At Kariba, the past is embedded in the landscape. The shallows are forests of dead trees. Things are present where they shouldn’t be: Trees in water; water where there should be trees. The forests have been submerged for over fifty years.
The dam’s construction — to create a hydroelectric plant for Zimbabwe and Zambia — started in 1956. The Tonga people were forced to vacate their homes in the valley where their God, Nyami Nyami, the Zambezi Snake Spirit, lives. The Tonga believe that building the dam at Kariba angered Nyami Nyami and its wall separated him from his wife. When the earth tremors, as it has done on numerous occasions, Nyami Nyami is said to be trying to reconnect with her and that he will destroy the dam.
During the rising of Lake Kariba's waters, many animals were displaced too. In ‘Operation Noah’ Rupert Fothergill and his team used small boats to rescue thousands of creatures — rhinos and leopards; elephant and duiker; snakes and birds.
Now fish and crocodiles live between the trees. The water levels have dropped considerably, and with them the amount of power generated for Zimbabwe and Zambia . Homes throughout these countries need Lake Kariba, for its water levels equate to their levels of electricity.
Layers of crises are visible at Lake Kariba. Its shrinking water body is reminiscent of our shrinking environmental space. Its people have been displaced, and their God is angry. Its rage is in the shaking of the earth. The place, with its bare forests, holds all these things, and will hold our questions.