Zambia

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Hallowed birthplace of our great river

Hallowed birthplace of our great river

The Zambezi River starts as a gently flowing stream passing through and around stilt roots
The Zambezi River starts as a gently flowing stream passing through and around stilt roots
Meg Coates Palgrave

 

The source of the Zambezi River lies about 50 km north of Mwinilunga in what is known as the pedicle in the north-western tip of Zambia. The Democratic Republic of Congo border is less than one km away but the river does not go into that country at all. It flows through the pedicle into Angola and then comes back into Zambia at Chavuma.

Surrounded by miombo woodland, the source is an amazing sponge supporting a small strip of swamp forest; a forest with a closed canopy, through which little light filters. It is dark and mysterious with periodic shafts of sunlight. The ground is littered with fallen leaves. A boardwalk has been erected to protect the sponge from tramping feet. I did not find the source just ‘a disappointing puddle’ as I had been warned. Yes there is a small puddle with an arrow pointing at it bearing the legend ‘SOURCE.’

That is the highest point at which the water seeps to the surface in this wonderful forest. At first it trickles down, disappearing and reappearing until after about 30 or 40 metres the water oozing out of the sponge is sufficient to form a gently flowing stream passing through and around stilt roots covered in moss, getting stronger and stronger as it goes.

The atmosphere is all so quiet and peaceful that it is rather like visiting a cathedral, fitting for the beginning of such an awesome river.

The Zambezi River has many tributaries which make their contribution to the fourth largest river in Africa. The first one, the Kangwadi, joins it only about 1.6 kms from the first appearance of the water and after that the river starts to widen and the second tributary, the Matonji, is about five kms downstream.

And then about 48 kms away at the Zambezi Rapids, just before the Zambezi River goes into Angola, the river has grown so much that there is sufficient water for a hydro project.

Read more from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 06, Sept 2011)