GWAYI-SHANGANI DAM          - 26/3/2006      <--Prev : Next-->

Remnants of Gwayi Shangani dam wall 2006 Gwaai Shangani dam March 2006 Site of Gwaai Shangani dam 2006 Gwayi Shangani Gorge


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." And ... "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 Dam.

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 excitement.

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 the country.

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 green belt, 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