Lake Kariba

The Zambezi River rises in north western Zambia and its catchment area covers 1,352,000 square kilometers in 8 countries. It flows for some 2,650 kilometers from its source to the Indian Ocean.

In August 1955 , the then Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland called for tenders for the construction of the wall and power station at Kariba. It was awarded to the Italian consortium 'Impresit' on 16 July 1956. Kariba Dam was designed by the French engineer and inventor Andre Coyne.

The construction of Lake Kariba in the late 1950's was a mammoth task. It took 7,000 people over four years, through extreme temperatures and floods, to tame the mighty Zambezi River. When finished the wall threw back a lake 280kms long, an artificial inland sea that covers 5,200 square kilometres (a quarter the size of Wales). At that time it was the biggest man-made lake in the world.
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.

In 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. A total of 86 men died in the construction of the dam wall, mostly Italian men from the construction company.

Nyaminyami had made good his threat. He had recaptured the gorge. 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.

Over 50,000 people, mainly members of the Tonga tribe, had to leave their traditional homes and move to new areas as the waters rose in the the Zambezi Valley. 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. 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.

Operation NOAH - As 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. It was a huge task and was 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.

One 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.

The lake now provides hydro-electric power to both Zimbabwe and Zambia as well as allowing for business within tourism, transport and fishing. It is now a very popular resort lake with an airport, harbour, lakeside hotels and lodges, huge houseboats, marinas, water-sports and fishing. It is also a commercial fishing centre with the crane-like capenta rigs illuminating the night-time waters of the lake.

At the same time, the dam attracts vast quantities of game, both big and small. Huge Nile crocodiles inhabit the lake as do many hippos and it is not uncommon to stumble into a herd of elephants on the lakeshore.


Blogger Harry said...

Interesting blog. Thanks for all of the information that we in the U.S. never get. I give you a lot of credit for staying after all that's been happening over the past few years.

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My late uncle Tom Philp was one of the wardens involved in 'Operation Noah',I remember seeing him in a film about it when I was a kid.

12:31 PM  

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