The dredging of the Zambezi River that started in 2014 to deepen the river to allow for smooth sailing of a new ferry has stopped, as the newly commissioned multi-million-dollar dredger has since broken down.
The dredger, that cost government nearly N$8 million, was commissioned in 2014 and was due to start dredging to alleviate the plight of thousands of people displaced in the eastern parts of the region by seasonal flooding.
Residents of the flood-prone Kabbe constituencies have expressed concern over the delay in the process and want to know when dredging operations will resume in the Zambezi. They also complain that the fares (up to N$300) for the Kapelwa Kabajani ferry are exorbitant and they want these to be revised downwards through government subsidies.
The Ministry of Works and Transport acquired and commissioned the dredger with the sole intention of clearing clogged waterways for the Kapelwa Kabajani river ferry, which has not been operational ever since its maiden voyage in 2010 due to low water levels and impassable and rocky patches in the river.
In an interview with New Era yesterday, Works and Transport spokesperson Julius Ngweda admitted that the dredger has been dysfunctional for over a year now. He said when the ministry of works purchased the dredger it was only used for a short time before it broke down, resulting in the suspension of dredging operations.
“The dredger goes through and cuts all the grass and removes stones before the ferry passes. So through the process, some of its parts broke and it will cost millions [to repair], I must say. It was supposed to be part of the ministry’s budget this financial year, but… to be honest with you, the budget of every ministry has been cut and we’re also affected. Due to a lack of funds to buy those parts and fix it so it can start functioning, there is really nothing we can do right now,” Ngweda said.
He said the ministry plans to include the procurement of the broken parts in the budget of the next financial year. He further said there is a lack of qualified captains in the area. Currently the ministry only has one skipper, he said.
“Normally what happens is that a dredger needs to be in front and then the ferry follows, so we need to have a skipper for the dredger and another one for the ferry. The ferry can also not move without a technician on board. The one we had was given an offer but he resigned.”
Regarding the fares, Ngweda said government has since revised the fares. “We spoke to the former councillor of Kabbe (Raphael Mbala) to speak to his community and he came back to us with the new fees they had agreed to among themselves. The current prices come from the community themselves. The prices were revised,” he said.
He noted that the tariffs were reduced to N$85 from Katima Mulilo to Kasika and Impalila and N$45 from Katima to Schuckmansburg (now Luhonono). The river-landing craft was acquired with the sole purpose of transporting residents and goods between Katima Mulilo, Impalila Island and the Kasika area, as well as assisting during flood emergencies in the area.
The barge has been facing major challenges of late, such as getting stuck on sandy and rocky outcrops, especially when the water level of the Zambezi falls. The 360-horsepower ferry, christened the Richard Kapelwa Kabajani in honour of the late liberation struggle hero, can carry up to two vehicles and several hundred people per trip.