Botswana – Land of Contrasts

Botswana – Land of Contrasts

The lush environment of the Okavango Delta.

Botswana is a land of contrasts. Verdant grasslands and unique ecosystems, side by side with progress and state of the art engineering. The richest diamond mine in the world, alongside wildlife roaming the dusty roads in many of the frontier towns. It is a unique, intriguing country, with an energy all of its own. It is my soul place – specifically from the perspective of the vast wilderness areas that cover so much of the country.

The Kalahari Desert, which has an area of over 900,000 km², covers much of Botswana.

The drive from The David Livington Safari Lodge & Spa in Livingstone (see last week’s article) took about an hour on a perfectly pleasant road. Crossing the new Kazungula Bridge once again reminded me of the acute anomalies which abound in this special part of the world. Previously, a motorized pontoon ferry operated between the border posts at Kazungula, Zambia and Kasane, Botswana. This border has always been insanely busy leaving the average tourist somewhat frazzled, especially after fending off the over-enthusiastic “helpers”. Truck traffic used to be backed up for kilometres. It was not uncommon for drivers to wait for five to ten days to make the transit at the Kazungula ferry crossing, though the average was apparently usually five days.

The border crossing from Kazungula to Kasane with the new bridge and border post was an absolute breeze. The road is spectacular. There wasn’t a “helper” in sight, and the formalities were completed in under ten minutes. Admittedly, it was out of season, and we were with a transfer company – but I didn’t see any of the self-drive people having any issues whatsoever. Your exit from Zambia and your entry into Botswana are done in the same building – you simply stroll across the immaculate hall from one to the other. This is known as a One-Stop-Border-Post (OSBP). Who knew a border-crossing could be this efficient and pleasant – an indication that, despite all reports to the contrary, Africa is also able to get things spectacularly right.

The Zambezi River has always been a huge obstacle to travel – it is enormous and filled with hippos and crocs.

The completion of the Kazungula bridge, which opened in May 2021, meant that the busy road traffic between the Copper Belt in southern DR Congo and northern Zambia now had a feasible alternate route to the South African port of Durban – and one that didn’t go through Zimbabwe (whose route is seriously congested at the Beitbridge border crossing into South Africa). That level of traffic through the Beitbridge border is lucrative, which is likely one of the reasons that former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was not in favour of this project. There was also much bad blood between him and the other players at the time. After many debates, the result was that, instead of going marginally into Zimbabwe from Botswana as had been the original plan, the bridge now curves and then makes landfall in Zambia.

The Kazungula Bridge over the mighty Zambezi.

The bridge is 923 m long and 18.5 m wide, with a cable-stayed construction designed to carry two car lanes, as well as a single railway track. There are also pedestrian walkways on either side. It took South Korea’s Daewoo E&C six years to complete at a cost of $259 million. Financing was provided by the Zambian and Botswanan governments, the African Development Bank, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, and the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund.

The Kazungula Bridge is considered an “extradosed” bridge – which is defined as a structure between the girder bridge and the cable-stayed bridge. This project combined the construction of road and a rail bridge, and so an extradosed bridge model was applied to widen distances between piers and to allow for vibration control.

The railway track can clearly be seen on the island between the two lanes…

The bridge has yet to realize its full potential, because the train line that runs through its centre is not yet operational. The bridge has been designed in such a way that the train and the vehicles cannot use the bridge at the same time. Vehicle traffic would be cleared, then the train would cross, and only then would the vehicle traffic resume. 

Any which way you view it, this is a spectacular achievement. Beyond being superbly functional, the bridge is also magnificent. I didn’t have enough time to take great images as I was on a deadline and on my way to the beautiful Chobe Marina Lodge – but I highly recommend that you give yourself enough time for taking photos of the bridge if you are going to these parts… Remember though, NEVER take images of a border post or their personnel in Africa, as you are inviting drama or even unceremonious arrest by doing so!

In next week’s newsletter, we explore some stunning accommodation in Kasane, as well as the wildlife which abounds on the river and in the Chobe National Park.

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team


Kazungula Bridge over the Zambezi River, Botswana-Zambia:

The story of Botswana and Zambia’s Kazungula Bridge Project – Mini Documentary:

Share this post

Start typing and press Enter to search

Shopping Cart