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The River God and the Safaris of Lake Kariba
August 01, 2006
August 1, 2006 Issue #0017


Written by Enestle Zimba,
Founding Editor
Africa’s Best Kept Secret Ezine
(c) copyright 2006 Zambia African


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================== TABLE OF CONTENTS ===================

o Africa’s Best Kept Secret
o Just My Thoughts
o Resource Centre
o Free Trials


o Why is Zambia Africa’s Best Kept Secret?

... Because of Lake Kariba, one of the largest man-made
inland seas...

The name “Kariba” originates from a rocky gorge that the
churning water of the Zambezi River exposed. This gorge
is now 30 metres below the surface of the lake. Legend
has it that Nyaminyami, the river god lived there. The
deity drowned anyone who threatened the peace of the valley.

The Tonga people who lived in the Zambezi Valley felt
protected by their ancestral spirit, Nyaminyami. He
safeguarded all those who dwelt and visited the ancient
valley. And in time of famine the river god is said to
have provided food.

Although never seen the river god is described as having
the body of a serpent and the head of a fish. Nyaminyami
is said to be extremely large with extensive mystical
powers. He can control the water of the mighty river
and the lives of the people who live besides the Zambezi.

For this the Tonga people gave him allegiance and
performed ceremonial dances in his honour. For many
years Nyaminyami and his wife lived peacefully. The
Tonga people who occupied both sides of the Zambezi
River between the Devil’s Gorge up stream and the Kariba
Gorge down stream also lived peacefully for centuries until...!

Cheap hydro-electricity for the expanding industries
and for domestic use across Central Africa was conceived.
It meant constructing a dam, a wall across the Zambezi.
This was a great test of civil engineering. Its effect
was to cover a vast area of the valley floor. Both humans
and wildlife were to be affected greatly. Nyaminyami the
river god was not amused.

Building the Kariba Dam

The construction started in earnest in 1955. Over one
million cubic metres of concrete were to be poured into
the 36 metre high wall. The wall was designed to be 26
metres thick and to hold a pressure from nearly ten
million litres of water passing through the sluice gates
every second! Imagine the magnitude of the civil works?

In 1957 a torrential rain brought forth water that rose
7 metres high. Millions of cubic metres of water surged
downstream of the gorge. It destroyed the dam’s
foundations, equipment and access roads. And unfortunately
it took the lives of 18 construction workers. In 1958
another flood occurred. It was even higher than the
previous year. It destroyed access bridges, the cofferdam
and parts of the main wall.

Nyaminyami the river god had created havoc...

The developers persevered. In 1959 the last skip of
concrete was poured onto a 128m high, 600m long and
26m thick dam that would hold back the might waters
of the Zambezi for 280 kilometre! Then the sluice gates
were closed.

By 1963 the current dimension of the lake was achieved.
A lake measuring 280 kilometres up stream through the
Kariba Gorge, now 30 metres below, and 40 kilometres
at its widest point was formed. Then Lake Kariba was
the largest man-made lake in the world. It’s still one
of the largest lakes today. The lakes primary function
was to generate hydro-electricity. However, other
important uses, perhaps not originally envisaged have
stolen the show...

Tourism has become a successful industry on the lake
and on its shores. Siavonga, a safari town on the
lakeshores is an example of what the breadth of the
lake is about. Numerous facilities such as game parks,
lodges and water spot enterprises dot the lakeshore.
At Sinazongwe you can embark on a houseboat to sail
for a few days or alternatively visit one of the
largest crocodile farms in the world.

Every year in October there is an international
Tiger Fishing Tournament at Lake Kariba that attracts
international competitors. A sardine-like fish, the
Kapenta from Lake Tanganyika was introduced in the
lake and this has boosted a fishing industry. So
angling and fishing are booming activities on the lake.

Operation Noah

As the dam closed the water level rose. Swarms of crickets,
rodents and snakes emerged from the undergrowth. They
tried to escape the rising water. But the skies above the
lake were darkened, filled with flocks of birds. It was
the birds’ field day. The birds had come to feast on the
exposed harvest. All small creatures were wiped out. It
was an environmental catastrophe!

It was not just the small and crawling creatures that
were affected. Many animals, including the larger
carnivores retreated inland. Others, however, instinctively
made for higher ground to wait out another seasonal flood,
so they thought. They assumed wrongly. The animals were
trapped on temporary islands created by the rising water.
Conservationists were concerned. They formed a small army
of volunteers to rescue the animals.

They called the safari rescue “Operational Noah” ...but
that’s another story.

However, all is not peaceful in the valley and the Lake
Kariba area is subjected to occasional and unexpected
earth tremors. It also experiences unexpected storms
which sometimes threaten to become maelstroms.

Meteorologists and seismologist are ‘fresh out’ of ideas.
The exact cause of tremors remains uncertain. Locals
continue to maintain that this is the work of Nyaminyami,
their ancestral river god. And the latter view concurs
the African mindset. Give what you can’t explain to divinity...


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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~JUST MY THOUGHTS~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

During the period 1958 – 59 a 50,000 strong Batonga people
had to be relocated. That was not all. Many wild animals
were trapped on the fast shrinking temporary islands. Why?
Because the building of the Kariba Dam across the Zambezi
River had been completed.

As the water rose at a rate of a couple of metres (several
feet) a day, many animals were stranded on rapidly
shrinking islands. They were doomed to drown or so it looked.

Luckily they were rescued by a group of dedicated local
volunteers in the only Zambia safari rescue initiative
called Operation Noah. The operation caught the imagination
of the world with its stories of heroism. And because of
it Lake Kariba is to day a great safari destination. There
are parks on the banks, on the islands and on the
shoreline. These are among the most prolific and well-
stocked animal habitats in Africa.

It’s all thanks to the dedicated volunteer game wardens
who rescued entire colonies and herds of animals. A
monument in their honour was erected at the lake viewing
point in Kariba Heights. Across the lake on the Zimbabwean
side is Matusadona National Park. The park is next to
Fothergill Island named in honour of the project leader
Rupert Fothergill.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~RESOURCES CENTRE~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~FREE TRIALS~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Written by: Enestle Zimba
Africa’s Best Kept Secret Ezine
73 Eucalyptus Avenue,
Luanshya, Zambia
(c) copyright 2006 Zambia African

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