Many lives have been lost building bridges and dams across the Zambezi but the Chinyingi suspension bridge is surely the only one that was built with the purpose of saving lives. After a mokoro capsized and four people and their patient drowned, the idea for this bridge developed in the mind of Crispin Valerie.
Valerie was a brother of the Capuchin order (Capuchins are an offshoot of the Catholic Franciscans) based at Chinyingi, north of the small town of Zambezi in the remote northwest of Zambia, on the upper reaches of the Zambezi. Here there was a mission and a 52 bed hospital that served a community of 500 people. Armed with intent, Valerie set off to the Copperbelt where he successfully solicited funds and supplies for his scheme. Returning with the necessary materials he set about building a suspension swing bridge for pedestrians, using only his untrained wits and unskilled local labour.
Despite the lack of expertise, the bridge was completed in the 1970s and still stands today as a monument to Valerie’s tenacity and personal courage. Considering the lack of engineering and artisan skill, the Chinyingi Bridge is in its own way as remarkable an achievement as many of the larger constructions that have been and are being built across the Zambezi.
At the time of its construction this bridge was only the fifth to cross the entire 2,574km length of the Zambezi and is also the first bridge to be encountered on a trip from the source downstream. A pontoon bridge was later added for vehicles, but the local villagers still happily and safely swing across the Zambezi as they carry on their daily lives.
Factfile: The Chinyingi Bridge
Architect : Brother Crispin Valerie of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.
Location : Chinyingi in northwestern Zambia.
Fun Fact : This is one of only four bridges to cross the Zambezi in a single span. The others are the Victoria Falls Bridge, the Otto Beit Bridge at Chirundu and the Tete Bridge.
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Zambezi Traveller (Issue 14, Sept 2013)