One year on, the $260 million Kazungula Bridge has transformed Africa’s most unusual border crossing

CNN  — 

Until a year ago, crossing the Zambezi River between Botswana and Zambia was a slow and congested affair. For trucks moving along a key transport corridor, stretching from Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Durban, South Africa, the river was an obstacle without an elegant solution. Vehicles would load onto a pontoon, two at a time, when the current wasn’t too strong and the rains not too heavy. It was a 10 to 15-minute journey that you could spend up to 15 days waiting for, recalls the head of one truck drivers’ association.

Today, the pontoons sit ashore, mercifully redundant. You might spot them while crossing the 923-meter (3,028-foot) long Kazungula Bridge, a $260 million project co-financed by Botswana, Zambia and the African Development Bank, that a year into service has already transformed this southern African trade artery.

Trucks cross the Kazungula Bridge. Traffic across the Zambezi River has increased significantly since it opened in 2021.

The bridge was conceived to speed up travel along the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) North-South Corridor, a route historically beset with costly border delays.

Copper from DRC, Zambia and Tanzania traveling south before being shipped to China. Food from South Africa traveling north. Mining equipment from Tanzania heading to the DRC and Zambia. All pass across Kazungula, says Kaiko Salim Wamunyima, secretary general of the SADC Truck Drivers Association of Zambia.

The bridge opened in May 2021 but was over a decade in the making, explains Kazungula project engineering manager Isaac Chifunda.

Geopolitics played a large part in the bridge’s design. Kazungula spans an area of Africa known as the “quadripoint,” says Chifunda. Sixty-five kilometers (40 miles) upstream from Victoria Falls, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe converge at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers. The countries’ borders extend into the rivers, so Kazungula Bridge was shaped with a pronounced curve to weave through the landscape, avoiding Zimbabwean waters, says Chifunda.

“Africa was massively represented on this project,” says Chifunda. Although construction was overseen by South Korean company Daewoo E&C, the team was multinational, he says, and raw materials including cement, steel and aggregates came from across southern Africa.

As a significant investment for Zambia and Botswana, the bridge is packed with technology to ensure its long-term future.

Chifunda explains that a structural health monitoring system “gives signals to which part of the bridge needs maintenance. And we also have a weather station – we measure wind speed, rainfall, we even measure excitation, that is, the movement of the (suspension) cables.

“If there is danger, the station will send a signal through a message on the phone, through email as well, so that the two member states can attend to any maintenance needs.”

New customs

Driver Memory Lambie poses with her truck. "The bridge is 100% perfect to us," she says.