New Vision Needed to Rescue Zimbabwe’s Rail System

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NRZCecil John Rhodes the British imperialist was right about one thing, transportation infrastructure was essential to get raw materials out of Africa into overseas markets. The same is true even of today as talk of Africa becoming an economic hub the discussion of transportation costs continues to dominate. This is not surprising that China has been interested and heavily involved in building roads in Africa.

The Zambian born Goldman Sachs economist Dambisa Moyo in her book “Dead Aid” states that one of China’s ambitious goals when it decided to partner with the continent was to fulfill Cecil Johns Rhodes dream of a road from Cape to Cairo because they too realized this was essential to getting their cheap goods onto the African continent as well as for exploiting Africa’s resources back to the Chinese mainland.

The highways of Africa are congested as the population continues to expand and modern cities crop up. Air travel is expensive therefore the most logical answer to infrastructure problems in Zimbabwe is of course a vibrant railroad network. All Africa is reporting that Zimbabwe’s railroads are on the verge of extinction begging the question how can Zimbabwe recover economically without a vibrant railroad system? The answer if you ask any transportation expert is that it cannot because there is no country on planet Earth that can meet the challenges of the 21st century without a comprehensive multimodal transportation structure.

Responsible privatization is more likely the key to the survival of NRZ. The government may be reluctant to see the existing workers go because the industry is so specialized and training new employees is extremely expensive and the expertise is hard to come by. In the height of the economic crisis of Zimbabwe a lot of engineers and rail experts left Zimbabwe for greener pastures and it is likely that the government does not want to see a repeat of that scenario that almost crippled the rail network. The independent.co.zw reports that at its peak the organization employed 18,000 people today it has only 7,000 employees. In its inventory the same newspaper reports that The NRZ now has about 168 locomotives with only 71 serviceable in 2011; the rest were obsolete. Out of 8 682 wagons, only 3 427 were operational.

NRZ 2There are reports of Zimbabwe’s agriculture industry rising from the ashes. Some of the indigenous farmers from the controversial land reform programme are said to have gone past the learning curve and are expecting to produce a bumper harvest. Many Zimbabwean farmers are opting for cash crops and the railroad could prove to be a viable option for transporting their product throughout the region and compete globally.

Rather than focusing on passenger rail, the National Railways of Zimbabwe should be focusing on freight as well to maximize the use of the system. It is no secret that maintaining rail infrastructure is expensive but the diamond producing Zimbabwe should be able to funnel profits from the mines of Marange and fix the ailing rail infrastructure which when fully functional can absorb some of the freight and reduce the number of lorries on the crammed road network. Perhaps what Zimbabwe needs is a public- private partnership to rescue the railroad from ruin.


By Anna Mosi-oa-Tunya 2013

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