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Tazara Railways

In 1968, the People’s Republic of China wished to erect a more concrete and permanent manifestation of its leadership of the nonaligned movement and solidarity with the Third World. The project selected for this was the Tanzanian Zambian Railway Authority, Uhuru or ‘Freedom’ railway line. Landlocked Zambia was then surrounded by the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and White Rhodesia to the south. The Vietnam War sustained an insatiable demand for Zambian copper and the TAZARA line would break Zambia’s dependence on Portuguese-controlled Lobito and Beira and Apartheid Durban and East London. So the great irony of African history presented itself: Rhodes’ project was carried forward by communist China under Mao Zhe Dong. For five years, 25 000 Chinese and 50 000 African workers toiled to lay 310 000 tons of steel rail and to build 300 bridges and 23 tunnels. The stations – all 147 of them – were all similarly constructed by the Chinese from their ‘Lego kit’ of stations. They stretch over 1 858km from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in northeastern Zambia. The price came to US$230 million and in 1975 the line was completed, ahead of schedule. At Kapiri it was connected to the old colonial line having the same Cape gauge of 3ft 6in. No sooner was the last bolt in place than the Portuguese empire joined those of Babylon and Rome in history’s distant memory. In 1975 the Americans fled from Saigon and Zambia’s copper boom collapsed, never to rise again. Read more >
Journeys: Dar es Salaam, Trail of Two Oceans