As from the 1880s onwards it was in the interest of the rivalising colonial powers in southern Africa to realise effective transport links, in order to safeguard their economic interests, mainly the exploitation of the huge mining and agricultural resources of the region. A "Trans-Kalahari-Transport-Line" was already early regarded an important link to open the potentialities of south-western Africa. It seems that contacts materialised between the Imperial Germany, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Transvaal for such a project in the 1880s [10].

In 1898 Cecil Rhodes discussed his plans to build a railway line from the northern coastline in Namibia to the African east coast with the Imperial German Government. For the South African diamond concern "De Beers"
the just projected new railway line from Swakopmund to Tsumeb (completed in 1906) with its branch line to Grootfontein (completed in 1908) was of high interest. "De Beers" whose chairman the Prime Minister of South Africa, Cecil Rhodes, was, planned an extension of this line from Grootfontein further into present-day Zimbabwe. But, Mr. C.B. Elliot, the then General Manager of the Cape Government Railways, is reported to have persuaded Rhodes to abandon the "Grootfontein Project" [11].

After the South African occupation of "German South-West Africa" in 1915 the idea of a east-west transport link through the Kalahari was revived [12]. The South African geologist E.H.L. Schwarz [13] proposed in 1918 to construct dams along the Kunene and Chobe rivers in order to fill the Lake Ngami and other Kalahari pans with river water and connect these natural storage basins with the Orange River. It was planned to connect the new agricultural centres with the South African railway system: "On the south there is the Upington-Nakop railway, connecting the Cape to Johannesburg line at De Aar with the ports of Lüderitzbucht and Walvis. On the east there is the main line to the north from Kimberley to the Victoria Falls. From the latter, tributary lines could be run to the west, tapping the blocks of settlements as they become established; while from Upington a trunk line could be run all along the Molopo up to Ngami, serving the settlements".

A. Karlson [14] propagated in 1919 that "the logical addition to the Kalahari scheme (was) the Cape-Gibraltar-London electrical broad gauge railway" and "the first thing to be done, now that S. W. Africa is Union territory, is the construction of a line from Mafeking to Okahandja, 634 miles" and "the Johannesburg-Walvis Bay line must be electrified to render the journey through the Kalahari supportable ... ".

In Namibia, the idea of a Trans-Kalahari-Line was repeatedly canvassed in the mid 1920s. The "Windhoek Advertiser" wrote in 1924 "Rhodesia's object is to reach Walvis Bay. She ought to be supported to gain her end. This bay is her natural seaport" [15]. After the completion of the Windhoek-Gobabis railway in 1930 which already was planned in the German colonial era on a direct alignment Okahandja-Omitara-Gobabis [16] the then South African Administrator in Namibia, Gysbert Reitz Hofmeyr, wrote the following [17]:

"I dreamt of a railway line from Windhoek, skirting Lake Ngami on the south shores, crossing the Botletle River (the only river on the route) and joining the Rhodesia railways at a place called Daka, opposite the great Wankie coal fields. I visualised cattle brought down from Rhodesia in two days to the rest camp at Walvis Bay ... In my anxiety to construct this railway line, I offered to construct the most difficult section across the Auas mountains, from South West Africa funds, to a point 40 miles west of Gobabis. I took the opportunity of discussing the completion of the line with interested parties in London 1924. At the time Sir Robert Williams was not able to finance the extensions of his Benguela Line to Katanga and I was anxious that we should at once proclaim our intention of proceeding with the Windhoek-Rhodesia Line. To my great regret, this was not sanctioned. Had the project gone through, the line would have been completed by 1927."

In Bulawayo a "Rhodesia - Walvis Bay Enquiry Committee" constituted itself in 1924, when the Windhoek-Gobabis line had just reached Ondekaremba 40 km east of Windhoek (where the present-day Windhoek International Airport is situated), with the objective to influence the British Colonial Office in London to build the Trans-Kalahari [18]. This committee was supported in this effort by the "London Missionary Society" [19] which remarked to the Colonial Office [20]: "There is a strong feeling throughout the Protectorate (Bechuanaland) that the only way in which the economic condition can be improved is by the provision of some independent outlet for the cattle other than to, or through, the territory of the Union".

The South-Rhodesian Legislative Assembly filed an application on 11.06.1924 [21]: "That the question of a railway to connect Rhodesia with Walvis Bay be taken into consideration at as early a date as possible, specifically with a view to collaboration with the other Governments concerned in its construction, to arrange that a preliminary survey be made so that in view of further developments information regarding the scheme can be assured". Moffat, however, shelved the project, with the same excuse which always was used by the South African Government not to pursue with the scheme [22] "that our government is not at present prepared to find the money for the construction of the Walvis Bay connection as in our opinion the expenditure at present would not be justified". The South African Dominions Government supported Moffat in saying in July 1926 [23] "(that) it would not appear that the connection of the existing railway system with Walvis Bay would be of appreciable importance from the point of view of trade of the (Bechuanaland) Protectorate". Accordingly the British Government declined to grant an application to the "Delagoa Transport and Construction Co. Ltd." to commence constructing a railway from Palapye Road via Sandfontein to join an extended Namibian railway line coming from Gobabis to Sandfontein (Border between Namibia and Botswana). Above company had reasoned as follows [24]: "Recent exploration has proved that the Protectorate possesses excellent ranching areas and tracts of country suitable for maize and cotton cultivation, besides possessing valuable mineral deposits and oil".

This rejection of the Trans-Kalahari-Project brought only a short interruption in the efforts to pursue the project. With the modernising extensions of the Walvis Bay harbour in 1927 the great East-West-Transport-Link came on the map again. It was the Imperial Secretary in Pretoria, B.E.H. Clifford, who initiated a renewed attempt in this regard after having completed a reconnaissance expedition to the Kalahari "with a view to ascertaining the extent to which it might deflect the route to be followed in the event of a railway from Bulawayo to Walvis Bay becoming an economic proposition at some future date". But, the Imperial Secretary came to the conclusion "that though railway connection from Rhodesia to the West coast is bound to come its accomplishment is still remote. The problem is, of course, primarily an economic one" [25].

It was found that technically the building of such a rail link was quite feasible, on a proposed route from Wankie (present-day Hwange) in Zimbabwe via Ghanzi in Botswana to Gobabis. It was further established that the freight yield originating from Bechuanaland was negligible and the major yield was to be expected from Southern Rhodesia. The Rhodesian railway authorities decided, however, to give preference to an export railway line to the port of Beira in Portuguese Mozambique, although the administration of the "Beira & Mashonaland & Rhodesia Railways", on recommendation of the Rhodesia-initiated "Sinoia-Kafue and Beitbridge Railways Enquiry Commission" recommended to go ahead with a detailed technical and economical feasibility study for the two alternative transit routes (to Walvis Bay resp. to Beira) [26].

The result of all these efforts as well as a lengthy correspondence between the Rhodesian Minister for Mining and Public Works who was responsible for transport, J.W. Downie, and the Imperial Secretary, under consideration of the exclusive rights of the "British South Africa Co.", was the decision to lodge a feasibility survey for such a link [27]:

"My Ministers desire me to say that the construction of a railway through the Bechuanaland Protectorate to connect Southern Rhodesia directly with a port on the west coast would be, when it is justified by the traffic available, of the very greatest importance to and will greatly assist in the development of the Colony ... . At the same time my Ministers consider that such a line would enormously assist in opening up and in the development of the northern portion of the Bechuanaland ...". The British High Commissioner at Cape Town supported this request to the Secretary of State [28] who even granted funds for the completion of such a survey [29].

Public opinion in Namibia and Zimbabwe kept the fire burning for the realisation of the Trans-Kalahari-Link, especially due to the fact that the branch railway line Windhoek-Gobabis was nearly completed. The Administrator for "South West Africa", A.J. Werth, stated at the end of 1930 [30]: "This line can only be looked on as an instalment - a step forward to the dream of all South West Africa for a line across the rich prairie lands of Bechuanaland to Rhodesia, welding the three countries into an economic partnership. The line must go to Rhodesia".

In September 1930 a conference was convened in Pretoria to establish the "Terms of Reference" for the execution of the feasibility survey. It was determined [31] "that the route to be examined should start from a point between Matetsi and Dett running to South West Africa via a point on the Botletle River near Letter Tree thence through Ghanzi or a point south of Ghanzi to Gobabis". This conference was attended by delegates from Southern Rhodesia, South West Africa and the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Remarkably was the absence of the South Africans resulting in the fact that the British Government instructed the British High Commissioner in Pretoria in a secret telegram to ensure [32] "that the Administration of South West Africa promised their contribution to the proposed survey with knowledge and consent of the (South African) Union Government". The public opinion in Namibia had also repeatedly criticised the indifferent attitude of the Union of South Africa towards the interests of the mandatory territory of "South West Africa", particularly as far as the Namibian railways were concerned. This was a direct breach of the "sacred trust of civilisation", according to Article 22, part 1, of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Peace Treaty of Versailles, in which the Union of South Africa was entrusted with several duties and responsibilities, including to "promote to the utmost the material and moral well-being and the social progress of the inhabitants of the territory" (South West Africa) [33].

The reasons for South Africa's resistance against such a transport link were clear and are still basically the same until the present point of time, namely not to divert traffic from the existing South African railway system and to loose economical and political control over the neighbouring countries (noose or lifeline). Considering the fears of the South Africans for such a new railway competition with an alternative transit harbour for Southern Rhodesia at the Namibian Atlantic coast (Walvis Bay) the Pretoria conference concluded [34]:"that the traffic to be diverted from other routes should not form a prominent feature of the survey. In other words, the diversion of traffic from Port Elisabeth or East London to Walfish Bay would not be put forward by the South-West-African Government as a reason supporting the line, and similarly the diversion of copper traffic from the present route via Beira would not be put forward in support of the building of the line by the Southern Rhodesian Government".

The survey was finally entrusted to the prominent South African civil engineer, J.L.S. Jeffares [35]. Jeffares investigated the feasibility of the construction and operation of the Trans-Kalahari-Railway at the beginning of 1931. In 1932 Jeffares came to the conclusion that [36] "generally speaking the country is very easy for railway construction". Jeffares suggested that the total length of the envisaged railway line would be 956 km, 788 km on the territory of Bechuanaland, 113 km on South-West-African and 55 km on Southern Rhodesian soils. Jeffares also investigated the question of European settlement on the newly opened areas: "I understand that the reason for keeping the railway within the Crown Land areas as much as possible is with a view to opening them up for European settlement ... The railway would have a considerable bearing on the question of European land settlement, and the latter on future traffic. If there is no railway, there can be no question of opening up this country for European settlement".

But Jeffares came to the conclusion that the yield of traffic generated on the new line would be quite speculative. This insecure character of the economic feasibility of the railway was aggravated by the fact that the Rhodesian main production centres were concentrated along the railway axis Gwelo (Gwero)-Salisbury (Harare)-Umtali (Umtare) with a shorter distance to the east coast than to the west coast. A diversion of traffic from the Beira railway to the West-Coast-Railway should result in lower freight rates on the latter one. But, Jeffares came also to the conclusion that [37] "in times of national emergency, their present outlet (to Beira or South African ports) through foreign territories may not be available, and their vital existence would or could be strangled". This scenario was, with different symptoms under South Africa's deliberate policy of destabilisation and "noose-lifeline transport strategies" against her neighbours, especially Namibia, still valid until very recently.

In June 1932 Jeffares again emphasised the importance of the line but simultaneously expressed his doubts about the short-term realisation of the project [38]. Caused by the world economic depression in the early 1930s the urgency of the Trans-Kalahari-Scheme shifted to other priorities. The Rhodesian and South African railway administrations recommended to investigate long-term solutions for alternative routes further in the north with a connection to the Namibian railway system at Grootfontein [39].

This manoeuvre must be regarded as renewed attempts by the South Africans to delay the, for them, unpopular Trans-Kalahari-Transport-Link. In the meantime some interested citizens of Namibia formed a new initiative to promote this link at the end of 1932 and in 1933. The then South-West African delegate to the Pretoria Conference 1930, J.A. Venning, tried to persuade the British sponsored "Commission of Inquiry for the Economic and Financial Position of Bechuanaland" to support the project [40]. This commission was steered by Sir A.W. Pim who commented on the Trans-Kalahari Scheme after he had done an in-situ investigation of the scheme as follows [41]:

"There can be no doubt as to the value which such a railway would have for the Protectorate, provided that the anticipations are realized of finding adequate supplies of potable water along the route. The construction would at once make it possible to consider the development of a thirty to fifty mile strip along either side of the proposed route, probably ... in the direction of a large scale ranching, ... . These possibilities do not represent any large amount of new traffic from the railway point of view.

Unless, therefore, new mineral discoveries are made on a large scale it appears to be certain that the line could only be run at a heavy loss for many years ... . Apart from the obvious objections to creating new vested interests on a large scale, the uncertainty of the prospects of the cattle industry at the present time makes it very improbable that private investors would come forward to the necessary extent. I fear therefore that a railway must be ruled out as impossible, at any rate for many years to come, unless the whole position is changed by important mineral discoveries."

The common colonial interests of the Union of South Africa and Great Britain shelved thus the efforts of both, Botswana and Namibia, to realise such a project. New initiatives in this regard were blocked for many years until the end of the Second World War. Other projects like a railway alignment along the Namibian-Angolan border in direction to the Kunene River mouth or the Tiger Bay in Angola also didn't proceed very far [42].

The end of the Second World War resulted in the "wind of change" in many colonialised countries in Africa. New development efforts of the different colonialising powers brought new transport links on the map again. New strategies were also geared to develop Botswana. A new irrigation project in the Mababe Pan, north-east of Moremi in Botswana, resulted in new ideas to connect this area with the outside world. But is was still regarded unrealistic to go ahead with the full-scale Trans-Kalahari concept and rather open Mababe via a narrow gauge branch railway line to Matetsi Station in Southern Rhodesia and it was mentioned [43]:

"Thus there should be no need to adhere to the prevalent idea that large-scale development in the Mababe is contingent upon the construction of the Southern Rhodesia - Walvis Bay railway. Should the Walvis Bay line materialise it could incorporate the above mentioned branch line".

On the brink of the decolonisation era after the Second World War politicians in pre-independent Botswana revived the idea of the Trans-Kalahari-Link as outlined in earlier sections of this study [44].

It was inter alia stated that "It is neither in the interest of the Union Government (of South Africa) nor of the Government of Southern Rhodesia to assist in the development of our Territory, in fact, the policy of the Union has been, and is, the negation thereof. If therefore the Government (of Great Britain) has in view that this Protectorate should stand on its own feet and be politically independent of the Union, the securing of an open route would be a most essential and tangible form of achieving this purpose. The natural route from the Territory lies through South West Africa to the Atlantic... ". Specifically the Botswana politicians referred to the fact that new explored mineral deposits like iron and coal would necessitate such transport links. This policy was much later followed up by a statement of the first post-independent President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, in 1979 [45]:

"Nevertheless, there is need for more transport and communications facilities in my area. A Trans-Kgalagadi railway line and a road from Francistown in the north of Botswana to Angola and Namibia would encourage trade and communications among the three countries, as well as enabling us to have access to the seaports of Namibia".

But, it took many more years before the Botswana chiefs' and Sir Seretse Khama's visions started to move into a more feasible direction. During the late forties the economic interests of mainly Great Britain and the Union of South Africa were not very much geared for such a concept. Ironically, it was the Portuguese colonial power in the colonies Angola and Mozambique which took the initiative to start a new effort for concerted transportation strategies in the whole southern African subcontinent. It was realised that economic progress without effective transport links was not possible and [46] "that a sound and coordinated development of port and transport facilities in Central Africa is basic to such a development". This was of importance for the states of South- and North Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia) as well as Botswana which on these lines found a way out of the dilemma of the Anglo-South African "noose and lifeline" transport situation. These three land-locked southern African countries saw now a renewed chance to find alternative external transit routes through the Portuguese colonies and outside South Africa. They also pleaded to re-investigate the old idea of the Trans-Kalahari-West-Coast-Link to Walvis Bay or alternatively to Tiger Bay in Angola [47].

In contrast to this the Union of South Africa tried everything possible to shelve these plans and rather connect the Rhodesian railways to the Transvaal system of the South African railways by means of a connection between Beitbridge and West Nicholson [48]. Consequently the whole point of gravity in the Rhodesian transport scene shifted more to the south-eastern-African coast and to the Umtali-Beira railway line. This was a "worst case transport scenario" for South Africa. To keep at least a foot in the Rhodesian door, suddenly the idea of a "South-Africa-controlled" West Coast scheme was promoted again. During the "Central and Southern Africa Transport Conference" in October/November 1950 in Johannesburg it was realised [49]:

"It seems important, therefore, in the interests of South West Africa, to approach the Walvis Bay - Rhodesia railway project from the entirely different and more realistic standpoint of whether local development in Bechuanaland and South West Africa will in due time bring about the construction of the connecting line stage by stage, quite independently of Rhodesian traffic, and to consider what route is likely to promote such local development to the best advantage". In consequence of this the South African delegates proposed a railway line from Matetsi in Zimbabwe via Muhembo to Grootfontein [50]. But, South-Rhodesia was not interested in such South-Africa controlled link. This, again, was the provisional end of the Trans-Kalahari-Railway-Line, especially now that the 1953 founded Federation of Rhodesia and Nyassaland had realised a new railway line from Bulawayo to Lourenco Marques (Maputo) in 1955.

In Botswana, however, the lobbying for the "Trans-Kalahari" continued, reinforced through the economic interests of the British controlled "South West Africa Co". A railroad from Matetsi in Zimbabwe along the Namibian Caprivi Strip to Grootfontein was envisaged [51], "that approach be made to the Union and Federal Governments with a view to reviving discussions on the possibilities of an East-West rail link". It was the South African "Anglo-American Corporation" at the collieries at Wankie in Zimbabwe which questioned again the "economic" feasibility of such a scheme. It was clear that without the transport yield of mining products from Zimbabwe the [52] "construction of railroads to serve purely agricultural or pastoral areas is not a paying proposition and cannot be economically justified". The political developments in the southern African subcontinent resulted in narrow economic and transport links between the Rhodesian authorities and the Portuguese colonial power in Mozambique and Angola. It was even considered to extend the Angolan Mossamedes-Serpo Pinto railway line to the east with a connection to the Lusaka-Livingstone line at Natebe in 1957 [53].

Even an British Economic Survey Commission [54] could not recommend the line. In the year of Botswana's independence (1966) it was bluntly stated [55]: "The 'projected railway' ... is no more than a chimera". The realisation of the "Trans-Kalahari" dream, although since the 1880s promoted by many different parties and countries and originally envisaged and visualised by the imperialistic powers of the last century and later Cecil Rhodes was in many cases frustrated by the fact that between the transport interests of Namibia, Botswana and to a lesser extend Zimbabwe and Zambia and those of South Africa always a "clash of interests" existed [56].




As from the late 1970s Namibia's difficult road to independence revived the discussion around the Trans-Kalahari-project. As it was mentioned earlier it was the first post-independent President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama who wanted to increase Botswana's independence vis-à-vis South Africa by means of alternative transport routes. The basis for Khama's programmatic statements [57] were some efforts of the "Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (C.F.T.C.)" which lobbied the "west coast railway project" on highest government levels without even informing the Botswana "Ministry of Works and Communications" [58]. A "Pre-Feasibility Study" with a rather low budget of US $ 200.000,00 was envisaged and put the question forward how serious the implementors of the project were and whether a "Comprehensive Feasibility Study" taking into account all technical and economic arguments would be possible with this budget.

Jeske [59] reported that different routes for the proposed Trans-Kalahari-Link would have different impacts on the development potentials for different regions in Botswana. A more northern route would more or less follow Jeffares' alignment of 1932 and would connect Zimbabwe's Hwange coal deposits at Matetsi with the railway line which would then follow a south-western direction via Maun and Ghanzi in Botswana to Gobabis to join the Namibian railway system. The disadvantage of this line would be that no connection with the Botswana railways would be possible. On the other side this line would create the shortest transport link between Zimbabwe and Zambia with the Atlantic coast and could be a genuine alternative to the shorter lines to the Indian Ocean (Beira and Maputo lines and "Tan-Zam Railway Line" to Daressalam). The central alignment would branch from the major north-south railway line in Botswana at Francistown and would follow a line via Orapa/Letlhakane, Rakops to Ghanzi and further join the northern route. This line would be of greater importance for the economic development of Botswana.

In case that the emergency situations on the four export railway lines for Zimbabwe, Zambia and southern Zaire would be solved, it could be argued that the four export railway lines, viz. the Tan-Zam Line, the Beira and Maputo lines as well as the Benguela Line to the Angolan Atlantic coast, could handle the transport volume of above three land-locked southern African states. But, it could also be argued that even under this scenario a new effective modern rail link to Walvis Bay, Africa's most effective harbour, at the Namibian Atlantic coast would be of great interest for these countries and would be economically feasible. But, it cannot be negated that the major transport yield should be generated in Botswana and Namibia themselves to make the Trans-Kalahari-Link an economic proposition. The huge agricultural potential of North-Western Botswana in the area of the Okavango Delta can, under the consideration of ecological arguments to protect the universal importance of this region, only be used by more effective transport links which should be incorporated into the West Coast Scheme. The "International Development Association, Eastern Africa Regional Office", argued rightly that [60]:

"Given the resources of the Okavango Corridor, a simple integrated strategy can be postulated ... Such a strategy would rely heavily on the financial strength and infrastructure requirements of the minerals sector to provide an economic climate ... Specifically, if minerals activities of sufficient magnitude could be found which are capable of supporting ... the construction of heavy transport infrastructure, then the likelihood of arable agriculture and livestock growth is increased".

Such an incentive could be the high quality coal fields of the geological Ecca and Beaufort Series of the Karoo System in Botswana and Namibia (Mmababula and Morupule in Botswana and Aranos in Namibia) which deposits have higher capacities than those of the South-African and Zimbabwean coal fields combined. These promising deposits can only be exploited if economic transport links would exist. For instance, the distances of the Morupule coal fields to the existing deep water harbours in southern Africa which would be capable to handle mass goods like coal (Beira, Maputo, Richards Bay) would be in any case more than 1.300 km which due to the excessive high transport costs prohibits such a scheme. "It is therefore believed that overland transportation costs are the major barrier to large scale coal development, and the solution must await much higher coal prices or a substantial reduction in the costs and capacity for overland movement of coal [61]."

The "Shell Coal Botswana (Pty) Ltd." keeps since the end 1970s licenses for coal, oil shale as well as radio-active minerals for the areas Letlhakeng, north-west of Mochudi and the border area between Botswana and Namibia south of Mamuno. Promising coal and oil deposits have been found [62]. Coal exports between 5 and 10 millions t per years were deemed feasible by "Shell Coal Botswana" [63] but "Existing rail and port facilities do not have the capacity required, so that Botswana coal exports are dependent on additional rail facilities to reach the coast ... We consider that the known constraints imposed by existing rail and harbour facilities are such that the provision of a new rail link via Namibia appears to offer the best opportunity for the development of a major coal export activity from Botswana" [64].

The Namibian Aranos coal should be an additional incentive for the West Coast Link. The results of the feasibilities studies of the Botswana appointed British firms are not published but the broad findings are known [65].

One of the great principles of future transport policy in independent Namibia will be that transport means cannot only be judged under the premise of economic but also social and even strategical-political arguments. Before further examination of some aspects of the link, it is appropriate to look briefly at Namibia's potential as a transit country, exporting transport services to Botswana and Zimbabwe and, most important, also Zambia. The "Southern African Development Community"-region has at present six land-locked and four coastal states. Namibia is since independence the fourth and the second one with an Atlantic coast.

For Botswana, which has no access to the sea except via South Africa, such a route could be particularly valuable. The main markets for Botswana's export are not South Africa. Its imports dependence is enforced not simply by her South African Customs Union membership - which could be easily ended (under certain conditions with fiscal gains), but by the clear implausibility of importing basically new South African goods through South African administrative controls and on South African transport routes. Furthermore the Trans-Kalahari railway could help tie together the Botswana national territory and economy and make possible the export of its huge coal deposits. For Zimbabwe the attraction would be a short access to an Atlantic port, especially for the potential Hwange coal exports.

However, to achieve these results a heavy duty railway line from the east across the Kalahari to the Namibia/Botswana border and on to Namibia's Atlantic coast would be essential. This line should follow a "compromise" line between the northern and the central alternatives, as sketched before, in order to optimise the advantages and disadvantages between the two lines. A possible line could branch from the main line Bulawayo - Gaborone at the Kgaswe coal fields near Serowe and could follow a short direct line south of the line Francistown-Letlhakane-Orapa-Ghanzi in direction Mamuno and Gobabis (suggested line: Palapye-Serowe (the first 20 km from Palapye in direction Serowe are already built)-Okwa Junction (south of Ghanzi)-Mamuno-Gobabis). This would furthermore require the re-construction, upgrading and re-alignment of the line from Gobabis to the Atlantic coast to the "Point of Gravity of Namibian Economy" (Walvis Bay), plus a bulk loading terminal facility in Walvis Bay. This line would obviously be the most direct and inexpensive one. This re-construction of the Namibian section of the link will be necessitated to allow heavy mineral trains on a heavy duty railway line with reduced gradients and curves with larger radii. Namibia could gain a lot by participating in such an exercise with Botswana. There are several economic arguments in favour of such a link, quite apart from the political-economic ones of reducing dependence on South Africa and boosting up regional self-reliance and co-operation.

A rebuilt and realigned main line to the coast is important in reducing dependence on the Nakop railway line to South Africa. A bulk loading facility at Walvis Bay is one of the major priorities for post-independent Namibia. Then, to make Aranos coal mining viable, and thus meet Namibian needs domestically [66], would be far more practicable if 1 to 2 millions t a year could be mined for export. The proposed Trans-Kalahari Line - about 150 km from Aranos - should be connected by a branch line to the promising coal fields of Aranos. Furthermore, transit traffic normally generates some domestic value added and employment possibilities. Finally, an appropriate transport route to Botswana and thence Zimbabwe would considerably increase the economic attractiveness of two directional trade between Namibia and the two land-locked states (and perhaps with Zambia as well). As both are small in economic and population terms, Botswana and Namibia might be able to co-ordinate various industrial development schemes.

In 1984 the Botswana Government accepted in principle such a 1.420 km long railway line. According to the main project consultants, Henderson Travers Morgan (HTM) of the UK, the line would cost US $ 910 million, including rolling stock and port development in Namibia. The project's capacity would be 12,5 millions t a year based on 21 trains being in circuit at any given time. The round trip would take 84 hours. Diesel traction has been recommended. "HTM" investigated four alternative lines through Botswana and Namibia and recommended above "modified central" solution. An added motive for the project would be the potentialities of the proposed US$ 250 million soda ash plant in the Makgadigadi's Sowa Pan north of the suggested line and copper-nickel from Selebi-Pikhwe east of it. Brian Green, "HTM's" Kalahari railway project director, said 6.000 people would be employed on construction of the scheme and 2.000 when the system would become operational [67].

This scheme would not only be in the interests of Namibia but also in this of Botswana, with some remarkable provisos. The Botswana "National Development Plan" 1976-1981 stipulated inter alia [68]:

"It is believed that such a development involving the shipment of coal to Europe (possibly through Walvis Bay) and the possible subsequent development of a synthetic crude oil industry, would have to be on a massive scale in order to justify the infrastructure involved ... There would of course be a substantial increase in average living standards. The coal industry would stimulate rapid developments ... On the other hand, benefits would be very unevenly distributed; the contrast between the modern, highly paid sector and the rural majority would become even more marked. ... It is therefore not a viable strategy to count on mineral development to produce the resources that are required to meet national objectives during the 1980s."

Another reason was that in the beginning of the 1980s the independence of Namibia was a remote possibility and Botswana had no interest to create another South African controlled transport link. Therefore Botswana effectively shelved the coal project and the Trans-Kalahari Transport Link at this time. It was therefore not included in the 1986-1991 Botswana Five Year Plan . Thus, it can be concluded that the Trans-Kalahari Link and a major transit traffic role for Namibia fall under long term transport strategies which could only be realised by the independent Namibian Government in co-operation with the Government of Botswana. How far global strategical interests could have played a role at this time (before 1989, when the decline of the "East Bloc" was not on the cards as yet) in order to promote such a link is still open to speculation [69].

But, it can also be concluded that in the more of one hundred years of history of the "Trans-Kalahari-Railway" it was in many cases South Africa which shelved plans of realising the project because this scheme was never in accordance with South African transport interests. It became also clear that such link could only be economically justifiable in case of generating sufficient transport demands by the development of new coal/oil mining activities in Western Botswana and Eastern Namibia.




With Namibia's independence on 21 March 1990 and the forthcoming re-integration of the Port of Walvis Bay into Namibia on 28 February 1994 the prospects for the Trans-Kalahari-Railway are taking a new turn. Any new perspectives based on economic feasibilities for such a railway line are only dictated by the interests of the republics of Botswana and Namibia. No outside power can interfere any more.

The key issue is still the potential coal deposits in western Botswana and eastern Namibia which would create the economic basis for the Trans-Kalahari-Railway. Before Namibia 's independence it was calculated [70] that such a railway link would be economically feasible for a coal transport volume of 10 millions t per year and a coal price of US $ 150 per ton. But, the feasibility limits can be reached much earlier. Botswana and Namibia analysis has revealed that Henderson Travers Morgans’s calculations are too pessimistic [71]. Both countries have surplus rolling stock including sufficient and even surplus traction power and the construction costs of the rail infrastructure can be decreased by at least 50%, thus bringing the feasibility of the line to more realistic values. With construction costs of N$ 1.0 million per kilometre of new railway line (N$ 1,5 million per kilometre electrified railway line) the infrastructural costs will be US $ 300 million for the railway line excluding the rolling stock and port upgrading costs in Walvis Bay Port [72].

In 1996 terms the total costs for the Trans-Kalahari-Railway-Line, branching from the main railway line Bulawayo - Gaborone at the Kgaswe coal fields near Serowe following a short direct line south of the line Francistown-Letlhakane-Orapa-Ghanzi in direction Mamuno and Gobabis (suggested line: Palapye-Serowe (the first 20 km from Palapye in direction Serowe are already built)-Okwa Junction (south of Ghanzi)-Mamuno-Gobabis) (see attached maps at the end of the study) would be in the region of US $ 500 millions including the rolling stock, the upgradings and new construction works on the Namibian railway system and port improvements at Walvis Bay.

It seems that the international coal markets will be more promising in the end 1990s than they have been in the 1980s. Due to the fact that the high quality coal deposits of the geological Ecca and Beaufort Series of the Karoo System in Botswana and Namibia (Mmababula and Morupule in Botswana and Aranos in Namibia) which deposits have higher capacities than those of the South-African and Zimbabwean coal fields combined could become very interesting for coal fired power stations in regions were, for environmental reasons, low fume coals have to be burnt. This is especially a feasible option for regions like the USA west coast were for earthquake related reasons nuclear power stations are not very viable.

Therefore a fresh look into the economic feasibility of the Trans Kalahari Railway Line is warranted. This is so more justified considering the completion of the Trans-Kalahari-Highway by 1997/98 which turns Namibia's unfavourable long north-south transport main axis into a new more advantageous short east-west transport main axis from the Trans-Kalahari transport link to Walvis Bay. Only then the Namibian railways can fulfil their historical role to become Namibia's "Link to Africa".

Mobilising finance and carrying out engineering designs would probably take three years and building about five years. That suggests 1996/97 as the critical period for funding and restudy as well as detail design for 1998/1998 and 2000 as commencing date of construction and 2005 a possible inauguration date. Thus, as strategically important the Trans-Kalahari Transport Link will become in the long term for the Namibian transport sector, it cannot be counted upon at a finite date and cannot be viewed as relevant to transport options for the first ten years after the Namibian independence.

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