ALVIN CHIINGA, Chirundu
IN KAPULURILA village and surrounding areas in Chirundu district, the K53 million-worth Michael Chilufya Sata Bridge across the Kafue River is considered a life-saver.
Here is the reason why.
In the past, people depended on a pontoon to cross the crocodile-infested Kafue River between Chiawa and Chirundu. Because the pontoon would frequently break down, when duty called, the people would still go ahead and cross the river anyway. Many would get mauled by crocodiles and lose their lives.
Kapulurila Ward Councillor Albert Muzuma’s clearly remembers incidences of people being attacked by the reptiles and others dying while trying to cross the Kafue River at different spots.
“We have had several incidences of attacks, some were deadly and people lost their lives,” he said recently.
Mr Muzuma said the opening of the 140 metres long bridge three years ago has not only saved lives but also provided livelihood to many people in Chirundu.
The councillor, in whose ward the bridge lies, said the people of Chirundu, and Chiawa in particular, are grateful to Government for the structure.
He said previously, people were using canoes to cross the river in order to receive services such as health on the other side of the district.
“The pontoon would only work during the day. Those who would miss the last trip, remained stranded on either side of the river. That was very inconveniencing,” he explained.
Raphina Mavura of Kapulurila village recalls how difficult life was before the construction of the bridge.
“Before the construction of the bridge we used to suffer. People used to cross the river by canoes and some of them never made it to the other side,” she narrated.
“Some patients in Chiawa would die before crossing the river because either the pontoon had a breakdown or the operator had knocked off.”
Ms Mavura said some pregnant women were giving birth on the way to Mtendere Mission Hospital in Chirundu.
Other women who experienced childbirth complications ended up losing their babies or their own lives.
As for Isaac Siavwala, another resident of Chiawa, his sister died while crossing the Kafue River.
“She needed to get to Chirundu to collect money that was sent by our uncle, but she didn’t make it because she was killed by a crocodile while trying to cross the Kafue River. It was during the rainy season,” Mr Siavwala recollected.
He is one of the many people in Chirundu who share sad tales of the river before the construction of the Michael Chilufya Sata Bridge.
But after three years of having a bridge in the area, the probability of locals being attacked by crocodiles is now quite low. The people are actually more productive now because they can go about working without the fear of being mauled by the man-eaters.
Chirundu District Commissioner Alfred Hamunjo says among other benefits, the construction of the bridge has had a positive impact on economic output.
The movement of people between Chiawa and Chirundu has improved, which is a positive sign for business in the two districts.
Mr Hamunjo is upbeat and says Zambia’s leading beef producer, Zambeef, has established a farm across the Kafue River, now that there is a bridge in the area.
“Farmers within Chiawa and Chirundu can now transport their farm produce like bananas which are grown in Chiawa without any challenges,” he said.
He however appealed to the Road Development Agency to consider tarring the Chiawa road to attract more investors and tourists to the Lower Zambezi.
Mr Hamunjo said once the road, which is in a deplorable state, is worked on, traffic to the Lower Zambezi will increase, thereby increasing government revenue.
“I want to believe that the Chiawa road is an alternative route to Lusaka. It could help to prevent accidents because, unlike the Lusaka-Chirundu road which has claimed many lives at the infamous ‘Kapilingozi’, the route doesn’t have curves and hills,” he noted.
Three years after its construction, the Michael Sata Bridge, which links Chiawa and Chirundu, has notably boosted economic activities in the area.
The locals say naming the bridge after Zambia’s fifth President on his 77th birthday, was a blessing.
It was Chieftainess Chiawa who proposed to former Vice-President Guy Scott, who officiated at the launch, that the new bridge be named after President Sata.
The bridge was constructed by China-Henan Corporation.