Lake Kariba History

The building of Lake Kariba began in 1956 and was an initiative of the federation existing at the time between British ruled Northen and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). The dam was designed by French inventor and engineer, Andre Coyne, who has personally designed over 55 dams.

Construction began in the gorge in 1956. Over one million cubic metres of concrete was poured into the 36 metre high and 24 metre thick wall. The wall would have to sustain the pressure of nearly ten million litres of water gushing through its spillway every second. Construction of the wall was complete by the end of 1958. The spillway gates were closed, and Lake Kariba was born. By 1963, maximum water levels were reached and at this time, Lake Kariba became the largest man made dam in the world.

The name Kariba stems from “Kariva” which means “trap” – this refers to a large rock which used to jut out of the water at the entrance of the gorge, near the building site. Legend had it that this was the home of the great river god of the Zambezi – Nyami Nyami. Anyone who dared to venture near this rock would be sucked into the pits of the Zambezi River. Once the wall was built and the river started flooding, the rock became submerged and now lies more than 100 feet below the water’s surface. The local valley tribes who were to be displaced when water levels started rising believed firmly in the river god Nyami Nyami, and warned that the construction of the wall would anger the God so much that he would send flood waters gushing into the gorge to destroy the white man’s bridge. Sure enough, in 1957 – just one year into the construction of the wall - the Zambezi Rivers’ waters rose to flood level, damaging equipment and access roads. One year later in 1958, the river flooded yet again – one chance in a thousand – and this time 3 metres higher than 1957, damaging the access bridge, coffer dam and parts of the main wall. Nyami nyami’s waters surged over the ruins at more than six million litres a second, a flood which had been calculated to only occur once in ten thousand years.

After the construction of the dam wall when the river began to flood, it became clear that much of the wildlife that lived in the valley were being trapped on islands and unable to get to mainland shore. Appeals were made and money was raised to buy boats and equipment. Many men teamed together and set out on the enormous task of trying to rescue as many animals as possible. This became known and Operation Noah, and a hazardous operation it was – submerged trees and stumps were a constant hazard to the hulls of boats, and islands filled with all sorts of creatures, including many deadly snakes and the like. All in all, over 7000 animals were rescued, including 44 rhino. It was evidence of the supremacy of colonial rule in Salisbury (now Harare), Southern Rhodesia that most of the rescued wildlife was relocated to the Zimbabwean side and most of the displaced tribes, to the Zambian side.

For more information on the history of Lake Kariba, please visit: Zambia Tourism

Lake Kariba Kariba Bush Club Zambia
Lake Kariba Kariba Bush Club Zambia
Lake Kariba Kariba Bush Club Zambia

Pictures courtesy of Operation Noah volunteer Anthony Bruce. Full article on the Great North Road.