministry.

Former transport Minister Gumbo conceded in recent media reports that they may be issues regarding AFECC’s commitment to abide by terms of the “original” deal given the time that had lapsed since it lost the project tender in 2016.

The Chinese company was, however, eventually granted the mandate to expand and rehabilitate the Beitbridge-Harare Highway after the initial winner of the multi-million-dollar tender, Geiger International took long to get the project underway.

However, the deal appeared to have gone off the rails again after AFECC financiers allegedly indicated they were not comfortable with the build, operate and transfer (BOT) arrangement, which they deemed to be unfeasible in the present economic circumstances.

But Minister Matiza told Business Weekly this week that the Beitbridge – Harare Road dualisation project would be a priority among key State owned transport institutions and projects requiring urgent attention to turnaround their operations. Minister Matiza said he would prioritise rehabilitation of roads to make them more trafficable and secure to use, revive national air carrier Air Zimbabwe to international standards and further improve the National Railways of Zimbabwe.

Asked what his immediate plan was regarding the Beitbridge-Harare dualisation project, Minister Matiza said “it’s a priority”. On the deal with AFECC, Minister Matiza said “the idea is to make it work. “What we will do is that we will sit down with them and see what the situation is right now.

“But definitely, we are not going to start dragging our feet on this one, it has been on the cards for quite a long time.  So, I will take from where my predecessor (Minister Gumbo) left and it’s one of the major priorities,” he said.

Minister Matiza said Government will look at various financing models that suite Zimbabwe’s financial situation, including domestic funding options and options from China following pledges made during the President’s recent visits.

President Mnangagwa visited China in his first outbound trip from outside Africa during which he held discussions with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and signed a number of co-operation and investment agreements. The Zimbabwean President was also part of African heads of State and Government that were in China from September 3 to 4, 2018 attending the Forum for Africa-China Co-operation (FOCAC). Apart from new co-operation agreements the President signed with the Chinese leader, Zimbabwe is expected to be among major recipients of Chinese loans and investments under the $120 billion the Asian giant has pledged under the Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to help Africa upgrade its infrastructure.

“We are going to look at funding models that are suitable for our environment. We will look at local (sources), in-house in the ministry itself. We have a very vibrant department of roads, they have done quite a lot of work in some places and we want them to participate as well (in some road projects),” he said.

“The Chinese have pledged quite a lot of money into infrastructure so we want to see that working. There is quite a lot (of potential sources of funding), the economy is now open for investment and investors; we will look at them and have a win-win situation.”

Why Beitbridge Chirundu is key
Zimbabwe is the artery and a critical spine of Sadc’s road transport network, linking the South with the rest of Africa.

The Beitbridge – Harare – Chirundu facilitates the movement of hundreds of millions of people between Southern Africa and central, east and north Africa while also facilitating regional significant trade on the continent.

The country has, however, failed to repair and upgrade its roads which date back to before independence.

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 highway was singled out as one of the roads that needed rehabilitation because of its importance in the region.

The highway is one of the country’s most unsafe trunk roads. Given Zimbabwe’s failure to upgrade the Beitbridge-Chirundu Road our neighbours including South Africa have made plans for a road network that by-passes Zimbabwe stretching through Kazungula.

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