One of the top symbols of British colonialism was the construction of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi Valley. The arch shaped dam was the product of Italian engineering which was constructed at more than $135M at the time a feat of massive proportion. Today the Kariba dam is one of the crowning signs of failed leadership and infrastructure ruin in the former bread basket of Southern Africa.
Reports coming out from Zimbabwe show that there is growing concern over the possibility of the collapse of the Kariba Dam which was built in the 1950s. The dam wall is collapsing as a result of years of neglect and non-repair basically poor management that is the usual story of the Mugabe regime. The consequence of a dam wall collapse is 3.5 million losing their lives and the loss of hydroelectric power to 40% of the people in Southern Africa.
Zimbabwe has become a king of diamonds in the industrial diamond industry and yet cannot repair the wall of this dam that provides hydroelectric power to the country. Zimbabwe is currently experiencing ‘load shedding’ where power cuts are the norm and people live in urban areas without power for more than 12 hours a day. The more affluent families have resorted to solar energy and generators to provide their power needs.
Kariba Dam was built on the Zambezi River which is the second longest river in Africa. The Zambezi River flows from Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique before it flows into the Indian Ocean. It revolutionized the power industry in Southern Africa and ushered in cities of lights in the continent once dubbed the “dark continent”.
The dam was built to produce hydroelectric power for the colonial governments. It involved the resettlement of more than 50,000 Tonga people who were indigenous to the region. This was not done in an orderly way since this was a time when the colonial government did not concern itself a great deal with the living conditions of the Tonga. There were no Tonga people to document their story about the effects of this movement but there was no one to hear or willing to highlight their plight. In the mainstream media there was more concern for the animals that were living in the valley than the humans who occupied it.
THE TONGA PEOPLE
The Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe (also called ‘Batonga’) are a Bantu ethnic group of southern Zambia and neighbouring northern Zimbabwe, and to a lesser extent, in Mozambique. They are related to the Batoka who are part of the Tokaleya people in the same area, and also to the Tonga people of Malawi. The BaTonga people of Zimbabwe are found around the Binga District, the Kariba area, and other parts of Matabeleland. They number up to 300,000.
The Tonga People were settled along Lake Kariba after the construction of the Kariba Dam wall. They stretch from Chirundu, Kariba town, Mola, Binga to Victoria Falls. Like any other tribes in Zimbabwe, the educated ones relocated to larger urban areas in search of jobs and better education.
The Tonga language of Zambia is spoken by about 1.38 million people in Zambia and 137,000 in Zimbabwe; it is an important lingua franca in parts of those countries and is spoken by members of other ethnic groups as well as the Tonga.