Nam counts losses of N$160m Trans-Kalahari railway

By Timo Shihepo

NAMIBIA has been left counting its losses on the long delayed N$160 million Trans-Kalahari railway project involving Botswana and South Africa after Covid-19 hit, putting pressure on transporting goods on the road network.

This comes after authorities dilly-dallied on the implementation of the project, which was mooted almost 10 years ago to smoothen movement of goods from the Port of Walvis Bay to Botswana and also create a transit route to South Africa.

To date Namibia has a rail stretch to the border town of Gobabis from Walvis Bay leaving a 320 kilometer-gap connection to Ghanzi in Botswana en-route to Gaborone.

Speaking to Confidente, Trans-Kalahari Chief Executive Officer Leslie Mpofu concurred that the delayed project is a big missed opportunity for Nambia.

“This should be a lesson we can learn from that rail is quite critical. It has taken some time (to finish the project) but we are hopeful that it will eventually come because when you move commodities from trucks to rail, you have less human interaction especially when it comes to issues like these where everyone is on lockdown,” Mpofu said.

He also added that, “It is much simpler because you just have the crew pulling their rolling stock and cargo. We are actually hoping and praying that this project materialises soon. The Botswana and Namibian governments have actually established a project management office based in Windhoek and that office is earmarked to accelerate the project.”

After several delays, the Trans-Kalahari railway project estimated to be worth over US$9.5 million (around N$163 million) appears to be taking shape after Namibian and Batswana officials agreed to commission the Trans-Kalahari railway project management office.

The idea of the project was birthed when Botswana and Namibia signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the development of the Trans-Kalahari project. In 2014, the two countries signed the bilateral agreement and a separate project management office agreement.

It is anticipated that the project will provide improved distribution of regional traffic among corridors in southern Africa, increased regional integration and international cooperation; and provide for fast implementation of a fundamental regional transportation backbone through private sector innovation, finance, commercial and management expertise.

It is expected to facilitate the development of mining, investment, and manufacturing opportunities that have been stunted in Botswana due to lack of components, and exports of ore, products and finished commodities.

The project is an earmarked shift for Botswana from its current constrained and landlocked physical position to a point where it will become a key transportation, mining and manufacturing player in southern Africa.

In the absence of the Trans-Kalahari railway, deputy executive director in the Ministry of Works and Transport Jonas Sheelongo has revealed that the ministry has engaged the South African government in an effort to make sure that the Trans-Kalahari and Trans-Orange corridors remain open for the smooth transportation of essential goods during Covid-19.

“In order to establish a common understanding of what goods classify as essential, we will also engage other SADC countries.  There are guidelines in place to ensure that drivers who are transporting essential goods are quarantined before joining their families and the society.”