5 December 2016

Botswana: The Long Wait At Kazungula Bridge

The long queues at the under construction Kazungula road and rail bridge show the pressure contractors face to finish the project and allow smooth transition of goods between countries. Desperate faces of those eager to cross over torment them every day. The deal to construct the bridge was announced by Zambian and Botswana governments in August 2007. The construction started in 2014 and the expected date of completion is October 2018. The construction of the bridge is worth US$ 259.3 million and at completion it will be 923m long and 18.5m wide. It is curved to avoid the nearby borders of Zimbabwe and Namibia. With construction underway crossing through to the other side takes hours and runs even into days. Trucks wait in a long queue for their turn to cross the river by a ferry to Zambia. As things are, truckers come prepared for long hours of wait which takes even having to sleep at the place in some cases.

Sex trade

The flipside has been the blossoming sex trade in the area. One truck driver Wilson Chuma always passes through Botswana transporting goods from South Africa. He has had to endure the waiting for days to get his turn. At the time of this interview with him he had been waiting for three days. On whether he sometimes involved in the illicit sex trade Chuma said he does not do that himself but could not deny that those things happen. "One thing that people need to understand is that we do not go around looking for these ladies to come and sleep with them. They are the ones who come to us and they will start knocking on our windows," he said. He said even though some men do buy, it is not something that is as rampant as someone might think. He said that they can't sleep in peace with ladies hovering over their windows offering sex for money. He said some of them have accepted their job situation and will just stay the few days without engaging with anyone because they have families. Commenting on the sex trade one of the policewoman said they know about it, saying the women do not only come from Kazungula and Kasane but some are from Zimbabwe and Zambia as well.

Bulk buying

Another common trade in the area involves purchasing of supplies from the Choppies Store in Kazungula by Zambian women who then cross over to sell to their local communities. They mostly buy bags of maize meal, cooking oil, pasta and others. Luyando Mapenzi (29) said that she has three children, and without a husband she has to do whatever that it takes to be able to survive. She looked exhausted, all sweaty and but carrying bags of food on her back. "Being close to Botswana has offered some of us an opportunity. I buy these foodstuffs to able to sell in my community with cups. Choppies in Kazungula is where we buy all these because it is not far," she said. As she sat down to wait for the ferry, Mapenzi looked down quietly and said she has to come to Botswana almost every week to buy the stuff, or two weeks if she managed to buy more. Giving a forced smile, she said despite doing what might look hard to the person next door, she is grateful because she does something decent and is not stealing from anyone or prostituting herself.

A young man Mubanga Sitale has also found a niche for himself - transporting the women's goods to the ferry through his bicycle. Instead of loading at the back and riding on it, Sitale uses the whole bicycle for loading and then pushes it to the ferry. For his business Sitale has to go cross the border every day, and that means his passport being stamped every day. He makes about 200 kwacha per day. "I don't have any problem. I am surviving and that is all I am grateful for. My passport is stamped every day and when it gets full I easily get another one," he said. On what he will be doing when the bridge is completed Sitale is not that bothered, saying he looks forward to any opportunity that will arise. Many Batswana and tourists just visit the bridge to see the beauty coming out of the construction work being done.

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