The idea for the construction of a major dam for the continually
drought stricken Matabeleland Region in Zimbabwe, was first mooted in
the early 1900's.
An estimate of the cost of such a mammoth construction in 1912 was
$6,000. Estimates rose to $8 billion in 1996 and now 94 years later,
costs will be in the trillions, but .... there is still no Gwayi-
Shangani Dam !!
Reading back over past publications one comes across erudite
proclamations like this one Posted: Sun, 01 Aug 2004
"The initial groundwork at the Gwayi-Shangani dam site has begun in
earnest following a loan injection of $10 Billion from the Reserve
Bank of Zimbabwe."
"The dam will be financed at a cost of US$600 million by the
government of Malaysia It will be carried out by a joint venture
company, Zimbabwe-Malaysia Holdings. The ground work is being carried
out by a Chinese company which was awarded a tender to construct the
dam by the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project.
The preference for China has stemmed from the fact that Chinese
funding had no political strings attached to it."
In 1993 when the City of Bulawayo was nearly closed down completely
due to lack of water, serious and urgent efforts were then made to
get things moving towards the promised end to Bulawayo's water woes.
The proposed lasting solution to the city water problems was, in the
first instance, the building of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam in
Matabeleland North province. The next step was to pipe water from the
mighty Zambezi itself.
The Gwayi Shangani Dam is envisaged as an augmentation to the city's
water supply, and also to serve local communities and provide
irrigation water along the route.
A contract for the building of the dam on a Build-Operate-Transfer
arrangement was awarded to a Chinese company and there is ample
evidence of Chinese participation in the project where all the signs
are in both written in English as well as Chinese and there is a
preponderance of the immaculate construction crews in areas around
the Gwayi Shangani like Hwange Safari Lodge and the Victoria Falls.
The dam is a critical part of the ambitious Matabeleland Zambezi
Water Project, which has been on the drawing board since 1912. The
water project has been touted as the permanent water solution for the
city which, as despite ample rains this season, still has no
significant water in its major supply dams.
The city has been promised permanent water rationing as the growth of
the population has exceeded preparations for potable water to the city.
The dam was supposed to take 4 years to complete but now two years
into construction, there is not much to see at the site which is 300
kilometres to the North of Bulawayo, on the main Victoria Falls Road,
on the confluence of the Gwayi and the Shangani Rivers.
The trip there was exhilarating. The Confederation of Zimbabwe
Industries had circulated a proposed tour to the area for Bulawayo
Industrialists, and as we were in the area, we took the 21 kilometre
detour from the main road, in great excitement, to see the Promised
The grass along the route was tall and thick, the many head of cattle
were round, well fed and sleek. The road was in excellent condition
in spite of the recent heavy rains, a testimony to the renowned
Chinese efficiency, and the road signs in both languages were both
significant and sinister in turn.
The gorge at the confluence of the two mighty Gwayi and Shangani
Rivers, is spectacular. The sides of the gorge rise high and
majestic, and as we rounded the final bend we both held our breath in
the anticipation of many years of personal, financial and spiritual
involvement in the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project.
We had passed the construction camp which looked immaculate and very
efficient. We had seen ample evidence of heavy plant and machinery.
As it was a Sunday, there were no people at all however, apart from
two security guards and a night watchman who was indifferent to our
We looked expectantly at the giant excavations on the cliff sides,
the river was still flowing swiftly due to the recent heavy rains,
the weir was spilling heavily and the noise of the water was loud but
not deafening. It is not a massive gorge, I stand to be corrected but
the area to be contained is not probably more than a hundred meters
across, BUT THERE WAS NO DAM WALL !!
We were both confused, defeated and disappointed in turn.
I managed to find a tiny piece of news in a remote publication which
stated on 2006-02-14
"Construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, one of the dams set to
provide water to the drought prone Matabeleland region, has been
stopped following floods that swept away the dam wall and access
roads at the construction site. Large blocks of stones and gravel
were washed away after the Gwayi River flooded following torrential
rainfall received in most parts of Matabeleland North Province."
Can you believe it ? It is that mighty River God Nyaminyami at work
again, shades of Kariba Dam in 1959 when floods took the newly built
coffer dam away in one swift movement. Our first decent rains in ten
years, and it takes away the life blood, the hopes and fears of the
people of Matabeleland yet again.....
But hey, whose counting, its been 94 years since they first started
hucking and clucking about the lack of water in Matabeleland.... who
was that fellow who said "not in my lifetime"!!
But all is not lost, if you read the recent press release from the
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and I quote...
"The Matabeleland Chamber of Industries is working closely with the
Bulawayo City Council and the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust (MZWT)
to expedite the construction of the Gwayi/Shangani Dam as well as the
Pipeline from the Zambezi River to Bulawayo. This will create a
massive economic boom to the Matabeleland region and we anticipate
investment in all sectors: farming, mining, engineering,
construction, etc. With our perennial water problems out of the way,
as well as the pending digitalisation of our telephone system,
together with a general improvement in all infrastructure, Bulawayo
is poised to take off and will once again be the INDUSTRIAL HUB of
And remember ... the implementation of the project is envisaged to
turn the dry areas
along the 450-kilometre route of the pipeline to Bulawayo into a
lighting the fuse for an industrial revolution in the region....
so Nil Desperandum...we must KEEP ON KEEPING ON !!!
See pictures of the dam site on http://www.morningmirror.africanherd.com/