Mozambican tollgate opens despite controversy

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IRIN - Mozambique / AENS, 17 January - African Concessions (TRAC) opened its fifth and final tollgate on the R2 billion N4 highway between South Africa's industrial heartland of Gauteng and the Mozambican port of Maputo on Wednesday despite labour unrest and community protests.

A strike by construction workers and widespread community resistance to the toll road, billed as one of Africa's biggest infrastructure projects, delayed the original scheduled opening on Monday. 

TRAC spokesman Hannes van Wyk confirmed Wednesday that contracted SBB construction workers downed tools at the Matola tollgate last Friday following a pay dispute, but stressed that the issue was resolved over the weekend.

Van Wyk also confirmed that local Matola City residents had threatened to blockade the road unless storm water run-off from the highway was diverted away from their houses. "Residents were very upset when water from our culverts washed into their gardens and houses during recent heavy rains. The run-off was caused by inadequate municipal stormwater drains. Government appears to have promised compensation and has undertaken to fix the drains," Van Wyk said.

Complaints about the siting of the tollgate, between residential areas in Matola and businesses in Maputo, have also been addressed by granting concessions of up to 60 percent to regular travellers.

Similar grievances at three tollgates in neighbouring Mpumalanga have resulted in public protests, boycotts and legal challenges by residents of Witbank, Middelburg, Machadodorp, Waterval Boven and Malelane. The Matola tollgate, one of only two in Mozambique, lies on the final leg of the 450km Maputo Corridor toll road from Pretoria and Johannesburg in Gauteng, through Mpumalanga and finally to Maputo Port in Mozambique.

TRAC was awarded an exclusive 30-year concession to build, maintain, and operate the multi-billion rand toll road as part of the broader R25 billion Maputo Development Initiative. "This opening is a milestone not only for the N4 toll route, but also for the Corridor Initiative, which was established to address infrastructure needs in the region. The key to achieving this is access, and the N4 toll route provides a safe, fast and efficient link between Mozambique's international harbour and the hub of South Africa's commerce and industry," said TRAC chief executive Trevor Jackson. 

- The decision to build the N4 a toll road was jointly taken by the Mozambique and South African governments in 1996. The project was wholly funded by the private sector, and is one of the biggest [Build, Operate, Transfer] projects ever undertaken in southern Africa, he said.

Jackson stressed that construction was completed ahead of initial expectations despite setbacks caused by devastating flooding in Mozambique and Mpumalanga early last year. He added that construction of the project had already begun meeting some of the key objectives of the Corridor initiative by training and employing local contractors wherever possible.

Slightly over 6,200 jobs had been created, he said, with an additional 20 000 people trained at three TRAC sponsored training and development centres. "The Moamba training centre has trained over 3000 people in various disciplines, while TRAC has created 1 100 direct jobs through the construction project in Mozambique. TRAC has actively promoted the role of small, medium and micro enterprises through the issue of 150 tender packages valued at R83-million," Jackson added.

- Hands on skills transfer and formal training programmes ensure that there is a legacy once the construction phase of the project is complete.

Jackson also stressed that the N4 had experienced a significant drop in accidents and fatalities since TRAC took over management of the road three years ago. "The N4 Toll Route project has already realised many benefits for communities on both sides of the border and we are confident that as the Corridor progresses in Mozambique it will open up opportunities for large-scale economic development," he said.

By Justin Arenstein, African Eye News Service (AENS)

© African Eye News Service (AENS).

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