A HEATED misunderstanding over border demarcations pitting Zimbabwe and Botswana has erupted, resulting in high-powered delegations from both countries holding an urgent meeting to resolve the impasse, preliminary details of an ongoing investigation by this publication reveal.
At the heart of the dispute lies a border beacon code-named BB842, which sources close to the unfolding disagreement between Harare and Gaborone said Botswana is claiming to have been pegged “on a wrong position”.
The disagreement flared up after a routine border marking verification exercise, where Botswana claimed the beacon BB842 was wrongly positioned.
This prompted Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development minister Anxious Masuka to hold an urgent meeting with Botswana’s Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services minister Kefentse Mzwinial in December as part of efforts to iron out the border misunderstanding.
The Independent understands that Masuka met with Mzwinial in the presence of Surveyor General Edwin Guvaza and other officials from the ministry at the Kazungula border post during heated deliberations meant to address the contentious matter.
An informed source privy to the explosive December meeting said Botswana’s delegation, led by Mzwinial “outlandishly claimed” that beacon BB842 was placed on the wrong position, a claim Zimbabwe’s team “vehemently refuted based on long-standing and globally held cartography data”.
“There is a reaffirmation of border beacons, which is a routine periodic exercise and Botswana decided that the last beacon by the river (Zambezi) BB842 is in the wrong position,” the source, who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity, said.
“Border issues are a mandate of the Surveyor General. He was present during the meeting at Kazungula Ferry Port.”
To understand how the December meeting unfolded, questions posed to Guvaza by the Independent were referred to Masuka based on the “sensitivity” of the matter.
“This is a highly sensitive issue, there is a need for you to engage with the minister’s office,” Guvaza said.
The Independent also sent a set of questions to Mzwinial, which were not addressed at the time of going to print.
Importantly, this publication sought to understand Gaborone’s stance on the location of beacon BB842 and whether the US$259,3 million Kazungula bridge jointly constructed by Botswana and Zambia encroached into Zimbabwe’s territory.
Sources close to the vortex of the dispute told the Independent in separate briefings that: “Zimbabwe has made a strong case that the Kazungula bridge overlapped into its territory”.
“Botswana, based on its position that beacon BB842 is in the wrong position, refutes Zimbabwe’s claims,” another source knowledgeable of the December meeting between Masuka and Mzwinial said.
On May 10 2021, Zambia’s president at the time, Edgar Lungu and Botswana’s leader Mokgweetsi Masisi commissioned the 923-metre Kazungula Bridge, which was partly financed from loans extended by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund.
The gigantic bridge, with two border facilities on either side of Botswana and Zambia, is primarily meant to boost trade between both countries, and, according to the African Development Group, enhance: “transport along the North-South Corridor, and indeed the Trans-African Highway on the Cape to Cairo route”.
“The bridge also provides impetus to the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area. The new Kazungula Bridge will be jointly owned by the governments of Zambia and Botswana and funded by toll fees.
“The border post and access roads in each country will be owned by the respective governments, along with the newly formed Kazungula Bridge Authority. The entity will be responsible for operating and maintenance of the entire infrastructure,” a summary of the multi-million-dollar infrastructure project posted on the AfDB website on May 18 2021 reads.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who also attended the unveiling of the massive bridge two years ago among other regional leaders was quoted by state media suggesting that Botswana and Zambia had invited Zimbabwe to be a partner in the project.
“This is a milestone achievement in our Sadc region. I wish to sincerely thank my brothers, President Masisi and President Lungu, who in 2018 invited Zimbabwe to be part of this project, indeed in the fullness of time, Zimbabwe will be part of this project.
“I reiterate Zimbabwe’s commitment to be part of this project for the benefit of our Sadc region,” Mnangagwa was quoted saying at the time the bridge was commissioned.
In a statement issued by Sadc at the launch, the regional bloc hailed the project’s capacity to facilitate the “seamless and efficient movement of goods and persons.”
This week, the Independent also posed questions to Lands permanent secretary John Basera, which were not addressed at the time of going to press.
Among other key issues, this publication wanted verification on whether the Kazungula Bridge overlapped into Zimbabwe’s territory as well as the resolutions proposed during the December meeting involving the Zimbabwean and Batswana ministerial teams.
The Independent also sought understanding from Basera on whether Harare would press for compensation from Gaborone and Lusaka if an understanding is reached that the bridge lies on the part of Zimbabwean soil.
The same questions also sent to Masuka drew blanks.
Harare’s relations with Gaborone which have largely been cordial turned frosty around 2008 when Botswana’s former president Ian Khama became critical of Zimbabwe’s late leader Robert Mugabe’s rule.
In an academic paper titled Zimbabwe-Botswana Relations Under Presidents Robert Mugabe and Ian Khama C. 2008-2017: A Constructive Perspective, Knowledge Moyo and Jefferson Ndimande highlight that ties between the two countries: “have been characterised by tension, confrontation and cooperation”.
This, among other reasons, is attributed to border disputes, varying perspectives on elections and “Botswana’s attitude towards Zimbabwe’s democratisation process”.
Following the exit of Mugabe in 2017 through a military-assisted transition, Zimbabwe and Botswana upgraded their relations a year later from a Joint Commission to Bi-National Commission.
Under the Bi-National Commission, leaders of the two nations are mandated to meet every year to deliberate on key socio-political and economic matters.
— Zimbabwe Independent