The Zambia-Tanzania railway, or the Great Uhuru (freedom) railway as it is rightly called in East Africa, is fast pushing inside Zambia towards the terminal at Kapiri-Mposhi.
The Zambia-Tanzania railway, or the Great Uhuru (freedom) railway as it is rightly called in East Africa, is fast pushing inside Zambia towards the terminal at Kapiri-Mposhi. More than 40 kilometres of the track has already been laid since 27th August when tracklaying started in Zambia.
The Speed at which tracklaying was completed in Tanzania, the most difficult part of the route, has bewildered Western criticism and mental dishonesty.
The 970 kilometres distance from Dar es Salaam to Nakonde was completed in a record time of 34 months. This is more than half of the entire route. The distance from Nakonde to Kapiri-Mposhi is 890 kilometres. Tracklayers are doing more than four kilometres a day. Railway formation has already been completed in Zamia. And so are all the bridges and culverts.
The Uhuru railway is the biggest project ever to be undertaken by the Chinese outside China. It is, indeed, the biggest project in Africa. One that will give complete political and economic freedom to Zambia when it is completed.
According to the agreement, the railway should take six years to construct, begininning 26 October, 1970. But it is already two years ahead of schedule.
Despite this heartening fact, Chinese engineers will not commit themselves to a new date for the completion of the project. The reason is understandable. The Chinese are modest. They do not flap their mouths about their successes. They operate quietly and leave it to others to judge.
This is the behaviour of a decent people. But there is no doubt that trains will be running between Kapiri-Mposhi and Dares Salaam long before 1976.
In September this year, I was in a party of 27 journalists from Zambia and Tanzania who travelled by train on the new railway from Dar es Salaam to Makumbako. We were the first passengers to travel on the Uhuru railway.
Everybody was excited as the train pulled out of Kurasini railway station a few kilometres from the harbour at Dar es Salaam. There were two sitting and four sleeping coaches. But the excitement was too high and none of us slept.
It was the smoothest and most comfortable train journey I have ever had in my whole life. We were on the train for two days, with one night stop at lfakara, but it did not seem that long. Chinese hospitality was lavish. They attended to us with such humility and simplicity that at times I felt embarrassed. Especially that those who were serving us were older than me.
The terrain in Zambia is virtually flat. "It is nothing compared to Tanzania, and work will be faster," said the Assistant Chief Engineer, Mr. Li-Wen Yi, who accompanied us on this trip.
And it is true. There are no major construction problems in Zambia. There are no tunnels to dig. The biggest bridge on Chambeshi River is only 240 metres compared to Ruipa bridge in Tanzania. 411 kilometres from Dar es Salaam, with a span of 427 metres. It is the longest bridge on the route and took 130 days to be completed by 400 workers. The highest bridge is 49 metres.
Work on the Tanzanian side involved constructing 22 tunnels, 300 bridges and 2,199 culverts All these tasks were accomplished without a single accident.
The Tanzam railway is being built with an interest-free loan of K286.5 million, payable over a period of 30 years. The first payment is due in 1983. It is not an exaggeration that if the West had built this railway, the cost would probably be the value of all our copper mines, put together, with all game parks and game reserves as interest.
When the railway becomes operational, express and general passenger trains will be running daily between Kapiri-Mposhi and the Indian ocean port of Dar es Salaam.
The initial annual carrying capacity is planned at 4.32 million tonnes, but eventually, this will be increased to 7.04 million tonnes.
All trains will be powered by diesel hydraulic locomotives of 2000 h.p. Initially, the railway will have 102 locomotives while the rolling stock will consist of about 2,100 open and covered wagons and 100 passenger coaches.
This railway is vital to Zambia. It will give us a dependable route to the sea and open up vast areas of our country to communication. Our people will be able to transport their farm produce easily and cheaply.
In Tanzania, the benefits of this railway are already visible. Since 1970 when railway construction started, peasants have been selling their produce to railway workers.
The project has generated a lot of excitement in Tanzania. About 32 Ujamaa (cooperatives) villages have been established along the route from Dar es Salaam to Tunduma. One such successful Ujamaa village is at Kisaki where 160 families are growing rice, cotton, maize, oranges and bananas. They have also built a primary school and a dispensary on self-help basis.
The railway has also brought unprecedented opportunities for the people of Zambia and Tanzania to learn various skills.
At Mang'ula pre-fabricated workshop in Tanzania, about 100 local people are performing incredible tasks. Here, 3,800 concrete sleepers and 60 concrete communication poles for construction work in Zambia and Tanzania are made daily. The machinery is all operated by local people. But all permanent material for the construction of the railway comes from China.
Talking about communication poles, there is one thing that struck me. Each pole bears a number "for ease of identification when there is a fault," said Mr. Li-Wen Yi.
Mr. Yi explained that with the help of these numbers and special communication equipment in the control room, it is easy to pin-point where the fault is and direct the technicians. This cuts down on the amount of time a technician would waste checking every pole before he could come to the right point.
Since the Chinese took up this task, the air in the West has become polluted with hysterical and illogical shouts. Some have said Zambia and Tanzania have gone communist. They have also said that the 15,000 Chinese now working on the railway will stay in Zambia after the work is completed. Others have criticised the project as "uneconomical" and "a 1,860 kilometre blood ideological railway".
For all we know, the Chinese are sincere. They are simply concerned about the plight of our country. In fact, some of their colleagues who have completed their tasks have already left.
This is certainly the biggest project the Chinese have undertaken in our country; and indeed on the African continent. But they have done other things for us. Two teams have constructed the road from Lusaka to Kaoma and installed our radio transmitters. And they are back in China. Local people are running the show.
In Guinea, they built several power stations for electricity. They trained local people and left. The power stations are operating with ??? personnel.
The West is simply hostile and malicious against us and the Chinese. But we have nothing to lose. Our concern is to have a railway. If communism can give us a safer and more reliable route to the sea, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. We shall have it. And the railway will be built.
After all, it is the West who have taught us to say; "a friend in need is a friend indeed".
The Chinese are our good friends. They came to our assistance in the darkest hours of our dream to build this railway.
The West are still spending vast sums of money telling the world how our two countries have been taken over by communism. The chorus is echoed by minority regimes in Southern Africa.
We have told the to hang. We are the best judge of what is good for Zambia and where we should get it from.
The Americans told us that the best solution to our problem was to have a road -- what they called a highway; which in fact, is not much of a highway. We told them we wanted a railway in addition to the highway.
They were given the easier task of building a highway from Tunduma to Dar es Salaam, to suit their technical ability. This was more than four years ago, and they have not finished.
The Chinese are practical people. They have designed passenger coaches with special consideration for basic human requirements and comfort.
The sitting coach on Uhuru railway, or what you would refer to as "bombela" or "dobadoba" (mixed train), is not comparable to anything on our existing railways. Each coach will carry 96 passengers and is fitted with six fans to maintain the normal room temperature.
There is a toilet and drinking water for each coach. The other type of water is properly labelled "undrinkable", and a passenger cannot make a mistake. This water is only for washing, and there is a sink for this purpose. A small table is also provided betweeny two seats and each seat has an ash tra along the wall of the coach.
The coaches and passages are wide enough to provide ample room for a cultural dance. The luggage racks are sufficiently wide to accommodate a bulky suitcase.
As the railway progresses, Chinese engineers are learning a number of things, particularly about natural conditions and how they affect the construction. Soil erosion and heavy floods are some of them. And to prevent these from destroying the earthwork, they have planted grass and built culverts with concrete slabs.
The Chinese are serious and disciplined workers. When a shift starts, there is not break for the lazy habit of tea or coffee. Westerners would have drained millions of litres of tea and coffee by the time the project was completed.
And they would have completed this project leaving us with a serious social problem of population explosion.
Wherever we stopped to talk to the local people about the railway, we heard nothing but praise for the hard work and high moral standards of the people of China.
After constructing the railway, the Chinese want it to be run and maintained efficiently by the local people. About 200 Zambian and Tanzanian nationals are now in Peking undergoing intensive training in railway technology. More training is taking place on the site.
When we stopped at Mulimba station, I watched with pride and admiration as seven local people immediately swung into action to check our train for defects using small hammers with pointed noses and long handles. When they were satisfied that our train had passed the test of fitness, five of them, three in the middle and one at each end, gave the signal for our train to leave.
There will be two major workshops on this route -- one at Mpika and the other at Dar es Salaam. The workshops at Mpika have completely changed the face of this once insignificant small rural district. Here, all repairs and servicing of locomotives and rolling stock will be carried out by about 300 local people. Most of the machinery has already arrived from China.
Workshops at Mpika incorporate a steel fabricating plant, carpentry shop, test laboratory, oxygen plant and coach and locomotive repair sheds. There is one large shed for storage of spare parts. Only a small quantity of spares which cannot be made locally will be imported from China.
Each of the two main workshops at Mpika will be equipped with facilities for hydraulic and diesel transmissions. They will undertake annual repairs of 20 sets of locomotives, 150 sets of heavy wagons, 676 light wagons, 10 heavy coaches and 20 light ones.
But the wonderful thing about this railway is that the gauge is the same as Zambia Railways (1.067 metres). It is designed to make it possible to interchange rolling stock and locomotives. The locomotives and rolling stock will have a dual-braking system (air and vacuum braking). The locomotives on Zambia Railways use a vacuum braking system.
About 500 staff houses are being built at Mpika, complete with piped water and electricity. All houses have built-in toilets. You do not have to walk several metres from the house in darkness to find a toilet. A complete contrast to the houses provided by the colonial government which, today, stand as a monument to their preposterous inhuman attitude and baseless arrogance.
The Chinese industrial relations are first class. Since the railway construction started, there has not been a single strike. The secret is simple. They regard everybody as an equal and a worker. You can never distinguish an engineer from a casual labourer. Such laziness as smoking a pipe or sitting on a log while Africans are digging trenches does not exist.
Incidents of an African being the daily target of a barrage of insults from a man with a pale skin and blue eyes, for no apparent reason other than the pigment of his skin, do not exist.
None of our people has been insulted by a Chinese. They have not raided our towns or villages for extra-mural activities -- a trend we would have been unable to contain if the project had been undertaken by Westerners.
If Westerners had undertaken this project, the present generation of our leaders in Zambia and Tanzania would not have seen the completion of the railway. And after all the toil and sweat, we would have been left with a huge social problem resulting from a large number of illegitimate children. But the Chinese have maintained their decency.
Respect for other people is genuinely abundant in the Chinese. They simply overwhelm you with their modesty and humility. But they do not brook one sense from those who assume super power.
Local railway workers in Tanzania tell an amusing story of a duel encounter between a Chinese railway surveying engineer and an American who was working on the highway.
The scene is a point between Mbeya and Makombaku where the road and railway lie within six metres of each other. During the survey, the two teams met here. With the usual arrogance, the American told the Chinese "you have come too close to my road, you will spoil it. You must move your line on the other side of the hill".
The Chinese answered politely, "sorry, our preliminary survey show that we must take this course".
At the end of the day, the Chinese left their pegs nicely lined up. But the American came and pulled them out. When the Chinese asked him the following day, he insulted them and ordered them to leave the area.
That was enough from the American. And he was throughly beaten until a helicopter rescued him, Vietnam style.
Self-reliance, or how to beat the high cost of living is another thing our people are learning from the Chinese. The Chinese grow their own vegetables and keep chickens and pigs. Today, there are impressive farms all along the Uhuru railway from Dar es Salaam to Tunduma, Belonging to villagers.
In Zambia, the areas through which the railway will pass in Northern and Central Provinces are fertile and arable. A campaign is already gaining momentum to encourage people to move and start farming near the line. And the response is fantastic. The main stations at Chozi, Kasama, Mpika, and Kapiri-Mposhi are a hive of activity, with people looking for suitable sites to build shops and bakeries.
In Tanzania, party officials of TANU are spearheading the campaign to form co-operatives of Ujamaa villages. What is encouraging to peasant farmers is that marketing of their produce is not a problem. They have well organised regional marketing unions through which they sell their produce.
The railway ancillary works include six major and 11 minor water stations, 11 electric power plants, a 12-channel communication line serving the special requirements of the railway and a main marshalling yard at Yombo near Dar es Salaam.
There will be a total of 147 stations, 91 of which will be ready by the time the railway becomes operational. The balance of 58 will be developed in stages as the demand for traffic arises.
It was in 1947 that the idea of a railway linking what was then Northern Rhodesia and what was then Tanganyika was first considered.
As early as 1952, preliminary economic and engineering reports were completed. One of these reports was prepared by the administration of East African Railways and Harbours. And it showed this link to be both possible and worthwhile.
But nothing happened. Progress started only under pressure from the national movements of our two countries, and after Tanganyika had become independent. Then, when it became clear that a UNIP Government would soon be able to act on this matter, the colonial government of Northern Rhodesia asked for a World Bank Commission report.
The World Bank Commission, however, was given terms of reference which virtually pre-judged the issue. The result was an adverse report on the economic feasibility of this project.
But Zambia and Tanzania never faltered in the conviction that a railway link between our two countries was vital for our two frontier states.
Our two countries were determined that the railway should be constructed. The unilateral declaration of independence by the rebel regime in Rhodesia made the project even more urgent.
In colonial times, Zambia had communications only with Rhodesia and South Africa. Despite the fact that Tanganyika was also administered by the British Government, there were to links between the two countries. The road was designed for light traffic during the dry weather.
Consequently, when the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Rhodesia, Zambia was adversely affected.
Despite these problems, Zambia was committed to support the sanctions. The people of Zambia made sacrifices which few outsiders understand even now.
Of course, it is not only Zambia which will benefit when the Uhuru railway is completed. Tanzania will receive immediate and direct benefits, too. Trade will increase and Tanzania will benefit through Zambia's use of port facilities at Dar-es Salaam harbour.
For us in Zambia, this railway is not just a link. It is the determinant and symbol of our freedom and independence. It is a life line which promises greater hopes and a brighter future for Zambia.