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Zambia and Zimbabwe: Kariba dam

In the late 1950s, the Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe were subject to forced removal on a massive scale, to make way for the construction of a huge hydro-electric dam across the Zambezi River in Southern Africa.

The Kariba Dam was the largest man-made dam in the world at that time. It was a powerful symbol for technological achievement and international cooperation. However, little attention was paid to the implications for the 57,000 Tonga who had to leave behind their homes and fertile land along the banks of the Zambezi.

For many, resettlement proved to be an impoverishing experience. Making a living on the less fertile lands to which they were resettled continues to be a struggle, but their sense of loss is as much spiritual as it is material. The effects of their resettlement continue to reverberate, even among new generations who did not experience it directly.

From 2000 to 2002, we worked with Panos Southern Africa and a team of Tonga interviewers to coordinate the collection of testimonies in Zambia. In Zimbabwe several local partners were involved, including the Kunzwana Trust, the BaTonga Museum and the Basilwizi Trust.

Narrators of different ages talk about the challenges they face today, and reflect upon how far these are due to the upheaval of relocation, and how much to the influence of other cultures and beliefs, notably Christianity, and to wider social and economic forces.

In 2005 Panos Southern Africa published Our gods never helped us again in Ci-Tonga and English.

Extracts from the testimonies

“We did not fight to remain because we saw that it was useless and we were the losers in that fight…we carried everything we had with us. If fields could be carried we would have carried them with us to these new places because of their fertility…”
Chibbinya (male), 95 years old

“[Trees] were submerged in the lake. There is nothing we can eat here in the form of wild fruits. If hunger breaks out here, you will hear stories about people in the valley dying of starvation, because many fruits we depended upon during hunger situations are no longer there….”
Isaac (male), 65 years old

“How can [rainmaking ceremonies continue to work] when all the old people who knew how to do these things are all dead?… Even the shrines themselves were submerged in the water, too. Besides, people nowadays believe in money.”
Bbola (male), 68 years old

See also


Zambia and Zimbabwe: Kariba dam is produced as part of the Displaced for development oral testimony project.


India: Coalmining in Jharkhand

Pakistan: Tarbela dam

Lesotho: Highlands water project

Kenya: Displaced pastoralists

Zambia and Zimbabwe: Kariba dam

Botswana and Namibia: The San


Our gods never helped us again - English (4.7mb)

Our gods never helped us again - Ci-Tonga (6.5mb)