THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is in discussions with DP World for a partnership to establish dry port facilities across the country where the railways operator has vast tracts of land.
DP World is a company owned by the government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), via a holding company.
The holding company is under the direct control of the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid AI Maktoum, who is also Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
The planned dry port facilities project follows a visit at the Expo Dubai 2020 early this month by Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Felix Mhona and NRZ officials.
In a recent interview, NRZ acting general manager Mrs Respina Zinyanduko, said following their recent visit, DP World indicated their willingness and preparedness to set up dry ports in every area where NRZ has expansive land.
“As you may be aware, NRZ has a lot of land in Chimanimani, Mutare, Harare, Beitbridge, Gweru, and Lion’s Den and given that Zimbabwe is centrally located in Sadc, this makes the country a very good hub for dry port facilities,” she said.
“So, we are negotiating the establishment of dry ports by DP World on NRZ land across the country in a partnership arrangement and we are happy that DP World is very excited about it and are coming to Zimbabwe this month to tour some of the proposed land,” she said.
For example, Mrs Zinyanduko said NRZ has 20 hectares of land in Rutenga earmarked for a dry port and everything was approved by authorities locally but funding for the project has been a challenge.
“Our role was to look for a partner and DP World is a well-known freight company that is ranked number 10 worldwide.
“We are very excited as NRZ to be able to court such quality investors to partner us,” she said.
It is hoped that establishing a dry port in areas like Lion’s Den in Mashonaland West province where the NRZ rail ends, would see freight destined for Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo being picked up from that facility for transportation by road.
NRZ is a strategic transporter whose operational capacity and efficiency has over the years not been spared by the economic malaise Zimbabwe was reeling under.
At its peak in the 1990s, the rail entity moved 14,4 million tonnes of freight against an installed capacity of 18 million tonnes annually.
Due to operational challenges the rail entity has faced over the years, its freight volumes have unprecedentedly dwindled to less than four million tonnes annually.
NRZ’s situation has been exacerbated by the adverse effects of Covid-19 induced national lockdowns in the country and the region as countries battled to contain the spread of the pandemic.
It is in this context that NRZ has revised downwards its freight volume target for this year to 2,6 tonnes from an initial projection of 4,5 million tonnes.
“Our board had to review our target given the challenges that we are having due to Covid-19, our target was then revised to 2,6 million tonnes.
“Of the 2,6 million tonnes, so far we have done 1,916 million tonnes but we are expecting to close the year at 2,1 million tonnes and the value so far moved is $4,35 billion and we are expecting to close the year at $5 billion,” said Mrs Zinyanduko.
Next year, the rail operator targets to move three million tonnes of freight. Mrs Zinyanduko said DP World has indicated that the dry ports project would be implemented in a phased-approach but starting with the most lucrative ones.
“So, we are expecting them to prioritise areas like Rutenga, Lion’s Den, Beitbridge and of course Harare.
“I wouldn’t want to start talking about revenue generation right now because we are at the initial stages of the discussions.
“Right now, they are still to come in Zimbabwe to assess the state of the land and everything and that would then determine what percentage they are going to give NRZ as equity or whether they will propose to take an option of leasing the land.”
Dubai has a huge market for fresh produce and DP World have indicated their commitment to provide refrigerated trucks for transporting Zimbabwean produce from the source to the dry ports before shipment to Asia.
“So, if this opportunity opens, it will not only benefit NRZ but the generality of Zimbabweans thereby assisting us (NRZ) in giving a service not only to people but to society so that lives can be uplifted in line with the aspirations of the National Development Strategy 1,” she said.