President Armando Guebuza on 1 August inaugurated the new bridge over the Zambezi River, bearing his name, which links Sofala and Zambezia provinces in the centre of the country. The “Armando Emilio Guebuza Bridge” is part of the main north-south highway and replaces an inefficient ferry service across the river. The only other road bridge over the Zambezi is hundreds of kilometres to the northwest, at Tete city.
The bridge is 2,376 metres long with two lanes for vehicles, two hard shoulders to be used in the event of breakdowns, and two walkways for pedestrians. It is the second longest bridge in the country, beaten only by the bridge linking Mozambique Island to the mainland in Nampula province.
Construction by a consortium of two Portuguese companies, Mota Engil and Soares da Costa, began in March 2006. The bridge cost EUR81 million ($113 million), provided by the European Commission (EUR30 million), Italy (EUR20 million), Sweden (EUR18.3 million) and the Mozambican government (EUR13 million). Japan provided EUR9 million for activities including studies and resettlement.
Since Mozambican independence in 1975, successive governments have dreamed of a bridge over the Zambezi at this spot. In 1979/80 work began on the access roads – but the war waged by the South African apartheid regime against Mozambique made it impossible to continue the work.
After the end of the war of destabilization, the government set about seeking finance for the bridge. This was no easy task – repeatedly the government was told that there was not enough traffic to justify a new bridge, and that the ferry was perfectly adequate.
This was certainly not the opinion of motorists who had to spend hours and sometimes days before crossing the river. Throughout the 1990s there was just one boat making the 15-minute crossing of the river, although this decade a second was added. Nonetheless, lengthy queues of trucks built up, and any perishable goods they carried were in danger of rotting.
Now the ferry has passed into history. President Guebuza was one of the last people to use it. He crossed the river by ferry from Chimuara on the north bank to Caia on the Sofala side, where the inauguration ceremony began. On both banks President Guebuza took part in traditional ceremonies evoking the ancestral spirits of the region.
President Guebuza then cut the ribbon at the start of the bridge, and became the first citizen to drive over it – and to pay the toll fee. President Guebuza drove the vehicle personally, with the First Lady, Maria da Luz Guebuza, seated beside him.
The toll is the same as motorists had to pay for using the ferry – 800 meticais (about $30 dollars) for trucks and 80 meticais for light vehicles. The bridge, managed by the National Road Administration (ANE), has a speed limit of 60 kilometres per hour.
The two ferry boats will now be moved to other parts of the country where ferries are used to cross rivers.
Speaking later at a rally in Chimuara, President Guebuza said that “the Zambezi was an obstacle. It was easier for someone in Chimuara to visit a relative in Quelimane city, about 200 kilometres away, than to go to Caia on the opposite bank of the river”.
“This bridge is one of the many solutions for regional integration”, stressed President Guebuza. “Our brothers in the region will also benefit from the bridge”.
A message from the local population read out at the Chimuara rally declared, “the Portuguese settlers were unable to build this bridge, but thanks to President Guebuza and Frelimo, the bridge is here”.
The bridge bears Guebuza’s name. The decision, according to Public Works Minister Felicio Zacarias, was not imposed by the President himself, but was taken by the government at a meeting where President Guebuza was not even present.
Objections to the name have been raised in some of the media, and by some opposition politicians. Thus Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo, fumed that naming infrastructures after people was “a communist practice”. He told the independent television station, STV, that he had no idea whether he had been invited to the ceremonies, but it made no difference, since he had no intention of going.