The long awaited Mohembo Bridge tender will soon be put up, marking the first steps towards the commencement of the project which dates as far back as the 1980s. The Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Transport and Communication Goitsemang Morekisi told the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament recently that the design review for the project has been completed and her ministry is expected to issue invitations to tender for the construction of the bridge, which will connect the villages on the western fringes of the Okavango Delta panhandle to those within, popularly referred to as "overseas”.
The bridge is expected to rescue residents of the overseas villages who commute by the pontoon ferry or the traditional dug-out boats to and from Shakawe which is the nearest administrative centre, and where most amenities can be accessed. The ferry operates between six o’ clock in the morning and half past six in the evening. Due to the time limits and the large numbers of people who use the ferry, some usually fail to keep the time and make it into the ferry which despite the fact that they are a traditional mode of transport, are not entirely safe.
The bridge - on the other hand - by virtue of being a permanent structure will be at the people’s disposal throughout and is anticipated to stimulate even the socio-economic aspect of the people’s lives. The Member of Parliament for Okavango Bagalatia Arone has, however, received news of this development with mixed emotions. Although he acknowledged that he and the people of Okavango were grateful that finally something will come out of their request which dates as far back as 1984, Arone bemoaned that it has dragged for far too long.
Arone said as it is, government was currently struggling to minimise the cost of the whole project; an occurrence he said would not have been an issue had the bridge been constructed back then when costs were still low. “The project is long overdue. Had they given it the green light back then it would have been cheaper,” said Arone. He said documented evidence shows that government has so far used billions of Pulas to operate the ferry across the Okavango River despite its shortcomings.
He, however, indicated that both the Ministry officials and the Minister of Transport and Communications Tshenolo Mabeo have briefed him and updated him on the current developments. “The Minister paid me a courtesy call recently when he was in my constituency and assured me that the tender will soon be put up, and said he hoped those who will bid, will meet the requirements,” he said.
The Okavango MP said the bridge is important to developments like roads on the other side of the panhandle. Residents living on the other side, he said, have more often been forced to wait even when they had emergencies because the ferry had broken down or had other technical problems.
Reports indicate that the Mohembo Bridge will be the first suspended bridge in Botswana and one of the longest - at 1162m - in the southern African region. The main towers, which are creatively symbolised as elephant tusks, extend some 85m above the bridge deck. Apart from the much needed transportation link, the bridge is also expected to serve as a tourist attraction.