A tale of two swamps -Exploring the lacustrine village

The meeting complete we were invited to inspect the fishery.  We walked in amongst the labyrinth of hard clay footpaths meandering between various houses, stores, shops.  On almost every flat surface, fish were laid out to dry in the sun.  They could be spread on specially made platforms; wooden structures overlaid with a mesh of dried reeds or old fishing nets, or they could be a cloth on the ground.  They were between the houses, in the houses, above the houses and even out on poles above the water around the village.  Sun drying was the preferred method here but we also saw instances of smoking, houses filled with woodsmoke and the fish curing on trays above the fire.  Ian poured over this cornucopia of protein, determining the range of species being caught, and occasionally tutting at the tiny size of the individuals caught.

While we were a curiosity to many of the villagers, most continued on with their daily work.  A flotilla of boats of different shapes and sizes were travelling between all the dry islands, cutting through the reeds or working their way along open channels.  Little dugout canoes were used for many of the shorter trips, and people proudly showed these off to us, middle aged men, teenagers posing for our photos then coming to take a look at them in the viewfinder.  One little boatman was intent on ignoring me as he navigated the hollowed out log that was at least ten times in length as he was high; I doubt he was more than four years old.

The village was clearly specialised to function in the middle of this water.  The island did not have significant flood defences around its edge – the footpaths just headed out into the channels where the houses stopped, but you could see that the village was subtly designed and maintained with this hard sun baked clay rising above the water level.  Although the village was crowded, it was clear they lived together harmoniously – you have to when space is a premium.  The cattle that roamed the swampy grasslands were adapted to live amphibiously and what a lush fodder they had to live off.  But the village also had to deal with hazards.  The water level did rise and fall; while in the past this had been natural flooding each season as the Kafue brings rainwater from the north of Zambia, nowadays it was controlled by the Itezhi -Tezhi Dam, and they had suffered some quick rises when the spigots were released to boost electricity production.  Despite being surrounded by water, access to fresh water was limited.  The swamp was used for everything and the quality of the water was tainted by sewage, animal waste, probably a whole host of diseases and parasites and a little fuel oil.  Set apart from the rest of the village a small island had been built up, and people took their boats there with empty yellow, blue and white canisters to fill up from a pump sourcing water from a much deeper, clean, aquifer below the swamp itself.

A Tale of Two Swamps – Heading to the Golden Pillow

Lusaka’s traffic had been a bugbear most of the week as we went from meetings in the centre of the city; along the optimistically called Cairo Rd, the departments in the leafy eastern suburbs of the city and Chilanga.  But we had a good run down the wide main road that leads to Harare, Victoria Falls and the rest of Southern Africa.  We drove up through Chilanga.  It is a curious place, dominated by the huge white chimney of a cement works, several quarries and roads for large trucks ferrying raw materials around.  Once past these works the village itself is in amongst a wooded hilltop; on the left the Fisheries department, and on the right a zoo.  Every day as we drove past we had strained our necks to see if the lions were out in their enclosure; today nothing was stirring.

Beyond Chilanga the scenery changed as we gently descended into the Kafue River basin proper for the first time. The town of Kafue itself is largely industrial dominated as it is by a hefty aluminium smelting plant to the west of the residential area.  After the town we curved right and onto a large low bridge where we stopped and took a first look at the Kafue River.

It was soon after the end of the wet season and the river was in full flood; its deep, dark waters reflecting the bubbling clouds above, the long lush green grass waving in the current.  On the north bank a series of small restaurants clung to the water’s edge, indeed a couple were situated on rather ungainly looking party boats.  This was the very bottom of the floodplain – east of here the river floods through the Kafue gorge and then through a series of cataracts down the gorge that splits this part of the northern Zambezi Escarpment.  We turned off the main Harare road and instead went south westwards along one of Zambia’s longest thoroughfares to the southern city of Livingstone and the Victoria Falls. We passed the sugar cane fields of a commercial farm and headed up on to a steadily rising ridge between the escarpment and Kafue Flats.  After another couple of hours we arrived in the town of Monze but before we were deep into the town Alphart turned off into a large gravelly car park and we were at our hotel for the next few nights – the Golden Pillow Lodge.

A Tale of Two Swamps – On Cairo Road

Through a consulting firm in the UK, I was teamed with a Zambian Socio Economist, Alphart Lungu, and a fisheries expert in the shape of Professor Ian Cowx of Hull University in the UK.

Like many jobs, my main role was to assimilate the existing geographical data and maps of the area, and provide a bunch of options on where the boundary of the fisheries management area or FMA was to be, and then help map the various jurisdictions (districts, chiefdoms, reserved lands) and any other potentially important factors such as industrial sites, commercial farming and the like to assist the fisheries management plan.

My first week was spent in central Lusaka. We stayed at the Protea Hotel on Cairo Road, the main strip of the city centre on a road optimistically named to be a British highway from Cape Town to Cairo…. but in reality ended up just being a mile or two long before heading off on rather ropy roads.  We spent that first week visiting a bunch of government departments to obtain the data, and heading down to the leafy village of Chilanga about 20km south of the city where the Department of Fisheries had its headquarters.  I had some frustrating meetings and some good ones there; for a price I got topographical maps from the Lands and Surveys Department, but it took a lot of bureaucracy to obtain the good data from the Zambian Wildlife Authority or ZAWA who look after the reserved land, despite them being neighbours of the Fisheries Department in Chilanga and were once part of the same unit!

I had most of my data at the end of the first week, and Ian and Alphart were planning to head off into the field to talk to communities and fishing associations.  I could have stayed in Lusaka and made my maps, but I was missing some important information about where fish nurseries existed and Ian wanted me along to show suggestions of where the FMA should exist to communities and see what they thought.  On the Saturday morning we were supposed to leave, Alphart and I were down at a local printers getting copies of my draft maps printed out; with a junior printer who had great difficulty using the equipment in her shop.  We eventually got a reasonable number printed off – not all the ones I had wanted but we had run out of time; and we picked Ian up from the hotel and headed south out of Lusaka.