Since 1999, relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe in the rail sector in particular have not been stable. The relations were soured after Zimbabwe unilaterally diverted transit traffic to the new Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Railway (BBR) line, which financially crippled the Botswana Railways. This decision robbed BR of transit traffic estimated at over 90,000 tonnes. This was reduced to an average of 10,000 tonnes. The revenue implications of such a drop led to BR retrenching staff as it was no longer cost effective to keep them. Questions are already abounding as to whether the new route will help stabilise things and set the stage for future business deals. It will only serve its purpose if Zimbabwe and Botswana continue talking and inventing new schemes that could resuscitate the ailing railway industry between the two countries and across the SADC region. Rail transport is generally believed to be a safe mode of transport and it is generally considered to be cheap. The new route will therefore provide choice to travellers. Botswana's Works and Transport Minister, Lesego Motsumi praise for the re-launch of the mixed train service last Friday in both Bulawayo and Francistown was not unfounded. The service will promote bilateral trade, tourism and cultural interaction between the two countries. Her Zimbabwean counterpart, Christopher Mushohwe also reiterated that the train service is pivotal to the growth and sustenance of the two countries' economies. Zimbabwe Railways which has been concerned by the slump in performance for the past years, has high hopes of reaping immensely from the decision to re-introduce the route. The resumption of this route, which is part of a turn-around programme, is expected to revive the lost glory and fortunes of Zimbabwe Railways. The Francistown-Bulawayo mixed train route is expected to provide an affordable service and contribute towards the improvement of economies of both Botswana and Zimbabwe. At P15 (Francistown-Bulawayo) single journey, it goes without saying that the train will be affordable. Zimbabwe Railways will have to come out clean on its long-term projects and say why it cannot permit the resumption of high volume transit traffic through the Francistown-Bulawayo route for the benefit of the ailing BR as well. Already some people speculate that BR has been used in this deal as they say it serves the interest of Zimbabwe Railways more than those of the BR.
Fairness is something that we should all agree
on, so in many ways this was no surprise.