Kazungula Bridge Project: Connecting places and cultures in Southern Africa

Olivia Unopa Molefe
Tuesday, 05 September 2017
Kazungula Bridge Project: Connecting places and cultures in Southern Africa

Thoughts and prayers are with the communities in Texas (USA) working through the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. Something to share while on the subject of water - a month ago I had the pleasure of presenting a paper I co-authored with the above mentioned title for an international conference, ‘BRIDGE: The Heritage of connecting places and cultures’.

This conference was held at the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron at the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, U.K. in partnership with the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage (University of Birmingham) and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.  The first time I heard of this site was on Television under something that had to do with industrialisation, if my memory serves me right. But today, as a young Motswana ‘go getter’ I have the pleasure of saying I chaired sessions and made a presentation at this above mentioned occasion.

Anyway, the article is not about me (chuckle). A fellow independent researcher (Mr. Ndanji Lesetedi) and I carried out an observational study on the Kazungula Bridge Project which is relevant to this conference.  The construction of this bridge is currently a multi-national project within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The project is situated on the North-South Corridor which is part of a corridor-long infrastructure improvement programme within Botswana. It stands as an extraordinary milestone in bridge design within the construction history of Botswana.

First of its kind.  First of its kind? This is what made us get up as fast as we could and listen attentively like meercats. Botswana is a landlocked country; there are a handful of perennial rivers in the country. For those of us who come from the North-East district of the country who have at least seen the Zuzumbe river can somewhat relate to bridge construction.   Moving on, our presentation interrogated three issues. Firstly, based on issues of infrastructural development, architectural monuments in Africa are often neglected, not only in the discussions about preservation but also physically, mostly because Southern African heritage can in relevant cases be engrossed in the intangible.

This became a starting point for us to begin interrogating approaches proposed for the intended management plan to be developed upon completion of this bridge. Because this bridge stands as the first of its kind, entirely within the construction industry history of the country the results make it important to investigate the relevance and sustainability issues connected to not only the management of the project but its development plan and the possible relevant recommendations necessary for our developing country concerning it.  

Secondly, the new Kazungula Bridge is intended to be an enormous structure whose construction employs advanced civil engineering design principles and construction methods which should in turn produce an innovative design of materials which prompts questioning how this bridge can be documented from a valorised perspective of heritage for the country. In general, issues of architectural heritage valorisation in Botswana seem to have been continuously missed significantly from a planning, legislative and conservation perspective within Botswana including contemporary construction.

Lastly, the objective of this bridge’s construction embraces the easing of movement of goods and people to reduce the transit times considerably from Zambia to Botswana thereby strengthening regional integration, trade facilitation and sustainable economic growth and development significantly as compared to the current pontoon. As this becomes an embedded structure for Botswana and Zambia it is crucial to for the necessary stakeholders to call for the analysis and documentation of the birth of innovative tourism activities that inculcate the use of this bridge, new cultures will be born of this connective integration with particular emphasis to issues of cultural fission and fusion. 

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