The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river in Africa. The only rivers longer are the Nile, Congo and Niger Rivers. In the local Tonga dialect Zambezi River means the “Great River.” As it travels east through Africa, to the Indian Ocean, it goes though six countries: Zambia, D.R. Congo, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.
The river’s source is fount at a black marshy dambo in the northwest corner of Zambia, Mwinilunga District. The spring can be seen coming up between tree roots close to where the borders of Zambia, Angola and Zaire meet.
The power of the Zambezi can be witnessed at Victoria Falls and Batoka Gorge, with the zigzag pat it cuts through it. This power has been harnessed at two locations. The first is the Kariba Dam located between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Cabora Bassa Dam is the second location . It is in Mozambique. Hydroelectric power are produced at both dams, and is used in much of Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. As of this time, plans for a third dam at the Batoka Gorge have been put on hold. This prospective dam would flood the games beyond Victoria Falls.
Tourists from around the world come to view the beauty of the river. In addition, they enjoy water sports and the wildlife that can be seen along the river. Some of the animals in the area include hippopotamus, crocodiles, elephants, and lion.
The river can be divided into three section to learn about its diversity.
The Upper Zambezi
From the source, the Zambezi flows southwest out of Zambia and into Angola for about 150 miles. At this point, tributaries, like the Luena and the Chifumage, flow into it. As the Zambezi turns south it creates a floodplain. When it re-enters Zambia it is approximately 1300 feet wide, in the rainy season.
The Zambezi flows fast and forms rapids as it approaches the Chavuma Falls. From these falls to Victoria Falls the level of the basin is steady. At Chavuma Falls the river drops 1300 feet in elevation in a distance of 250 miles. The Kabompo River joins the Zambezi and then the Zambezi runs through a savannah. It then flows into a wide floodplain. As it continues south if forms the Barotse Floodplain. Here, in the rainy season, the river can be as much as sixteen miles wide.
The upper part of the river has a small population, mainly farmers, fishermen and pastoralists. A ceremony called Ku-omboka, is performed as the local people move to higher ground during floods.
Nyami Nyami is believed to be the spirit of the Zambezi. This spirit brings water for crops and fish to eat. The people here call the river “the river of life.”
A short distance from where the Zambezi and Luanginga confluence is, there is the capital of the Zambia region Barotseland, the Western Province. The capitals name is Leului. One of the compounds of the chief of the Lozi’s can be found in Lealui. The other compound is in Limulunga.
The Zambezi River borders Namibia’s Caprivi Strip for a short distance. This strip protects Namibia. It was added to German South-West Africa to make the Zambezi accessible to the Germans.
The river continues running to the point where the four countries of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet. It then flows on toward Victoria Falls. Above the falls tour guides lead activities like cruises, canoe trips and floats. There are also many channels, islands, beaches and clear water at this section. There is also wildlife and birds. On the Zimbabwe side of the river is the Zambezi National Park.
The Middle Zambezi
The Victoria Falls divide the upper and the middle sections of the Zambezi. After the falls, the river flows east for about 120 miles. Along this route the river runs through gorges that reach 550-820 feet high. White water rafters are often found in these gorges. The Zambezi is graded at the highest level for white water rafting.
For the next 120 miles, the river drops approximately 820 feet, then enters Lake Kariba. In 1959, the Kariba Dam was constructed and created one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. The dam provides Zambia and Zimbabwe with electricity. When the sun sets beyond this lake, the landscape is stunning. The weather in this area is generally sunny, although it can be warm, which makes this a popular vacation spot.
Beyond the dam, the river flows to the east toward Chirundu. As the river continues on it flows between the Lower Zambezi national Park in Zambia and Mona Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. This is a serene section of the river that is used for canoe safaris where visitors can paddle downriver and stay in a lodge or camp along the shore. Many varieties of wildlife may be seen on these safaris. The middle Zambezi River ends as the river enters Lake Cahora Bassa.
This area of the river used to have the Kabrabassa rapids. Early travel along these rapids was impossible, so development of this area has been slow.
From Cahora Bassa to the Indian Ocean the Zambezi is navigable by most vessels, although in the dry season it may be shallow as the river spreads out over a broad valley. At the Lupata Gorge, which is 200 miles from the mouth, the river flows between high, basaltic hills. The rest of the river is gentle and has many channels that visitors like to explore. The river bed is sandy and the banks are low and have many reed. When it is rainy season, however, this can become a fast-flowing river.
The Zambezi’s Delta
The Zambezi receives water from Lake Malawi through the Shire River about 100 miles from the mouth. The Zambezi breaks into many branches and forms the Zambezi Delta. The four principle mouths are the Milambe, Kongone, Luabo, and Timbwe. The Chinde is to the north and has a minimum depth of about six feet at the entrance and double that further in. Due to the building of the two dams the delta of the Zambezi is only half as wide as it was before the dams were completed.
The Zambezi River provides visitors of some of the best of Africa, including its scenery, wildlife, water sports and water falls.