The Zambezi River
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In depth synopsis
TOUR & SAFARI Co's
of the building
The dam was an initiative
of the Federation existing at the time between British ruled Northern
and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi).
To dam the great Zambezi floodplain was in many ways a hopeful leap into
the future. Vast areas of forest and scrub would be inundated. Literally
thousands of wild animals would lose their habitats and, more
importantly, the local villages would have to be relocated. Analysis of
the economic advantages convinced the authorities that the ultimate
benefit to the people would outweigh the loss of wildlife and
disturbance to people's lives.
The vegetation was strip
cleared and burnt, making the lake rich in chemicals from the fired wood
and the considerable number of remaining trees provided an essential
habitat for many creatures that found their way into the lake.
Building the dam wall began
in the late 1950s. Well over a million cubic metres of concrete was
poured into the 36.6 metre high wall with a thickness of over twenty
four metres to sustain the pressure of nearly ten million litres of
water passing through the spillway each second. At the end of 1958, the
sluice gates were closed and in 1963 the maximum level was reached.
The Zambezi River rises in
north western Zambia and its catchment area covers 1 352 000 square
kilometers and eight countries, namely Angola, Botswana, Malawi,
Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It enters the Indian
Ocean in Mozambique at Quelimane.
It flows for some 2 650
kilometers from its source to the Indian Ocean. It is the fourth largest
river in Africa flowing into the Indian Ocean.
Kariba Dam is located
approximately halfway down the Zambezi River.
The Electricity Supply
Commission instigated an investigation for possible hydroelectric
schemes to be situated at kariba and in 1941 funds were allocated. As a
result of this survey, a river gauging station was set up at chirundu as
well as at a campsite 25 kilometers downstream from the present dam
Both Southern Rhodesia
(Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were in contention as it was
thought that the Kafue River Gorge site in Northern Rhodesia was
preferable to kariba. The matter was solved in 1951 by a board of
experts known as “the Panel” who all agreed that the dam be built on the
Zambezi River, at the Kariba Gorge site.
In August 1955 , the then
Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Zambia, Zimbabwe and
Malawi) called for tenders for the construction of the wall and power
station was awarded to the Italian consortium Impresit on 16 July 1956
Kariba Dam was designed by
the French engineer and inventor Andre Coyne. A specialist in “arch
dams”, he personally designed over 55 dams, Kariba being one of them.
The name Kariba (Kariva - meaning trap)
refers to a rock which thrust out of the swirling water at the entrance to
the gorge close to the dam wall site, now buried more than a hundred feet
below the water surface. In many legends, this rock was regarded as the home
of the great River god Nyaminyami, who caused anyone who ventured near to be
sucked down for ever into the depths of the river.
When the valley people heard they were to be moved from their tribal lands
and the great Zambezi River blocked, they believed it would anger the river
god so much that he would cause the water to boil and destroy the white
man’s bridge with floods.
1957, a year into the building of the dam, the river rose to flood level,
pumping through the gorge with immense power, destroying some equipment and
the access roads. The odds against another flood occurring the following
year were about a thousand to one - but flood it did - three metres higher
than the previous year. This time destroying the access bridge, the coffer
dam and parts of the main wall. Nyaminyami had made good his threat. He had
recaptured the gorge. His waters passed over the wreckage of his enemies at
more than sixteen million litres a second, a flood which, it had been
calculated, would only happen once in ten thousand years. Although man
eventually won the battle when the dam was finally opened in 1960, there was
a whole new respect for the power of the river god.
The displaced tribe
Within the area lived over fifty thousand
people, mostly of the Batonga tribe, many of whom were vehemently against
moving. Although land was set aside for them further up the valley, they
were reluctant to leave their tribal lands and felt the move from the
riverside would displease Nyaminyami. When the floods came and did in fact
destroy parts of the bridge, this only served to confirm their fears. It
took many months of reasoning and coaxing to convince the people that the
bridge would provide power - a luxury they had no knowledge of - for the
whole country. Eventually,however, when the trucks moved in to relocate
them, they conceded, having little choice. Ceremonies were held to honour
their gods and the journey to new lands began. Schools and clinics were
built in some of the new areas and wells installed for their arrival. Some
new villages that were relocated close to the water’s edge have prospered
with the new fishing opportunities on the lake. But many mourn the loss of
the rich alluvial river soil and battle to produce crops in the higher
sandier areas. For the most part, the move was a severe disruption of their
way of life and compensation minimal.
of this the Zambia Electricity Supply Company (Zesco) has established the
Gwembe-Tonga project which aims to address some of the environmental and
social issues which came about following the construction of the dam.
Road Rehabilitation, the provision of a clean
water supply, electrification, construction of schools, improving
agricultural production, provision of technical assistance and health
improvement are the core issues that the project will grapple with.
And in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the
past the local communities are being involved in all stages of the project.
The project implementation strategy will be based on a cost-sharing basis
with the beneficiary and other resources while the community will be
expected to provide manual labour and some raw materials.
Funding for the project which will cost about
US$12,642,000, has been sourced from World Bank and Development Bank of
Southern Africa (DBSA). The beneficiary community is expected to contribute
25% of the project cost. And government will contribute to the funding
through the Rural Electrification Fund.
the dam began to fill, it became evident that thousands of animals were
being stranded on islands. Appeals were made and money raised to buy boats
and equipment for their rescue and relocation.
This project became known as Operation Noah. It was a mammoth task and beset
by numerous hazards. Submerged trees and stumps threatened the hulls of the
boats and on the islands there were huge concentrations of snakes including
the deadly black mamba. Even so, many were successfully rescued.
story tells of a game ranger who climbed a tree in a swimming costume and
gloves to catch a mamba with a noosed stick. Another tells of the rescue of
a black rhino stranded on a small island. The animal was pursued for several
hours until eventually it was driven past a marksman with a crossbow loaded
with a muscle relaxing dart.
Suitably sedated, the rhino was rolled on to a sledge, dragged ashore and
loaded onto a raft buoyed up by eighteen petrol drums. Raft, rhino and all
were then towed to the mainland some twelve miles away. An astonishing
forty-four rhinos were rescued in this way. In all some 7000 animals were
saved during Operation Noah.
there were many utterly tragic stories too. Scenes of stranded monkeys
perching on treetops, unable to swim to shore, starving, every bit of
greenery on the tree long eaten, their skins rotting in the water and too
afraid of humans to allow themselves to be rescued. Countless smaller
animals, reptiles and insects simply drowned.
It was a reflection of the dominance of colonial rule in Salisbury, Southern
Rhodesia, that most of the rescued animals were relocated to the Zimbabwean
side and most of the people, to the Zambian side.
Pictures courtesy of
Operation Noah volunteer
Full article on the
Great North Road.