Batonga - the valley people
The local Batonga tribe of the Zambezi Valley put the blame for the flooding squarely on their "River God" Nyami Nyami, a Tonga spirit believed to be half snake and half fish.
Legend has it that Nyami Nyami's wife had gone downstream of the Kariva, now known as the Kariba gorge to answer the prayers of her people and bless them. When it was time for her to return to her husband, she could not cross because of the Dam Wall and this angered Nyami Nyami. He consequently ordered the river to rise and destroy "the white man's bridge".
During the planning stages of Kariba, little or no attention was paid to the social impact of its construction. During the colonial days, little regard was paid to the local "Bantu" population and particularly so in the sparsely populated rural areas. Nevertheless there were 57,000 Batonga people living in the Zambezi Valley that would be affected by the rising waters of the Lake .
The Batonga, steeped in tradition and ancient tribal beliefs could not believe that the "white man's" wall could change the course of nature. For a long time they simply ignored the threat that the waters of the Zambezi would rise and take their land and their homes, thinking only that it was a plot by the government to steal their fertile lands by the river.
The inevitable happened and the waters did rise, but still the Batonga refused to leave. In the end they had to concede defeat, and the people were loaded unceremoniously onto to trucks (often leaving their possessions and livestock behind) and were moved to higher ground.
The costs of resettlement (which were not adequately budgeted for) had to be born by the Kariba Dam developers (the Federal Hydroelectric Board) but the responsibility for resettlement lay squarely in the hands of the respective Southern and Northern Rhodesian governments.
Because the two colonies were independently governed and had different styles of government, the resettlement process on both sides of the Lake were very different. On the Northern side (now Zambia ) the people were at least compensated somewhat (albeit today considered inadequate) for their hardship. The physical cost of resettlement, compensation to the individuals moved; tribal compensation for hardship, inconvenience and loss of tribal lands and customary rights; compensation in respect of loss of earnings while clearing new lands at the rate of £5 per acre, allowing one acre per person; compensation for the lost earning while building new huts at the rate of £10 per hut; and compensation for the loss of crops was paid.
However on the Southern side (now Zimbabwe ) food would be provided during the resettlement period and adult males would be exempted from the annual poll tax of £2 for two years. The Tonga Chiefs on the Zimbabwe side were told to go and find suitable land on the high ground as they would not be allowed to remain in the Zambezi Valley as this would be reserved for wildlife preservation.
On the Zambian side, people were moved to high ground but to a large extent they were allowed to remain close to the Lake shore. Most of the new land was of poor quality and easily erodable. Also, recession agriculture was not possible due to the far distance to the river and only one crop per year could be produced.
The resettling of too many people, to areas too small to accommodate them, aggravated the problem. In the first years after resettlement, food production decreased and famine occurred. In later years many more problems occurred, caused by lack of water, breakdown of water wells and other basic infrastructure provided as part of the resettlement programme.
During the first years after resettlement, the Tonga 's were allowed to freely cross the Lake and meet relatives and friends on the other side. However, the frequency of visits was no longer the same as before given the long distances involved, as some relatives were located more than 100km from the Lake .
When the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland broke up in 1963 and Zambia became an Independent Country in 1964, free movement between the tribe ceased to exist and border posts were established at Chirundu and Kariba. This meant that relatives and friends on the opposite side of the border lost contact with each other and their traditional customs and practices began to disappear.
There were a few things, that were better than in pre-Kariba times, such as the access roads to the area, schools and medical facilities, but the many promises made by the government of the day were not kept, not even by the post colonial Zambian Government.
There are inevitable winners and losers in a project of this kind. Clearly the people of Zambia as a whole have benefited from the construction of the Kariba Dam but equally clearly, the losers were the Batonga people - the "Valley people" who lost their ancestral homes, their land and customary beliefs. The Tonga 's today have readjusted to their new situation, many of whom have moved far away from the Valley too seek a better life. However, the injustices of the past are still a burning issue and need to be addressed.
In Zambia , an initiative known as the Gwembe-Tonga Rehabilitation and Development Programme (supported by World Bank funds) has been put in place in an attempt to mitigate some of the long term effects of resettlement and improve the lives of the remaining Valley Tonga 's.