Shangombo: A place to remember

TOURISTS scouting for tiger fish on the Shangombo-Rivungu canal between Zambia and Angola.

A JOURNEY to Shangombo, one of remotest areas in Western Province, is both captivating and a lifetime experience especially for someone who loves adventure.
The cool breeze coupled with water bodies and virgin vegetation, makes one refreshed and temporarily forget the troubles that come with town life.
Shangombo, a district with a population of about 99,384 people, located 413 kilometres from Mongu district, is home to the Kwamashi speaking people.
The district borders Senanga district in the east, Kalabo district in the north, Sesheke in the south, and in the west, it is on the borderline of the Angolan district, Rivungu.
Shangombo also lies between two water bodies; Zambezi river and Kwando or Cuando river as it is spelt in Portuguese.
Travelling to Shangombo from Mongu, one has to pass through Senanga and Sioma districts, before embarking on a long rough stretch that may make you abandon the journey mid-way because of the bumpy road.
For small cars, the journey from Nangweshi in Sioma district where the good road network ends, takes eight hours, while big vehicles cover the journey in three to four hours.
Shangombo earned its name from activities of snail hunting in the area, initiated by a man who in the early 1980s, used to collect snails, known in the Kwamashi language as ng’ombo.
‘So it’s from the collection of snails [ng’ombo] that people started calling the area Shangombo,’’ says Poniso Njeulu, the immediate past member of Parliament for Sinjembela.
On arrival to the district, visitors are greeted by cattle, and apparently cattle is a must have asset for the average family in Shangombo.
This is the reason why the area is the largest beef producer in Western Province. It is only in Shangombo where you can find the Barotse bull.
However, when the sun is about to set, the visitor’s comfort comes to a halt as the area has a lot of mosquitoes owing to the thick swamps on Rivungu river between Zambia and Angola.
It is during this time that locals can easily identify the visitors to the area. While the locals are used to mosquitoes singing in their ears, the scenario is rather irritating for a first time visitor who constantly has to flap their hands in the area to blow away the mosquitoes.
The most interesting ‘interaction’ with mosquitoes comes during dinner time. When one hand is busy trying to fill the stomach, the other hand will be busy chasing away the mosquitos.
At first, I found it funny to see some of the colleagues I had travelled with, ‘dancing’ without music while waiting for their meals in a local restaurant. But when I got closer, it was clear that the seemingly dancing competition was prompted by a sea of mosquitoes.
One of the locals, Njamba Mundia was shocked to see the group complaining about mosquitos, because according to him, the insects had reduced in number in the past five years.
“What you are seeing today is nothing compared to what was there years ago. The comforting part is that they are not malaria carriers, otherwise the malaria prevalence could have been high in this area,’’ Mundia claims.
Sleeping under a mosquito net was only good for the purpose of preventing mosquito bites, otherwise the insects can make noise throughout the night.
And in the morning when you step out of bed, you are greeted by dead insects around the bedding.
I later came to learn that one can only have a peaceful evening when one applies mosquito repellant because insecticide alone did not seem very helpful.
However, despite the experience with mosquitoes, the people of Shangombo are friendly and accommodating.
The area which has for many years been shunned by government workers because of poor roads, lack of banking institutions as well as decent accommodation, is poised to become one of the best business destinations in the country once the US$40 million Shangombo –Rivungu canal project is completed.
The projects which are being driven by the Angolan and Zambia governments, will see the inland ports linked to Walvis Bay in Namibia where big ships coming from Europe dock.
This development has seen civil servants building modern housing structure, while some government workers are voluntarily moving to the area.
One of the civil servants who did not want to be named said most of the workers in the area do not often touch their monthly salaries because the cost of living in Shangombo is quite affordable.
He said a number of workers, himself included, have been saving money for building, while others have found a conducive market for business in the neighboring Angola.
“As for teachers, they do not even want transfers as most of them now own more than 10 cows each. Here one cow costs between K1,200 and K1,500,’’ he said.
The canal project is already bringing in foreign exchange earnings as seen from the number of South Africans who visit the area for fishing competitions.
Mr Njeulu who is Western Province minister said the canal is attracting South Africans because the waterway that extends to the Kwando river in Angola, has tiger fish weighing up to 20 Kilogrammes
He said the area will attract more tourists and business activities once the project is completed.
While the old picture of Shangombo as a hunger-stricken area, still lingers in the minds of many, the status of the district has greatly changed over the years, and it now promises great economic opportunities in the near future.

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