by HAZVINEI MWANAKA
MASVINGO – AN inland lake with a capacity to carry 1.8 billion cubic metres of water has been constructed in the Southern part of Zimbabwe.
Built at a cost of US$300 million, the giant Tokwe Mukosi is a rare success story for a cash-short country where highways are littered with potholes, schools are crumbling and clinics have become deathtraps.
Facing a biting liquidity crunch, the government of Zimbabwe, municipalities and rural district councils have all but watched as vital infrastructure, much of it inherited from the colonial government, decays.
The idea to construct the giant water reservoir, which will transform the Lowveld into a greenbelt, was mooted decades ago by the British Colonial government of Rhodesia.
However construction could not go ahead at the time when blacks, advocating for majority rule, were close to launching a bush war with the Rhodesians that culminated in Zimbabwe gaining independence in April 1980.
Earthmoving equipment only started clearing the bush near the confluence of Tokwe and Mukosi rivers in Masvingo province in June 1988.
However construction was not smooth sailing as work was frequently suspended after government failed to avail funds for the project.
The contractor, Italy’s Salini-Impregilo at one time abandoned the site all together in protest over failure to pay payment for services rendered in 2014 and only resumed mid May when government coughed up US$35 million to ensure its completion.
The dam wall comprises of rock fills laid down on top of each other without mortar or cement to hold them, going up to 90 metres.
The original design of the dam – a concrete arch dam wall with a crest overflow-designed by Coyne and Bellier in 1967- was not taken up by the Zimbabwe government, concerned about the costs associated with such a structure.
Engineers say the dam has a maximum depth of 82,7m and mean depth of 18,7m. Its surface area is 96,4 square kilometres.
Critics fear its straight dam wall, which experienced water seepage two years ago, is ill-suited to hold 1.8 billion cubic metres of water and is a disaster waiting to happen.
Despite these concerns, the lake which replaces Mutirikwi dam as the country’s biggest inland lake, is expected to have far-reaching benefits for Zimbabwe.
It will boost sugar production in the Lowveld where supply dams’ capacity to sustain sugar cane irrigation Hippo Valley, Triangle and Mkwasine Estates in the region had been severely compromised by the incessant droughts the country experienced in recent years.
Commissioning the dam recently, the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said sugar industries in the Lowveld, as well as other surrounding communities, also stood to benefit from the project.
“With a capacity of 1, 8 million cubic metres of water, we expect an additional 26 000 hectares of irrigated land to be brought on board in the Lowveld,” she said.
“The additional 26 000 hectares of irrigation land represent almost half of the current land under irrigation in the Lowveld and will certainly see the country’s sugar output increasing as well as employment creation and improved food security.”
She also announced plans to establish a 15 megawatt mini-hydro power plant, noting Zinwa had started the process of getting investors to partner in the mini-hydro business at the dam.
“The provision of mini-hydro power plants at our dams is a deliberate move by the ministry, through Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), has
adopted to ensure that our dams also help in ameliorating the power challenges the country is currently going through,” she said.
Wellington Madumira, a project officer with the Zero Environmental Organisation said the 15 megawatt mini-hydro power plant was commendable.
“Hydro power is smart and friendly and does not emit fossil fuels. Community members will benefit as some will be capacitated on maintenance of the system, public institutions will be electrified therefore improving education and health services in the area,” he said.
He added that the dam could also be used as a source of water for their animals. Communities could also initiate community projects that will go a long way in bettering their lives.
Chivi Rural District Council chief executive officer Mr Tariro Matavire said the completion of the dam would create a lot of business opportunities for the community.
“The project will see an increase in revenue as hotels and chalets will be constructed around the dam. Boat cruising will be available and the presence of a lot of wild animals around the dam will also see an increase in tourism,” said Matavire.
“Health facilities, banks can also established when everything is put in place.
“Communities will also benefit through employment as there will be many activities.”
Nkulumani Mlambo, a member of Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Masvingo chapter, said the construction of the dam would increase food security in the region.
“Now that the dam is complete, there will be irrigation throughout the year and farmers will have to take advantage of that and engage in horticultural projects,” he said.
Residents lobby group, the Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Alliance (MURRA) also welcomed the completion of the dam.
“This is a shot in the arm for the residents of Masvingo who were used to power blackouts. The province will be self-sufficient when it comes to power and residents will be assured of consistent power supply,” said MURRA spokesperson Godfrey Mutimba.
“We urge the government to establish other hydro-energy plants at the various dams dotted around the country,” Mutimba said.
Locals, among them 18 000 villagers displaced by the dam construction, argue that first preference for irrigation projects should be given to them.
“We applaud what has been done. The dam will go a long way in bettering our lives. We hope government will first consider us as the local communities,” said one villager from Chivi.
In 2014 about 3 000 families were evacuated from Chivi and Masvingo South districts after a severe flood and resettled in Chingwizi. They were left in the open without food and shelter, and were only rescued by international aid agencies.
According to Zimbabwe Statistical Agency, three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s population of 13 million live in the rural areas and has no access to clean and reliable energy; only 19 percent have access to electricity.
– CAJ News