• Short Summary

    In a lonely gorge in a desolate corner of north west Mozambique the most controversial construction project in Africa is nearing completion the Cabora-Bassa dam.

  • Description

    In a lonely gorge in a desolate corner of north west Mozambique the most controversial construction project in Africa is nearing completion the Cabora-Bassa dam.

    Al abyrinth of enormous tunnels has been carved through the mountainside By the end of 1974 a dam wall 550 ft. (170 metres) high and 1,000 ft. (317 metres), long will straddle the gorge. In October this year the river will swell into a (1,800 square miles) (2,700 square kilometer) lake and the fifth largest hydroelectric scheme in the world will start building up towards a production capacity of more than three-and-a-half million kilowatt a year.

    But Cabora-Bassa have become two of the most emotional words in African politics. The African name means "where work cannot go on", "where nature reigns supreme", "where man cannot dominate".

    Nature has been dominated, but the project has been called "a symbol of white rule" which will be a permanent barrier to self-rule in the area.

    The original Portuguese planners of the dam say they say it as a purely social and economic scheme which would open up northern Mozambique, one of Southern Africa's most backward regions, to development and allow the exploitation of the rich mineral deposits in the area.

    The integrated plan for the development of the Zambezi Valley form Cabora-Bassa to the Indian Ocean is referred to in the Portuguese capital Lisbon as rather like "the blueprint for a new Ruhr in Africa." They say the dam will benefit all the people of Mozambique.

    Yet President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia has described Cabora-Bassa as"a crime against humanity". The late Dr. Eduardo Mondlane, leader of Frelimo (Front For the Liberation of Mozambique) once said "if we don't destroy the dam, it will destroy us - for good".

    But the dam has not been destroyed and work is even ahead of schedule. A cordon of iron has been thrown around the construction site. A double barbed wire fence runs around the entire perimeter of the dam site, 80 miles (128 kms) north of the administrative town of Tete. More than 86,000 landmines have been planted, and heavy artillery guards strategic points. Three rings of elite Portuguese commandoes and paratroopers make up the inner defence of the fortress.

    Felimo has concentrated its attacks on the road and rail links over which equipment and material has to be brought.

    Once the road linking Rhodesia with Malawi, passing through the Tete district, was a busy international trade route. Now it is known as "Hell a Corridor" as traders and transport drivers travel in convoy at shall's pace, with portuguese soldiers often walking in front prodding the ground for mines.

    The dam is being built by ZAMCO, a South African-led consortium which is part of the empire of business tycoon, Harry Oppenheimer. Two high voltage liens, 850 miles (1360 kms) long will run to Pretoria where the cheap electricity will be fed into South Africa's national grid.

    The waters from the dam will eventually irrigate 3 million acres. Its opponents say the new land will go to Portuguese settlers, with preference going to Portuguese solders who have completed their service in Mozambique.

    Manual Pimentel dos Santos, Mozambique's Governor General and an engineer himself said: "Cabora-Bassa means everything to us - it holds out the prospect of great wealth for distribution to all people, of whatever colour or creed".

    But its opponents are convinced that African labour will be exploited. As Lord Gifford, Chairman of the British Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea put it last year: "It is designed to sustain a failing colonial presence, and involve South Africa more deeply on Portugal's side against the liberation forces".

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