Has the Kazungula Bridge diminished taxable trade for Zim through the Chirundu Border Post?

The Chirudu border post situated northwest of Zimbabwe is a One-Stop border post (OSBP) that recently jacked up its operating times to 24 hours. It is considered one of the busiest border posts of the North-South corridor, a cargo, goods, and trade route that connects the northern and southern parts of SADC.  It aims to…

Kazungula Bridge

The Chirudu border post situated northwest of Zimbabwe is a One-Stop border post (OSBP) that recently jacked up its operating times to 24 hours. It is considered one of the busiest border posts of the North-South corridor, a cargo, goods, and trade route that connects the northern and southern parts of SADC.  It aims to reduce the costs and delays of cross-border trade and improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the region. Approximately 365 trucks per day cross both ways through the post.

The North-South Corridor (NSC)

Sources: SSATP Discussion Paper No. 10

With a road network spanning approximately 8,600 km, (Nov 2010), the North-South corridor comprises inter-related projects that connect 8 countries in the region: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Total infrastructure in the NSC is at US$ 1.2 billion in assets and planned projects as well as projects underway. It is estimated to be handling 75% of trade in the SADC region with a potential market of 200 million people.

Sources: Infrastructure components of the North-South Corridor

State of the OSBP before the commissioning of the Kazungula Bridge post

Chirundu’s OSBP is the second busiest border in the North-South corridor. It is the more popular route of transit from South Africa (via the Beitbridge border post) to the Nothern leg of the corridor servicing Zambia, Malawi, DRC, and terminating in Tanzania. When it first operated as an OSBP, traffic was around 6,000 trucks a month or about 225 a day (Sept 2007). Northbound traffic was higher at 120 trucks daily versus 105 southbound trucks. As of 2019, this figure rose to an average of 365 trucks a day and 10,971 trucks a month, an increase of 183%.

Source: SSATP Discussion Paper No. 10 & Time Release Study for Imports & Transit Cargo Chirundu OSBP, Zambia

South Africa is the largest trading nation of the nations in the NSC which is shown by the Beitbridge border post being the busiest in the region. In GDP terms, South Africa’s share is 51% of all SADC member states as of November 2021. Angola comes second at 13.8% and Tanzania 3rd at 9.8%. South Africa also holds the highest share of intra-SADC trade at 38.6% followed by Namibia with 16.6% and DRC in 3rd place with 10%. All these factors make South Africa a key player in the NSC and it is very active in trade fuelling a majority of the traffic experienced in this corridor.

Sources: SADC Macroeconomic Statistics Bulletin & SADC Merchandise Trade Statistics Bulletin

Trucks using the NSC are predominantly Zimbabwean and South African trucks with a share of 80% of the trucks on this route in 2007 (38% South African and 42% Zimbabwean). South African drivers had the biggest share of refrigerated trucks and tankers with Zimbabwean drivers having the biggest share of consolidated goods, break bulk, and container cargo. This is due to the stricter laws in South Africa when it comes to refrigerated trucks and tankers. South Africa is the biggest intra-SADC exporter with its services and goods amounting to 58% of the region’s exports. This is shown by the volume of Northbound trucks being higher than that of Southbound trucks.

Source: United Nations University (UNU-WIDER)

Why the Kazungula Bridge border post is now the preferred route

The whole premise of an OSBP is that it is supposed to eliminate duplication of processes at border crossings. When traffic arrives at a point of exit of one country, they have to go through customs, and when they arrive at the point of entry of the next country they have to again go through customs. With an OSBP, you only have to go through customs at the point of exit and if you are cleared there then you can skip clearing at the end of entry. Such a system reduces the time spent at a border crossing and improves the flow of traffic.

Chirundu’s border post was the first in SADC to have this system running and initially, it reduced crossing times by up to 50% and clearances from 3 days to same-day clearing for freight transport and 83% that is from 3 hours to 30 minutes for passenger transport. Before the construction of the Kazungula Bridge, the border post was taking between 4 days and 2 weeks to cross. This border crossing between Botswana and Zambia involves crossing the Zambezi River. So traffic crossing using that route had to make use of a ferry to cross the border that had the capacity to carry only 2 trucks per trip and up to 30 trucks a day.

In cases where the conditions were not ideal due to weather or the strength of the current of the Zambezi River was too strong, crossings would need to be halted. In 2021, the Kazungula Rail Road bridge project was finished and serves as an alternate route for NSC connecting South Africa and the rest of the countries in the NSC circumventing Zimbabwe’s Beit Bridge and Chirundu. On its opening day a total of 162 trucks were cleared (108 southbound and 54 northbound) with an estimated capacity of clearing 250 trucks a day.

There are a number of pull factors contributing to the popularity of the Kazangula Rail Road bridge.

  • Truckers save time on the route due to faster clearing. Even though the Kazangula Rail Road bridge adds 200km to the trip, it’s still up to a day less per trip for truckers.
  • It avoids congestion that exists at the Beitbridge and Chirudu border posts, the 2 busiest border posts in SADC
  • It is still fully functional as an OSBP, unlike Chirundu which reverted to the old system of clearing after a dispute on setting up communications between the Zimbabwean and the Zambian side of the Chirundu border post.
  • Occasional fuel shortages and a lack of spares on the Beitbridge – Chirundu route (Zimbabwe)
  • Higher prevalence of cargo theft on the Beitbridge – Chirundu route.
  • The state of the Harare – Chirundu road is a further deterrent to using the route.

That said, there are some push factors still driving traffic to the Chirundu border post.

  • The Beitbridge – Harare route is being rehabilitated making it more desirable.
  • A majority of the truck drivers are Zimbabwean so passing through their home country gives them an opportunity to spend time with their families
  • The Beitbridge – Chirundu route is 200km shorter than going through Kazungula.
  • The Kopfontein border post that connects South Africa to Botswana is not as reliable as the Beitbridge border post.

Kazungula’s existence does not affect Zimbabwe’s revenue.

That said, the Kazungula border post seems unlikely to affect the traffic coming through Zimbabwe as well as the revenues earned from it. As things stand, the capacity Chirundu has for clearing trucks is higher than that of Kazungula (365 vs 250). The route that goes via Chirundu is 200km shorter than that of Kazungula which equates to over 3 hours of savings in transit time one way.

Sources: SSATP Discussion Paper No. 10 & Transport Evolution

Developments in Zimbabwe are also adding to the desirability of the Beitbridge – Chirundu route. In 2021, Zimbabwe finished work on the Beitbridge border project which added more capacity to the busiest border post in SADC. In October 2023, the Chirundu border post took to operating 24 hours.

Lastly, Zimbabwe has also been at work rehabilitating the 971km long Beitbridge – Chirundu highway. 354.47km is now complete along the Beitbridge – Harare leg, 36% of the route with construction still ongoing, and according to the Wirtgen Group, the project should be done in 2023.

Some of the bottlenecks existing along this route are also being worked on including a by-pass route at Chivhu, a town along the route. The Mbudzi interchange is 38% complete as of April 2023 which will replace the previously existing roundabout that easily got overwhelmed with traffic. Harare Drive, Harare’s ring road meant to divert traffic from the Harare CBD will be rehabilitated as well.

All these developments work in favor of the Beitbridge – Chirundu route being the most desirable one for traffic using the North-South corridor.