Kariba dam people still neglected-Chief Chipepo

Chiefs along the Kariba dam in southern province have continued complaining that they are not the benefiting from the dam.

The chiefs, whose people were displaced to pave way for the construction of the dam by the colonial government, say they don’t even have electricity  in their area.

Chief Chipepo, speaking on behalf of other chiefs, says his people were never compensated and have been neglected by successive government starting with the colonial masters.

Chief Chipepo says that his people are not asking for monetary compensation from government but but just want some semblance of development in the area.

He said the people are asking for electricity, hospitals and schools which things are currently unavailable.

According to International Rivers organisation, the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River is one of Africa’s largest dams, and one with a particularly sorry legacy for those forced to make way for it. Just miles from the huge reservoir in the Zambezi Valley live several tribes who are among the poorest, most remote and least developed in the country. Their predicament is largely attributed to their forced removal from their riverside communities in the late 1950s for the construction of Kariba. For almost 50 years, they have lived in isolation and with few significant development initiatives.

At least 57,000 Tonga people living along both sides of the river were moved for the dam. These people were not compensated for their removal and have never directly benefited from the project. Their lives have been dramatically changed by the harsh environment of the resettlement areas. Their new places are marred by low and erratic rainfall, poor rocky and sandy soils and tsetse fly infestations.

Kariba’s resettlement process has been called a “poorly conceived and trauma–ridden crash program” by experts familiar with the case. A report on Kariba by the World Commission on Dams (WCD) notes, “It was reported that the people to be resettled ‘were treated like animals or things rounded up and packed in lorries’ to be moved to their new destination … The racist attitude of the time did not consider the resettlement of Africans as a problem.” The dam’s poor record of resettlement left a huge black mark on the project, which has never been adequately addressed by the parties responsible for building the dam. The colonial and post independence governments and the major funders and beneficiaries of the dam continue to neglect the relocated people on the Zimbabwean side of the reservoir.

Scores of people who experienced the inhuman displacement are still alive today and still narrate the story. Between 1957–1962 the entire population that lived along the Zambezi River was resettled onto the rocky and infertile plateaus on either side of the Zambezi River to make way for the Kariba Dam and its reservoir. About 23,000 people on Zimbabwean side and 34,000 on Zambian side were relocated by the Kariba Dam. These figures could be a major underestimate, as they were derived from a census five years before the flooding. Some have suggested the figure of displaced persons could be more than 100,000.

As with many other large dam projects, more attention was given to the technical feasibility and national economic gains than to the well–being of displaced people. Families were separated. Homes, livelihoods, and traditions were lost to the reservoir. According to the WCD Report, about 57% of the land swallowed by the reservoir was arable land, previously owned by the Tonga people.

In Zimbabwe, dam–displaced people were moved into areas where crop production was very difficult due to low rainfall, poor soils and destruction by wild animals. At the time of the move, the then government promised that they would provide water and other social services. To date, little has been done to address these issues.

Today, the traumatic experiences of their forced relocation still grips the communities and the sad story of their inhuman relocation has been passed from one generation to the other. However, this does not imply that absolutely nothing has been done for the people in the Zambezi Valley. The post independence government, through the local authorities and other government departments in the districts, has made some developmental inroads in these areas. However, these fall far short of mitigating against the dam–induced problems, that the communities still face.

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