by REGERAI MARWEZU
HARARE – THE much-anticipated, multibillion dollar dualisation of Zimbabwe’s major highway that is a gateway to Southern Africa is set to end the decades-old carnage on local roads, create thousands of jobs and boost trade in the region.
The dualisation of the Chirundu–Harare –Beitbridge road at a cost of US$2 billion (about R26 billion), is the largest capital project to be undertaken by the government of President Robert Mugabe in years.
Work on the project is expected to start soon following the recent commissioning by the president.
Government has awarded a tender to two companies, Geiger International of Austria and Harbour Engineering Company of China.
While the completion of the project will certainly enhance trade and investment opportunities in the country, its lifesaving benefits cannot be over-emphasised.
Experts say that highways should have a normal width of 11 metres excluding recovery areas which should be 1,2 metres.
The Harare-Beitbridge highway is only 9 metres wide rendering it one of the most dangerous roads in the country.
The road is referred to as “the highway to the grave” because of the hundreds of people perishing daily while travelling along the highway, to and from South Africa. It is one of many Zimbabwean roads poorly lit, narrow and littered with potholes.
Statistics from the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCOZ), show that last year alone 38, 620 road accidents occurred countrywide. During the same period 1,721 people died while 11, 379 were injured.
Although TSCOZ managing director Obio Chinyere attributed the accidents to human error, he said some of the country’s roads had long been death traps.
“In 2016 most of the recorded accidents were as a result of speeding but it has to be noted that our bad roads are also contributing a lot to road carnage,” said Chinyere. “Speeding caused 9, 829 crashes in 2016 alone,” he added.
Most of the accidents along the “Harare-Beitbridge highway occur when vehicles either side swipe each other or collide head on.
Serious fatal accidents which occurred along the Harare-Beitbridge road are still fresh in the minds of many, with the most notable being the Mhunga bus disaster in 2002.
The Masvingo bound Mhunga bus collided head on with a haulage truck near Chatsworth killing on the spot all 37 students from Masvingo Teachers College.
The bodies of the deceased were burnt beyond recognition as the two vehicles burst into flames after colliding.
In August 2009 again another Mhunga bus killed 40 people and injured 30 others after crashing into an SRS Trucking company vehicle near Beatrice,
40km south of Harare. Many other Mhunga buses were involved in accidents that claimed the lives of so many people.
Just recently a South African bound Proliner bus killed 31 people near Mvuma, about 200km south of Harare on the same highway. The bus was sideswiped by a lorry and all the deceased were burnt beyond recognition.
Former Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, also lost his wife Susan in a road accident near the Mhondoro turn off, 86 km from Harare in 2009.
The World Health Organisations (WHO) estimates that 1,3 million people die and 80 million are injured annually as a result of road accidents globally.
According to WHO, 90 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries, making it imperative for Zimbabwe to develop its road infrastructure.
The dualisation will bring economic benefits to Zimbabwe amid reports some South African haulage companies were contemplating other trade routes because the Zimbabwean roads were in a poor state.
Officials say the exercise will in addition create 300, 000 jobs in country where the unemployment rate is hovering above 80 percent.
The project to be implemented in phases is expected to be completed in the
next three years.
The first phase will involve the Harare-Beitbridge highway, with a stretch of over 580 kilometre road dualised at a cost of $984 million (about R12.8 billion). The segment will be dualised under a 25-year Build, Operate and Transfer Model.
The Austrian company will undertake the first phase after subcontracting local companies.
The second phase will dualise the Harare Chirundu –highway. The Chinese company will undertake the project at a cost of $886 million (about R11.5 billion).
Also known as the Chirundu-Beitbridge Road Corridor, the facility is a Trans-African highway network link between South Africa and Zambia. It is also part of the North–South Corridor Project. The highway is also used by motorists from other Southern African Development Community (SADC) such as Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and eastern Mozambique.
However, government has to compensate some villagers to be affected by the massive project. Villagers are worried because of the government’s reputation of handling relocations badly.
In 2014 about 3 000 families were relocated from the Tokwe Mukosi dam basin after the dam burst its banks submerging several homes.
The government relocated the flood victims to the southern Chingwizi but conditions at the holding camp were deplorable.
To date, some of the displaced villagers have not received compensation and live on a parched pieces of land hardly conducive for human habitation.
The upcoming dualisation has thus elicited mixed feelings from locals.
“We are all happy that the dualisation programme is now taking off but as villagers living near the highway we urge the government to treat us in a humanly manner during the relocation exercise, ”said Wilson Maposa, one of the villagers living near the highway in Chivi district.
“We know some people will be completely displaced while others will have their fields reduced in sizes but we are saying the Tokwe Mukosi scenario should not befall us,” he added.
“We would want to be compensated timely and everything regarding the relocations should be done in consultation with all those affected,” said
Traditional leaders have also expressed concern over the manner in which the state has handled previous relocations.
“We have met with the minster responsible for the project on several occasions and as chiefs whose jurisdiction will be affected by the dualisation project we have raised our concern over the issue of compensating the displaced people,” said the president of the Council of Chiefs, Fortune Charumbira.
“We would want to see the affected people getting their compensation on time and also relocated to arable pieces of land,” he said.
Charumbira also said the government should rein on contractors fuelling vices as teenage pregnancy.
“We have also raised the issue of contractors whose workers will temporarily marry local girls and impregnate them before dumping them at the end of the project,” said Charumbira.
“The burden of looking after those children will be left to the Zimbabwe communities and traditional leaders hence we should guard against this practice,” said the chiefs leader.
Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Joram Gumbo, has assured communities and traditional leaders government will properly handle the relocations.
“We have consulted everyone involved and therefore there is no need for villagers to panic,” said Gumbo.
“We are going to relocate the affected people in consultation with traditional leaders and it is my hope all will be done smoothly,” Gumbo added.
– CAJ News