Towards the end of this assignment, I was told the original name of the Zambezi – ‘Kasambabezi’ – from a Tonga phrase meaning “only those who know the river can bath in it.” The phrase references Tonga knowledge of the deep water and shows the incredibly close relationship society had with ‘their’ river.
Meandering through eight countries, the Zambezi is Africa’s fourth largest river; indirectly affecting over 128 million lives as a source of water and food. Further adding to the river’s importance is Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made reservoir. Sharing a border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, Kariba provides hydroelectric power and supports a fishing and tourism industry. It all sounds positive, yet the Red Cross asserts that “the basin is also home to some of the most acute vulnerability in southern Africa,” and the region has been identified as particularly affected by climate change and its negative consequences.
The Tonga people were displaced from their ancestral home on the Zambezi River to make way for the building of Lake Kariba in 1956 and resettled further inland. “It was so difficult,” says Siamuchimba Muleya, “our hearts still feel that pain of leaving our crops behind. We had never experienced drought before, we only experienced it here, when we left our water.” Politically, the Tonga are a minority and their claims to the river have fallen on deaf ears.
Sixty years after forced relocation, this photo story examines where the Tonga are today and whether their water is still a resource for their belief system and way of life.
All images © Davina Jogi/IPS Africa