Zambia: History of hydropower: New projects after Kariba

Thu, 22 Dec 2016 10:49:01 +0000


By Ronald Lwamba

He said, “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” A few months later, after this solemn pronouncement, on 8th May 1960 police dispersed a UNIP rally in Ndola. In those days political meetings were referred to as rallies.he wind of change predicted by the British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, when he addressed the South African Parliament in Cape Town on 3rd February, 1960, gathered momentum turning into a tornado in Central Africa, notably in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

A rally is a mass meeting held as a protest or in support of a cause. 127 arrests were made in quelling the ensuing riot.

By sheer coincidence, Mrs Lillian Burton was driving her daughters home when she was forced to stop by allegedly a UNIP mob. The windows of her car were smashed and petrol splashed over her and ignited.

Her spaniel was burnt alive but Mrs Burton and her daughters, aged 12 and 5, escaped from the car only to be brutally assaulted. They were found by a “Kapenda Mabula” (literally a person that count leaves), a colloquial name for a Forest Ranger, who took them to a hospital where Mrs Burton died.

The presence of Forest Rangers was ubiquitous and went a long way in conserving the forests. By 28th May, fourteen suspects were arrested through identification parades at which the witnesses wore hoods. The suspects had fled to the Congo were they were arrested by the Katanga Police. Four men were charged with murder.

They were tried and found guilty of murder. The guilty verdict was suspect but the intention of the guilty verdict was to send a clear signal to Africans who went about killing white people. In July 1961 their appeals to the Federal Supreme Court were dismissed.

Their petitions to appeal to the Privy Council were rejected and they were hanged. They were condemned as murderers by the white settlers who called on the dismissal or resignation of Sir Evelyn Hone, the then Governor of Northern Rhodesia.

The ANC led by Harry Nkumbula condemned the tragedy as a major setback to the cause of African nationalism that severely soured race relations between Europeans and Africans.

UNIP led by KK, on the other hand, was unrepentant and civil disobedience heightened when it introduced “Cha Cha Cha” (named after a popular Congolese music of the time) at its conference held at Mulungushi in Kabwe (Broken Hill) in 1961 and everybody, settlers and Africans alike, chickens and dogs and all tamed animals including the Queen had to dance to its tune.

In the name or more appropriately the music of Cha Cha Cha there was widespread destruction of infrastructure in Northern and Luapula Provinces.

People went on popular sprees to destroy schools, block roads, damage infrastructure, burn identification cards (known as fitupa) and marriage certificates and frustrated law and order countrywide. Whether this led to an earlier attainment of Zambia’s Independence on 24th October, 1964 or not, I can only speculate.

On 2nd June, 2011, the then Honourable Daniel Mukombwe referred to this incident in Parliament and said, “Sir, in my twenty-three and half years in Parliament, I have never been sent out. I normally do not talk about people, but use strong language. Sir, a civilised society is one in which one argues reasonably and another stands up to argue to the contrary.

Sir, during the struggle, violence was a virtue because when Lillian Burton was burnt, the late Sipalo coined a saying that, “Anything white with two legs must be destroyed.”

(He said he was referring to a white chicken although everybody knew he was actually referring to a white person). However, one needs to be relevant. What are you talking about as a leader of a political party today? How attractive are you? I am saying this because you are merely concocting words and inflating rally pictures.”

Munukayumbwa Sipalo, an Indian trained graduate, was a UNIP firebrand and very militant and he obviously said it with tongue in cheek. He was a member of the first Zambian cabinet some say the only cabinet where people were appointed on merit and that is why perhaps it was dominated by people from Western Province who tended to be better educated and hence were more alive to the ills of colonialism and fought it with a passion. It is important to note that black on white violence was rare.

What was common was the violence between UNIP and ANC. These inter party fights continued well after independence, especially in Mufulira where I grew up, particularly the mine section of the town.

Section F was particularly notorious and was a no-go area for UNIP cadres. It was also known as Kolwezi named after a town in Katanga because of the friendship between Moise Tshombe and Harry Nkumbula of the ANC. It was taboo to drink any other drink apart from Lion Lager (whatever happened to the beer) because the lion was the ANC symbol.

These anti-UNIP feelings were transferred to Kapwepwe when he stood for elections in Mufulira West against UNIP. Despite his party being denied permits to hold rallies and his non participation in the election campaign Kapwepwe managed to win the Mufulira West seat in 1971. These inter party fights led to Zambia being declared a one party state in 1973.

The United Kingdom created the Central African Power Corporation (CAPCO) at the demise of the Federation to take over the functions, staff and assets of the Federal Power Board and a Higher Authority for Power to approve major policy decisions.

However, after UDI, Zambia refused to accept the legality of the Rhodesian representatives bringing decision making to a standstill until the UK, which legally was still the government of what had been Southern Rhodesia, appointed two members to represent south bank interests on the Higher Authority.

Because of these problems, the construction of the Kariba North Bank Power Station was delayed until the 1970s. In the meantime, the Government of Zambia (GRZ) proceeded with two other hydropower projects. One, generating 100 MW, was on the north bank of the Zambezi near Victoria Falls to augment the existing power station of 8 MW, which was constructed in 1938. The other was the 600 MW Kafue Project, Stage I, which was commissioned in 1971. Stage II was the construction of Itezhitezhi Dam in 1974 which was completed in 1977. In 1970 GRZ embarked on the construction of the 600 MW Kariba North Bank Station and formed the Kariba North Bank Company. CAPCO was the project authority. This time around as if to correct a wrong that was done earlier by appointing an Italian firm to build the dam and the power station on the south bank, a British company, Mitchell Construction was selected to build the north bank power station albeit the more plausible reason why it got the contract was that its bid was 80% cheaper than the second and third ranked contractors.

In 1971, I worked at the Transformer Compound during the construction of the Kariba North Bank Power Station together with the late Festus Sinzala (MHSRP), formerly Managing Director of Tazama, who was attached to the power house cavern, when we were both third year civil engineering students from the University of Zambia.

I used to admire the civil engineers working for Mitchell Construction driving their Ford Cortina’s to work from their two-storey bungalows in Siavonga with their hard hats emblazoned with Mitchell Construction placed at the top of the back seat. I thought I had it made. Forty years down the line I am not so sure. There were a number of unplanned huts and I was given the job of mapping them out using a theodolite. I was accosted by some people who thought that the theodolite was capable of seeing through the walls of their huts and I was, therefore, accused of voyeurism.

I was surprised when I later learnt that the British company unlike the Italians before it had failed to complete the power station cavern and went into receivership after a number of lives had been lost through rock falls. The contractor claimed that the ground conditions were not as described in the tender document. Instead of high grade gneiss, the rock was severely faulted with biotite schists. One of the rumours that was doing the round was that CAPCO together with the consultants, Sir Alexander Gibb, falsified the core samples from being poor to high grade to convince the Zambian government to construct the power station as it was reluctant to embark on the construction of the power house to avoid dealing with the illegal Rhodesian government. The truth, however, is likely to be the fact that only one core sample was drilled in the power house cavern area which did not capture the presence of poor rock. Thus the contractor was forced to introduce rock supports which would not have been necessary with good rock and made the project expensive and the poor unsupported rock resulted in rock falls causing death as stated earlier.

After Mitchell Construction went into receivership, the Government, in consultation with the World Bank, initiated discussions on the alternative courses of action and their respective costs and implications to determine the most appropriate course of action for completing the project. A new round of competitive bidding was not tried in view of the high cost of delays, estimated at K1.2 million per month (at over $1.2 million since the Kwacha was stronger than the dollar).

Continues Next Week

Ronald Lwamba has worked as a Town Engineer for the then Municipal Council of Livingstone and Zesco, initially as a Resident Engineer for Itezhitezhi rising to the post of Senior Manager, Civil Engineering where, among other things, he was in charge of the preparation of feasibility studies for hydropower projects. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree (Civil) from the University of Zambia (1974), Post Graduate Diplomas in Water Resources Development (University of Roorkee, India) and Hydropower Development (University of Trondheim, Norway) and a Master of Engineering in Water Resources Development (University of Roorkee, India).


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