Bridging the Zambesi: A Colonial Folly by Landeg White

By Landeg White

In January 1935, a railway bridge 2.3 miles lengthy was once opened around the Zambesi delta in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). fifty one years later, it used to be blown up through anti-government forces combating with RENAMO. This publication, that's according to Portuguese and British documents, brings jointly politics, international relations, economics, labour heritage and expertise to teach how this significant engineering feat was once a catastrophe of colonial making plans. this present day, the decrease Zambesi bridge is via a long way the grandest of the ruins of colonial firm littering the colossal river valley.

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Much finely tuned debate has been devoted to how far the motives were strategie, administrative or economic. But with the exception ofthe South African railway system, The Open Span 29 it was rare for private investors to be attracted by concessions ofland or minerals alone into putting up the long-term capital mecessary for railway construction. In demanding a government-built railway, the missionaries and settlers of the Shire Highlands were urging the demands of the times and they pointed to the example of the Ugandan Railway already speeding inland from Mombasa.

In particular, he was looking for rock. The third was to establish how strong the bridge needed to be to withstand wind and rain and the assault of the Zambesi in flood. This assault would include that not only of the speed-weight and scouring action of the water but also of dead trees and floating islands of sudd. A few figures for flood levels were available from the TransZambesia Railway (TZR), but they were not in sequence and applied only to the TZR railhead downstream at Murra~a. The nearest set of rainfall figures he could obtain were for Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia and were of strietly limited The Open Span 19 relevance.

In practice, Berry concluded, it meant a bridge with an opening span. This conclusion was to fIaw his design irreparably. As so often, the problem went back to David Livingstone. In May 1858, just two years after he had staggered into Queli- 24 Bridging the Zambesi: A Colonial Folly mane at the conclusion of his trans-African journey, Livingstone returned to Mozambique as leader of an expedition commissioned by the Foreign Office to explore the Zambesi Valley. The intervening period had been taken up with honours and ceremonials and with the publication of his best-selling book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa in which he painted a picture, irresistible to many of his young contemporaries, of a Central Africa open to Christianityand Commerce, with the Zambesi River forming a highway into the interior.

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