ZESCO Excels

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

The rain is here. The electricity has gone.


As I typed the eight words above I did have the thought that those words alone say it all! But my readers expect more than that.


Over the last eight to ten weeks there seems to have been increased load shedding. Certainly where I live, we experienced load shedding both morning and evening every second day.  What was not surprising was that the SMS advance notifications that I receive from ZESCO were not actually in sync with the load shedding. As an example, on Wednesday I would be told that our area would experience load shedding on Thursday but the reality was that we experienced it on Wednesday! This was no different to the notifications we received notifying us of maintenance – the maintenance was done the following day.


And then the rain started and the electricity disappeared.  It is not hard to understand this. Decades of crisis management in this state run institution where one has to not only question the competence of the management but also the competence of the engineers and technicians. Without a doubt, if we looked closely, we would find some highly competent managers, engineers and technicians. But we would also find many incompetent personnel who are not qualified for the job and will never be qualified as they have been given a job because they are ‘somebody’s brother’. Nepotism at its best!


Take a look around at the installations.  Few joints have more that a temporary twisted wire.  You may even find some repaired with ‘maleggin’, the great Zambian ‘fix it all’.


Just last week, as a result of a medium storm, we were without Zesco for over twenty hours. When it was restored, it lasted for less than two hours before it went again. The call centre were on the ball and able to tell me that one of the breakers had been burnt.  But the same call centre told my neighbour that the breaker had been eaten by a rat.  A rat?  All I can say is that I smell a rat and now have confirmation of my long held suspicion that what we hear from Zesco is often not reality.  But I guess that it makes a change from the more usual answer of ‘there has been a tripping’.  Well of course there has been a tripping.  Anyone with only a modicum of common sense knows that ‘tripping’ is what happens when there is an electrical problem; that is the safety mechanism built into electrical installations to prevent something worse happening.


But forget the electrical installations.  How often have I tried to call the call centre to report a fault and the phone is just not answered.  Yet you get the recording which indicates that the phone is working. I even had the experience a few weeks ago when after ten plus attempts to get through to the faults number, I used another number which I found on the Zesco website for Faults. This number went through to the Call Centre Supervisor.  I explained that I had been trying to get through to Faults but without success upon which he told me that he was the Supervisor, but no, he could not take my report and that I should ‘just keep trying’.  What sort of Supervisor is that, I ask?


But I am the eternal optimist and like to think that Government has a plan for Zesco that will see an improvement in the ‘service’ which they are currently delivering. But in order for them to do this, they have to not only weed out the incompetent members of staff, but also change the mindset of those that will escape the pruning exercise. This will take time and we need to give Government time as it is not only Zesco but many other Government, quasi-Government and Parastatal organisations which need attention. As you will have read in the daily press, a Presidential knuckle rapping because of no water at the UTH resulted in water being on tap the very next day.  Yet the Presidential knuckle rapping regarding load shedding only resulted in an increase in load shedding and power outages.  Perhaps it is time to drop the ruler and pick up the sjambok!


In the meantime, I suggest that you do as I did a few years ago – take yourself down to one of the other suppliers of inverters and batteries and install a system that at least keeps some of your lights on in the house so that you are not plunged into darkness every second evening.


A Tale of Two Tubes

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

It was a new car and the time had come for its first tyre change. So the hunt began.


Armed with the phone numbers of all the known tyre suppliers inLusaka, I started on my quest to find out who had what and how much. What became very clear very quickly was that no one stocked tyres of the same make, and therefore quality, as the tyres that were fitted by the manufacturers.


What was also very clear, and readers need to be careful about this, is that some of the tyres that are being imported are of questionable quality. One does need to shop around and do ask where the tyres are manufactured. Although there are new names popping up all the time, the well known South African makes are still value for money and have a good safety rating.


Having decided which tyres we were to purchase, we made our way into town to have them fitted.


As I said, it was the first time we were fitting new tyres to this vehicle and being 750×16 tyres, they were not tubeless. It is a good twenty or twenty five years since I have driven a car with tubes and this is where we made our mistake – we forgot to ask about and check the quality of the tubes!


Having done about 2000 km on the new tyres, we had our first puncture. Yes, 2000 km only! The tube had failed. The second tube failed shortly after that.


As we go to press, we are still trying to establish whether it was overall poor quality tubes that were supplied or whether it was a bad batch. Not that it makes any difference when you are sitting on the side of the road without a spare wheel.


We did finally get back toLusakaand immediately went I search of better quality tubes and had them fitted, after having inspected them first.


This exercise is also not without pit falls. The first was that the fitter (and this was a specialised tyre fitting firm) did not automatically take the tyres for balancing. Only after an argument and calling the manager were the tyres balanced. We can only assume that the fitter thought that Balan Singh was the brother for Satwant Singh!


The second was the tyre pressure. This has happened to me again and again where tyres are pumped to a pressure many bars over the required or recommended pressure. Again, we needed the intervention of the manager to ensure the pressure was done correctly.


If you are a car owner take the time and make the effort to find out what the pressure in your tyres should be. And remember that if for any reason the tyre is removed from the rim, the wheel will need balancing again.

Decoding the Code

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Robert A Heinten said ‘Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something’. This is very true of the bar code which is now found on every manufactured product that we purchase.


The history of the bar code dates back to 1948 when the president of an American food chain asked that research be done on a system to automatically read product information at the till. A student over heard this and together with a friend they set out to develop just such a thing. The patent for the bar code, which was called ‘Classifying Apparatus and Method’, was issued in October 1952. The first use of bar codes was to label railway cars and it was not until June 1974 when a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum became the first item to have its bar code scanned.


It is only in the last 10 – 15 years that bar codes and bar code readers have been seen inZambia, and even today, it is mostly the chain Supermarkets that use them. Our other Supermarkets still rely on a cashier that punches the price into the cash register from the sticky label on the product. The cynic in me compels that I add that these are also the supermarkets where there is usually someone who will help you carry your shopping to the car! And there is always someone to pack your shopping.


But I digress. One of the most regular complaints I receive is that a shopper picks up a product from the shelf, where it is clearly labeled Kx, but when one gets to the till and it is scanned (or should that be scammed?) the price isKy.And I should add that the reports are always that the charge was higher and not the other way around.


How do you avoid being charged something different to the advertised or shelf price without each item bearing a label with the price on it? Bar Codes are inventory numbers which do not contain prices. Bar code errors happen because the price in a merchant’s computer does not match the price posted on the store shelves. So it comes down to the accuracy of the data entered by the data entry clerk which in Zambia, where accuracy is not necessarily one of our strong points, can be quite scary.


Clearly if you are only doing a small shop with a few items, this is easy.  But if you have a large number of items, it becomes almost impossible unless you record the advertised price for each item loaded into your trolley, an exercise a bit like playing darts with spaghetti. Can you imagine the congestion in our already busy supermarkets if shoppers were to write down the price of each item they plan to purchase?


Companies are legally obligated to correct these errors and most will, if you pick up the error. But it is picking up the error in the first place.  In many countries, the Law requires that a customer readable price is attached to an item so that consumers can compare prices and check for accuracy at the till.


Are we setting the bar too high to expect that Zambia will ever see such legislation which is necessary to protect consumers from being over-charged? Or better still, could we expect our shop owners to place customer readable price tags on each item voluntarily?

Say it Loud!

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

In terms of human communication it’s always very difficult to imagine how we would get along without speech. With estimates of approximately 6,800 languages spoken on earth, half of these are located in only eight countries; Papua-New Guinea 832, Indonesia 731, Nigeria 515, India 400, Mexico 295, Cameroon 286, Australia 268 and Brazil 234!


However the eight leading languages spoken in the world – again thanks to Google – we are reliably informed are: Mandarin 845M, Spanish 329M, English 328M, Hindi-Urdu 242M, Arabic 221M, Bengali 181M, Portuguese 178M, and Russian 144M!


With English still the official language ofZambiaand the language of instruction from upper primary school this means, therefore, that we avail our children of competence in a truly ‘International’ language. TheLusakaoffice of the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy has taken this educational responsibility to a higher level.


The brochure shouts out three words ‘Confidence, Communication and Creativity!’ The world-wide institution has been in existence for more than thirty years and opened its door inZambiathanks to the efforts of mother and daughter team, Janet and Carlyn  in January 2010.


What their curriculum entails is based on the fundamentals of ‘public speaking’ but is delivered in a style far removed from the dry old-fashioned way that we may be familiar with from our school life, even if our school held the track record for wins in ‘debating club’ . The technique marries the best of diction, dramatic production and developmental youth focused training to reach out to all children from 3 up to 18.


Janet, who spent most of her childhood in the Zambian school system has a sensitive understanding to the challenges that both government and private schools face in the country. But neither does Janet, as Principal nor Helen O’Grady, entertain any shortcuts in the delivery of their classes and the sacrifice has paid off.


Shy, withdrawn children blossom with the experience as much as their more forthright colleagues while their teachers strive to motivate each student to achieve their personal best. All the teachers are qualified drama teachers and undergo regular training in the Helen O’Grady Drama Programme.


Passing through the full curriculum allows students to graduate into the teaching programme or even directly into the world of the stage. So what looks like an extra-curricular activity could end up being a life-time occupation for some of the participants.


The Academy offers classes in certain schools roundLusaka, as well as private studio classes at St Columbus Church onNangwenya Rdbut Carlyn, as co-director, is always on the go taking the services to schools and private groups.  Adult classes are also held by arrangement.


For more information: www.dramaafrica.com, janet@dramaafrica.com or carlyn@dramaafrica.com    Tel: 0977 712-160 or 0978 532-143.

Birds, Bugs and Bushes

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Dung Beetles


There are thousands of species of dung beetles, of which some 1,800 are found in Southern Africa alone. Overall they occur throughout most of Africa and Madagascar. They come in a variety of colours and sizes – bronze, green, black and so on. They have a wide thorax, short clubbed antennae with a wide head. The fan like antennae can be folded neatly away, in particular when the beetle is engaged in the laborious task of preparing its meal. Dung beetles are widespread in most habitats, favouring woodland and savannah grasslands where the majority of the herbivores, whose dung they feed on, reside.


Adult dung beetles fly over the grasslands and through the woodlands singly or in groups to sites of recent mammal droppings. On reaching the site, the beetle will firstly break up the pile of dung, using its front legs. The best part of the dung is patted and pressed into a neat ball, and the beetle also uses its shovel like head to aid it in making the neat round ball of dung.


Having made its dung ball, the ball is either rolled away by the beetle using its hind legs to a nearby chamber which it has excavated or it will bury the ball there and then on site. When it buries the ball in a chamber, it seals the entrance of the tunnel; it then steadily eats the whole ball taking several days to do so, whereupon it will break out and fly out in search of fresh dung.


Both sexes look alike. After mating the female carves out a chunk of dung and then rolls it away into a hastily built underground tunnel. She deposits a number of balls in the tunnel; in each ball a single egg is laid. Beetles have a four stage history- egg, larva, pupa and then adult. Out of the egg hatches a white larva, which eats the contents on the ball leaving only a thin outer sheet. It pupates then emerges as an adult usually when the rains are just beginning.


The larvae of the dung beetle are fed upon by many other creatures that will dig them out of their dung balls. It needs to be appreciated just how vital dung beetles are in the process of recycling nutrients back into the soil from the dung they bury and eat. This is particularly so in arid regions, where bacterial and fungi decay is retarded due to dryness. Though they appear as being repulsive because they “boldly go” into an area where no other creatures dare tread – that of handling and feeding on the waste matter of other creatures, dung or excreta.


Thanks to these humble beetles, the land does not smell and choke up with unsightly piles of discarded mammalian dung. Be it human or animal the dung beetle tackles it all. From a human point of view we may snub the dung beetles and call them low-lifes yet their   roll in nature surpasses that of other more appealing charismatic creatures.

In The Garden

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Trees create a garden. The rest is decoration! I had been thinking of planting a few more small to medium size trees and took my time considering the many possibilities. The franjipani is beautiful and very eye-catching in full bloom in October but not an attractive tree once the dry season comes. It also occupies a lot of space. The fabulous flamboyant is spectacular and gives great shade but those large brown seedpods hanging from the branches for most of the year and those dominant roots protruding in every direction are serious drawbacks. Ditto the jacaranda – the roots eventually form huge buttresses and make it impossible to grow anything underneath. An attractive tree is the ficus benjaminii but in a few years it gets very large indeed. Plant one if you have the space but at a good distance (10 metres?) from your house.

The bottlebrush fits the bill – medium size, graceful shape and attractive red flowers. It also survives well with minimal water. The melaleuca is another good choice. And then I thought of the curry tree. Its leaves are small and shiny, its flowers are neat and pretty and it does not get too big. It is easy to care for and survives the heat. Some of the coniferous trees make a wonderful statement in the garden. The avocado becomes a large tree and the roots are not a nuisance; it gives shade so that it can be under-planted with anthuriums, clivias, ferns and other shade-loving plants. The lychee is another fruit tree that looks great all year round. The macadamia nut tree is another. Palms will fit into any but the smallest garden and are always impressive. The multi-stemmed palms like the golden bamboo palm will take up more space. The Alexander palm is one of the best single-stemmed palms but there are plenty of beautiful palms to choose from. The leopard tree is a lovely choice with markings on its bark. The bauhinia or orchid tree has large white or pink blooms in abundance. Ensure that there is a single trunk by pruning any sideshoots when it is young.

Some people refuse to plant the datura, reputed to be poisonous, but as a small flowering tree it has no rivals. The large hanging flowers are heavily scented and come in a variety of colours, white, yellow, apricot and pink. Bees love this tree.

It is easy to grow a weeping willow but it does need ample water. Plant it next to a tap. It will soon grow to its full size. Its elegant shape is an addition to any garden.

The neem and moringa trees are grown specifically for their contribution to nutrition and health but are attractive small trees nonetheless.

Locate your new tree with care. Think of its size in 10 years time. Before you plant, stand on the chosen spot and look upwards. If you are gazing at electric cables or the branches of an existing tree, you are in the wrong place. Dig a very large square hole and fill it with water. Allow the water to drain away. If you are short of water, put a pipe 1 metre long into the hole vertically at the edge. This will enable you to water the tree at root level instead of watering the ground surface. Fill the hole with compost. Then water the compost in order to settle it and add more soil if necessary. Place a stick across the hole to show the soil level and plant your tree so that exactly the same soil level is retained as the tree had in its plastic bag. Water again and ensure the soil does not dry out for the first month.


Eating Out

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

‘Pzazz’ at Zebra Crossings


Is there any wrong time for a pizza? We chose an early Monday lunch-time served hot, and first out of the wood-fired oven.  Zebra Crossings Café has always been a place to escape to for fresh platters and a good cup of coffee served in the open air. Authentic Italian pizza was probably the best complimentary next step and our ‘Napoli’ drenched in mozzarella and generously sprayed with olives and anchovies, was quite simply, great. We were delivered a crisp crunchy base, with no need for further garnish or ‘toppings’ that have become a rather annoying feature of Lusaka’s fast-food culture.


The restaurant area at Ababa House has given itself over to the able hands of new management with the launch of ‘Pzazz’s’ dinner menu Wednesdays to Saturday evenings. If you’ve been a regular at the Red Dot art exhibition openings that have become synonymous with the café, then you will probably be wondering what took them so long! Every exhibition is not only an opportunity to refresh on the Zambian visual art scene, but also a chance to nibble on the café’s house favourites. Now slivers of pizza backed up with the ‘Marika’ house of coffee are completing the picture if you will pardon the pun.

Wrought iron mosaic tables, kiddies corners and comfy sofas have not been sacrificed, instead notably more of the Zebra Crossing signature mixed seating is evident; indicating that the café is expecting more not less with their extended opening hours.


Owner-manager at ‘Pzazz’ has a healthy resume of experience, not only in owning, setting up and running restaurants in bothKenyaand theUK, but a cook himself and obviously excited by good food!  Home-made ice-cream; pasta (also home-made) which includes a ‘diavoli’ and tempting vegetable lasagna have made their way onto the day-time menu.


Half-way through this write-up, I caught myself realising that I’d left the meat-hungry high and dry…”Not fair!” I hear you. Well Simon has no apologies for his game-faring ways and is promising to deliver with buck, bushpig and other creatures of the wild on traditional and more experimental casseroles and braai’s. For more information please look up his four corners of the world space at www.pzazzrestaurant.com and for bookings and reservations email: food@pzazzrestaurant.com or tel: 0973 710-674.


Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

How are those New Year’s resolutions going? Chances are you are somewhere in mid-January 2013 right now having relented against your better judgement and bought a Lowdown, just to try and find the Jaylin Restaurant’s number and see if they’re open for a slab of steak on Monday. You might still be going strong and holding your resolve on all those earnest promises you made to yourself and your nearest and dearest when you were still full of good cheer and eggnog and your wallet was malnourished enough by the excesses of Christmas to embrace a new regime of abstinence. Do these ring a bell?

First and foremost in difficulty and on a par with forging world peace; giving up smoking. If you are one of the unrepentant 301 million Chinese or the seventeen other sorry idiots left, who still commune with the god of fire on a regular basis, despite all the perfectly good evidence citing the consequences of this ridiculous habit, then you will know how hard this one is and how demoralising are the frequent attempts you, me and the other fifteen idiots make to break this curse. Despite the horrific photographs of diseased lungs and throats bubbling with carcinomas helpfully pasted all over my packs of rolling tobacco. Despite the verbal predictions of my impending premature death (and the ever so slightly mitigating and patently untrue one about a diminished sperm count…..so much for my tobacco based contraception plan) I am so addicted that I don’t even bother to make this a resolution, not wanting to fail so miserably at something this important, so early on in the year and thus set a scathingly low benchmark for achievement at the outset. Instead I trust that one day a light bulb will come on and I will realise that I am not exempt from smoking’s certain dangers and that anything I can do to increase the odds of still being alive and able to see when my sons start bringing home girlfriends, is well worth the effort, however super-human. Sadly I am a survivor of the last generation on earth that once thought smoking was cool, and made you smart and sexy and this is a much harder thing to walk away from than simple physiological addiction. Lets all try though, if only to get someone else’s money’s worth out of the National Health Service for the last fifteen years of drooling, incontinence between 85 and 100 … which, sadly, is the bit you get to keep if you give up now.

Drink less. Another popular resolution and one that is much easier to tackle especially if you start off from a lofty position of high consumption. For many of the people I know, cutting their alcohol intake by 50% would be a good start, but would still leave them statistically on par with several million Eastern Europeans, the 16-26 year old population of Essex and the Irish. NationallyZambiaranks suspiciously low on the league table of dipsomania sitting at 119 on a list of 186 countries. A cynic might suppose this to be due to an awful lot of people being too drunk to fill in the questionnaire, seeing as many of the entries belowZambiaare devout Muslim countries where the figures are naturally skewed by the drinkers having had their hands cut off and not being able to fill in the questionnaire either. Sundowners is the curse of all who dwell in the tropics, as the working day is punctuated so perfectly by this beautiful moment we all love to celebrate and once the seal has been broken, even on a school night, its hard to stop at one. It’s easier not to drink in the week when you dwell in temperate climes as you go to work in the dark and are still at work (and generally discouraged from drinking, unless you are a partner in a law firm or a politician) in the afternoon. The rest of the year by the time the sun goes down you are already asleep and safe from your own self destructive urges.

Exercise more. This is a goody because if you can pull this off you will automatically do better at the first two resolutions above, since it’s practically quite difficult to juggle all three at the same time, especially on a rowing machine. Even if all you do is waste a reasonable chunk of the time that you would otherwise enjoy with a beer and a smoke, in moderate exercise you will feel a lot better and save money which can then be spent on wheelchairs and colostomy bags for your now extended future. Whatever you do and however pathetic it might seem at first when compared to the exertions of your friends who run half marathons or cycle to Harareevery weekend, it will make a difference and you will feel better. It might take months and you might not succeed at the more difficult resolutions one and two, but you will certainly end up cutting down on them and carrying those extra few pounds with less puff and more panache than by trying to lose them having a gastric bypass or farming tapeworms in your large intestine.

These are my three big resolutions and they’re just about time management really. About wasting bad time in order to spend it in another, better way. Invest a good couple of hours a day into activities that are physically demanding and which lather you into a sweat and keep your hands too busy to hold a glass, and  go to bed as early as possible as this will keep you out of temptation’s way.

According to Time magazine the “Ten Most Commonly Broken New Years Resolutions” are as follows. Exercise More, Quit Smoking, Learn a New Skill, Eat More Healthily, Spend Less, Spend More Time with Family, Travel to New Places, Be Less Stressed, Volunteer and Drink Less. All but three of these (travel, exercising and volunteering) can be achieved it would seem, if you learn the art of sleeping (with your family in your bed) for at least twelve to fourteen hours a day … and then do one sponsored run a year in a foreign land, you will succeed where millions fail.

There’s only one promise that you need to keep, and if you can crack this then everything else will fall into place. BE NICER TO YOURSELF. Cut yourself some slack and try to do things that make you feel better about who you are. Happy 2013.

Mole in the Hole

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Zambia’s Railways  –   A Vital But Underutilised Resource

Recently RSZ (Railway Systems of Zambia) have had the concession to run Zambia’s rail system taken away.

Some would say, about time too!

Let us face it, they have not improved the infrastructure or the motive power or the rolling stock. In fact, quite the contrary, all is in a dreadful state and the system’s capability has been reduced to one-sixth of its former state. This article describes what we have got, why we got it and why we still desperately need it.  The Government has promised to revitalise the rail system with massive injections of cash, but unless real know how is applied all will go down the drain as the old guard of Zambia Railways return to control. Let us hope that the good Professor Chirwa is able to overcome these initial problems and I have been bold enough to include suggestions as to part of the way forward.

But first, let us begin, at the beginning.

I would ask you to consider the alternatives available to people before the advent of railways.

Granted, in the early 1800’s, the carriage of goods and passengers in Europe could be facilitated by that marvelous invention, the canal, as well as rivers and coastal shipping.  Inland, however, the stage coach or the heavy horse drawn wain, over execrable roads that had not been maintained since Roman times, was a painful and long process.

With the Industrial Revolution came the railway, its original purpose to transport materials (usually coal) to the coast. The carriage of passengers became an integral part of railway traffic with its expanded use.

Such was the instrument that developed continents.  Forget the pioneering wagon train, Wells Fargo and the stage coach, it was the railway that developed America. So too the oxen span, the Cape post cart and the stage coach were all consigned to history; here came the railway to Africa.

Started in the 1850’s the railways, after a bit of a hiccup, spread out from Cape Town quite rapidly, so much so that the line had reached Kimberly and then the Reef in no time at all. Whatever imperialistic jingoism was bandied about with the idea of a Cape to Cairo Railway, the reality of the construction of the line north from Kimberly in South Africa was based on sound financial grounds.

Rhodes (Ahah, you might well have wondered when this robber baron would be mentioned, and let us dispel this dreadful smear on his character once and for all “Racialist? Nonsense; Mr. Rhodes treated Boer and Briton alike!” said Sir Percy Fitzpatrick) was unwilling at first to extend the line north from Mafeking, preferring the route from Beirato open up the hinterland.  However, to quote Sir Charles  Metcalfe “It was not until 1896, when his hand was forced by the Matebele Rebellion and the Rinderpest and goods were costing £200 per ton freight from Mafeking to Bulawayo, that he (Rhodes) gave the order to construct the railway with all speed. This was accomplished by 1897.

By this time encouraging reports of copper finds in Katanga fuelled Rhodes’ enthusiasm.

A route via the Kariba Gorge was discarded as the coal deposits found there were very poor. The discovery of Wankie and its huge coal deposits determined the northward thrust, the bridge at Victoria Falls, completed in 1905, was placed there with an eye to the fledgling bunjee jumping industry, across the Zambezi.  Again, initial plans to head almost due north to Kansanshi were deflected by the discovery of Broken Hill (now Kabwe).   The line was constructed from Kalomo to Broken Hill by 1907.   Several records were established.            Six miles of line were completed in a day, the last mile into Broken Hill finished within one hour and, incredibly, the huge 13 span bridge across the Kafue constructed in just over five months.

Persons waxed eloquent over the Kafue River, navigable up stream for over 200 miles from the bridge.   Small steamers could provide the link to spacious farms that could be the granary of Africa etc.

A delay of two years occurred before the rail head was again pushed north.   A plan to route the line via Serenje to a rail head at Mpulungu was discarded for the obvious need of the emerging copper mines inKatanga.   The opening of Bwana Mukuba inNdolawas an added spur.   The line passed through Ndola and into Katanga and, by 1909, a Belgian company completed the line to Elizabethville.   It was further extended to Bukama and the navigable upper Congo River system by 1913.

The prime purpose of the line was the carriage of coal and goods to and export products from the mines.   The carriage of passengers was a vital aspect being virtually the only reliable method of transport.

Discovery of the Copperbelt mines fuelled the next round of railway construction at the end of the 1920’s.   A branch line was built to Luanshya, another from Mokambo to Mufulira, both funded by RST (Roan Selection Trust). A line was then built fromNdolathroughKitweto Chingola with a link to Mufulira.  The depression stopped its onward construction to Kansanshi.  It was not until the 1950’s that the final extension to Chililabombwe was made.

The demand from the mines expanded the timber industry; the longest private railway in the world from Livingstone to the teak forests of Mulobezi was constructed to facilitate that requirement.

The last stages of rail construction inZambiawere largely politically motivated. The severing of trading links withRhodesia and South Africa cut off Zambia from its vital coal supplies and its routes to ports. The development of those poor coal deposits earlier mentioned required a rail spur from Choma to Masuku built in 1972 where the aerial ropeway from the new colliery at Maamba terminated.

The enormous project to build the Tazara line linking Dar-es-Salaam with Kapiri Mposhi was finished in 1976. It remains totally underutilised.

Finally the commuter line in Lusaka, linking Matero and Chilenje with the city centre was built in 1991 by ZCCM (Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines).

The above tells you when it was all built and why it was built, i.e. primarily to serve the Mining Industry. Briefly, below, is described what was built.

The track gauge of Zambia Railways (i.e. the distance between the inside edges of the rails) is 1.067m or 3’6″ for the old fashioned.   The same gauge is used throughout Central and Southern Africa and theSudan. Tazara also has the same gauge but, through an unintentional slip up (an Imperial Committee was told in error that the Sudan Railway was going to have a gauge of one metre and decided that all East African railways should conform to that), the lines in East Africa have a different gauge.

A variety of rail sizes are used but attempts were being made to upgrade all main line track to a standard 91lb to 1 yard length weight, flat bottomed rail with a 5″ base.   This base size is the same as the existing 80lb RBS rail and facilitates up grading, standard sleepers and sole plates being used. Concrete sleepers continue to be installed, the rails attached to the sleepers by spring steel clips made by Pandrol.

Some steel sleepers are still used (especially the Mulobezi line) but a lot of the line remains on wooden sleepers well past their sell by date. The rails themselves are joined by bolted fish plates.  It is here that the greatest weakness of the track lies.   The pumping action applied by the train’s progress over the rail joints tends to depress the joints and loosen the fish bolts. Constant maintenance is required to maintain an even top to the track. Welding of the joints alleviates this situation.

The entire track is laid on a compacted formation overlaid by an ideal depth of 0.3 metre of 50 mm stone or ballast.   The purpose of the ballast is to provide a resilient cushion for the track that will spread the load onto the formation, retain the track in its designed alignment and permit the rapid and free drainage of water. Much of the ballast on the system is choked with dirt. Water is retained beside any wooden sleepers, rotting them.   It is essential that ballast is cleaned and maintained on a regular basis.   It remains a major problem for the operator to do this.

The actual alignments and formations are as originally constructed.   Earthworks were kept to a minimum, the alignment included many sharp curves of some 200 metre radius as the line rose up from Kafue to Lusaka and again on the approaches to river crossings.  In places, especially north of Lusaka in the Ngwerere area, the line crossed black cotton soil which is still subject to subsidence problems.

The main line from Victoria Falls to the Congo Border is 800 kilometres long.

The “branch lines” on the Copperbelt and the one down to Musuku  comprise another 300 kilometres of track.

The Mulobezi line is 163 km long. A further 60 km of sidings etc. exist. There are three interchange stations, 20 goods stations, 205 private sidings and six marshalling yards

Such is the asset that is Zambia Railways. This was concessioned to RSZ. Clever, hard headed businessmen ran this national asset at a profit albeit at less than one-sixth of its capacity. They were happy as long as the product of their mines in the Congo got to port. They cared little for the maintenance of the asset and, finally, ZR was repossessed by the Government.

In much the same way the balance of transport that the nation requires is made up by hard headed businessmen who run trucking companies on that other National Asset, the Roads!

Our poor roads.  Anyone travelling up to the Copperbelt and beyond will tell you that it is little short of a nightmare, the weight of traffic that there is now on the roads.

Now, for the bad news; it is going to get an awful lot worse. The Congo mines are stirring back to life. The huge resources of Kolwezi, Likasi, Kambove and Tenke Fungurume are going to get back to work with a vengeance and all is going to come down through the main road south. The only reasons that it has not done so before are the political intrigues and the lack of electricity, a problem that is besetting us already.  The road out west from Chingola is not a happy one.  It is the only link to our new super mines, Kansanshi by Solwezi, Lumwana and Kalumbila further to the west. Until a new smelter is built at Kansanshi, large quantities of concentrates have to come down it to the smelters on the Copperbelt over 150 km away. All these roads will be hammered away, damaged by overuse and overloading until they are reduced, once again, to the state in which they were not so very long ago. Some of us remember them as such – it was not nice. The public and the truckers will complain and the Government, bless it, will be forced to go out and beg more money to repair them.

Consider, if you will, what is required today. First and foremost a dual carriageway is needed from the Congo border down to and round Kitwe. The next thing needed would be the construction of a dual carriageway down from the Luanshya turnoff down to Kapiri Mposhi. The last immediate requirement would be a dual carriageway by pass round Lusaka to the east before the city seizes up entirely! All of the above could cost in excess of $900 million!

What are we to do?  It is obvious; put heavy traffic back on to rail where it belongs.

First of all the traffic within the Copperbelt should be examined.  Even after the closure of the smelter in Kitwe, there are major material movements between the mines, all of which have adequate rail facilities to handle them.  Concentrates from Nkana to Mufulira, lime from Ndola to Chingola are but two examples that should be on rail. It is suggested that Government GIVE these rail lines to the mining companies on condition that the mining companies maximise their utilisation to dramatically reduce the amount of road inter mine traffic. The mines used to have all the experience to do this; they still handle more rail traffic in a month than RSZ did in a year. If there are constraints in motive power and rolling stock there are a number of companies that would leap at the chance to provide a decent service to the mines.

Previous cooperation betwixt mines and rail worked; transit times (where money just sits), derailments and material losses were slashed; key “disaster areas” were eliminated, all to the mutual benefit and profit of mine and railway.

The mining companies should see if they can get a better deal all round so that all copper can be exported by rail; let us face it, two  well guarded trains can handle the daily export of finished copper out of Zambia via Tazara or through South Africa.  Zambia Railways will trot out their usual story about unfair competition with road hauliers not having to pay for road maintenance. This is a good point and the maintenance of the track should be carried out by Government. To overhaul the entire length of track would cost a quarter of the amount required for the road improvements mentioned above. The cost of continued maintenance of the track is far less than of the roads and both upgrade and maintenance would provide much needed employment for a lot of unskilled labour.

If ZR then say that they have insufficient motive power and rolling stock, they should look to repair what they have in the facilities available in Kabwe and if they still seem unable to provide the service required, they should step aside and let others use this national asset to the benefit of the nation. In every instance, the use of rail bound traffic on the Copperbelt should be encouraged rather than the current trend that led to the removal of the line to Luanshya to use on the folly at Chipata!

What of our new super mines in North Western province. There have been many plans to provide a rail link to the Copperbelt, now an even more fanciful one to link up with the Benguela line in Angola. A further plan, to build a line south from Kansanshi to Katima Mulilo and on to link up with Namibian rail at Grootfontein has the advantage of linking the mines to Walvis Bay, considered by some to be the most efficient port in Sub Saharan Africa, but at what cost; to build the track alone to Katima would need 900 million dollars! The line to the Copperbelt would link the mines to a rail system that has a major problem already, one that would require a solution before any miner would spend money on such a link. The Angolan suggestion relies on the refurbishment of the Benguela line; the Chinese are at it, still clearing land mines and rebuilding bridges ravaged by the recent war there. Again the costs are large, the result uncertain, not least the untried performance of the port facilities at Lobito. I would suggest, as an initial step, the construction of a rail line linking Kansanshi with Lumwana and Kalumbila. This would provide an efficient method of transporting the large amounts of concentrates produced to the new smelter at Kansanshi.  Only then could a decision be made as to the best way to move the finished product to port. The extension of the airstrip at Solwezi and the revival of Zambia Air Cargos to fly the copper out again would not be a good idea!

The problem of the Congo remains. The completion of the renovation of the Benguela line right through Kolwezi to Lubumbashi is some years away.  Furthermore there is no guarantee that the line will be operated efficiently.  As such I believe that there will remain a huge demand for through traffic to the Congo. What can we do to alleviate the burden on our roads? The immediate suggestion put forward is to introduce road tolls. I believe that this is a fairly negative approach; it will not reduce traffic, just push the cost of transport up. By all means look at it but provide a sensible alternative by creating a container port at Konkola so that all through traffic may be put on to rail. There is a lot of traffic coming from Tanzania that could and should be containerised and railed through Zambia. With a little bit of effort much of the copper and cobalt materials coming down should start and continue its journey by rail throughout.  Fuel to the Congo should all be transported by rail; it makes sense and safety to do so.

All of the above saves our roads, utilises our asset and makes us money and I would urge Government and the mining companies to take immediate action to achieve the above.

Under the Fig Tree

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

A pre-sunrise start from Lusaka, heading North, has one reaching the outskirts of Kabwe just when one is feeling ready for breakfast or, at the very least, a cup of coffee. And do you know what? Fig Tree Café, just seven kilometres south of Kabwe, on the left hand side, are open at 6 am ready to fill that hole in your stomach.

They don’t only do breakfast though. Their menu is varied including ‘proper’ toasted sandwiches, in other words made in a sandwich toaster rather than what seems to be the norm in Zambia where they make toast and then put a filling on it. Their lunch menu includes homemade oxtail, lasagna and chicken curry as well as burgers and wraps. Their portions are generous and all ingredients are fresh and locally produced.

For those with a preference for sweet things, freshly baked cakes and cookies are available and as well as their scrumptious Chocolate Brownies.

Then there’s the coffee – always freshly ground and filtered Zambian coffee and a choice of cappuccino, latté, mocha or iced coffee.

Whilst there, also take a look at the home produce that is available- jams, honey, sundried fruits, cheeses as well as some hand made crafts.

Figtree is open from 6 am to 6 pm, Monday to Saturday so if you are travelling through Kabwe, plan a stop off at Fig tree to give you a rest from driving and to refresh yourself. But if you are pushed for time, you don’t need to go hungry as you can call ahead (Tel: 0968 652-413) and your order will be waiting for you when you get there.

Let’s Take A Look Behind : No Road South

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

January 9, 1973, the Rhodesian Government led by Ian Smith announced the abrupt and unexpected closure of the border posts between Zambia and Rhodesia at Victoria Falls, Kariba and Chirundu. Ten hours later, it was further announced that Zambia’s life giving copper was to be excluded from this closure. Three weeks later, on 1 February 1973, when Smith reopened the border, Zambia’s then President, Kenneth Kaunda, refused to accept a reopened border. And thus, the border between the two countries remained closed until 1980 when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.

What were the events leading up to the closure of the border? Guerrillas attacked a farm in one of the Rhodesian border areas on 21 December 1972. This marked the beginning of a bush war that continued with varying intensity until 1980. On 8 January, a vehicle hit a landmine killing a number of people. As tension mounted throughout the northern areas of the country, the government in Salisbury decided to close the border with Zambia until such time as the Zambian authorities gave the assurance that no anti-Rhodesian terrorists would be harboured in their country. This border closure was meant to generate publicity for the Rhodesian account of the incident.

When, on 1 February 1973, after the necessary assurances regarding the harbouring of guerrillas in Zambia were received, Smith was able to announce the reopening of the border, reversing the embarrassing political blunder of closing the border in the first place. KK refused to accept a re-opened border, saying that Smith was ‘too hostile a neighbour’ and could not be trusted, although Zambia’s copper had for the previous eight years been travelling through Rhodesia, without incident.

No-one knows exactly why KK refused to reopen the border. No preparations had been made for alternative outlets to the sea for both our exports and imports. The Tazara Railway was still being built and would not be completed until 1975. Our copper was thus diverted northwards and then west, on the Benguela railway through Angola. But this route could not cope with 27,000 tonnes of copper, in addition to its normal traffic. By the end of 1974, it was revealed that Zambia had secretly been using Rhodesian Railways and was still moving copper through Rhodesia to the Mozambique ports.

The cost to the Zambian economy in terms of missed delivery dates, dislocation and the lowering of our national income as a result of the diversion of our copper to other routes was enormous, in the hundreds of millions of Dollars; a cost borne by the Zambian people. This was further exacerbated by the closure of the Benguela Railway as a result of the Angolan war and the closure of the border between Mozambique and Rhodesia following Mozambique’s Independence from Portugal. Although by 1976, Tazara was operating, it was far from ideal. Acute interruptions to the export of copper and the importation of essential goods forced Zambia to reopen the Rhodesian route in October 1978 to bring in supplies of fertiliser. The border closure was coupled with the world energy crisis of 1973 and the slump in world copper prices. Zambia’s oil imports increased from K 17.7 million in 1973 to K 122.9 million in 1980. Copper and cobalt, which in 1974 had provided 54 percent of government revenue, provided nothing between 1977 and 1979. In 1974, copper generated 33 percent of GDP; by 1977, this was down to 11 percent. The Zambian mines were running at a loss and borrowing heavily. This was compounded by a severe drought in 1978.

Total collapse of the economy was only averted through the intervention of the International Monetary Fund and the Government had to face the growing discontent of the Zambian population. In 1978, when the late Simon Kapepwe announced his intention to challenge KK for the presidency, he stated that one of his priorities would be to reopen the border with Rhodesia.

Without a doubt, the continued closure of our border with Rhodesia was highly detrimental to the Zambian economy and thus, to the Zambian people; an incident from which Zambia has only recently started to recover.

Barely There Yet

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Link Zambia 8000, Pave Zambia 2000; the two latest programmes to improve and increase mobility in and around Zambia. And correctly so. Roads are the lifeline of our country and the catalyst for development.

But let me tell you a story of a specific road.

In 2008, within a few days of the nation receiving the news of the illness of our Late President Levy Mwanawasa, road contractors together with all of their heavy equipment and staff appeared on a gravel road which links Leopards Hill Road with the Palabana and Chalimbana areas in Chongwe district. In fact the very road leading to the farm of President Mwanawasa.

At this time, this road was in an appalling state. Certain areas could only be traversed in first gear (unless of course you were driving a company car which any business owner knows can do 100 kph in reverse), so maintenance work was way overdue and it was welcomed by regular road users.

The roadworks moved ahead at an enormous pace, faster than we have ever seen road contractors work, although there were concerns about the quality of the work being done. This was mainly because of the gravel that was used in some areas – enormous stones. No! Enormous rocks were compacted into the gravel; enormous rocks which road users knew would be exposed as soon as the gravel started washing off, as it does. It goes without saying that this is exactly what did happen. This road, within one year, was back to being traversed in first gear only for long stretches.

But what is worse is that since 2008 until now this road has seen NO maintenance by the Road Development Agency. No grader has been sent to grade the road. No grader has been sent to open drains prior to the rains. No people have been sent to slash the grass on the corners. The only maintenance has been when the residents of the area have clubbed together to have a grader grade the road. Or when they have organised a work group to remove the worst of the rocks and stones. Or when they have had their garden staff opening drains and ensuring that there is somewhere for the water to drain off the road.

What a terrible waste of Zambia’s investment in road infrastructure! Whatever money was spent back in 2008 to have the road rehabilitated will now have to be spent again, all for the want of a bit of annual maintenance.

Let us hope that the roads being built, rehabilitated or upgraded under Link Zambia 8000 and Pave Zambia 2000 will be placed on proper regular and periodic maintenance regimes so that Zambia’s capital investment in these roads is not lost … again.

Mulungushi in March

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Gentlemen, is one of your New Year’s resolutions to spend more time with your family or to spend a bit more time bonding with your son(s)? Why not join some other men for a Christian ‘Boy’s and their Toy’s’ weekend away?

The organiser, Conrad says ‘The idea is actually quite simple: We want to create an opportunity for guys to get together and have a good clean fun weekend, where guys can just do guys stuff, chill out, and have tons of fun. The theme for this event will be “Boys and their toys” … as in gadgets, boats, jet-ski’s, motor-cross bikes, quad bikes, fishing, parasailing, water skiing, etc and the plan is for as many guys as possible to bring these toys and allow others who may not have the opportunity to have fun, to do so also. Some guys may want to go birding (feathered variety) which is great and other may wish to explore the historical hydro powerstation of the bush around the dam. It’s a great time for dads to bring their sons for quality dad/son time. Of course the whole weekend is centred around a Christian message where we will have a guest speaker sharing with the guys about issues of manhood, fathering, friendship, parenting, Christian values, being a better husband etc. A local church from Ndola, Ndola Christian Fellowship, will be sponsoring the guest speaker for the event.’

One of the great challenges is to custom build a thirteen metre high platform which is erected for the men to jump off into the water below. The event will also be an opportunity to ‘network’ and form friendships to aid business.

Of course, if you are a business man and supply one of the many brands of ‘boys toys’ such as motorbikes or fishing tackle, this will also be a good opportunity for you to promote your product and possibly even pick up a few sales.

The month of March has been chosen because it suits the average farmer’s harvesting or planting schedule and should also be the tail end of the rains.

The plan for this ‘long’ weekend is for the guys to arrive on Thursday 7 March. The first sessions will be in the morning on Friday 8 March and the last or fourth session will be on Saturday 9 March in the afternoon.

Sunday will be time to pack up because whilst there are some private chalets that are available for renting, some may choose to camp and if the numbers are great, then the overflow will have to go into tents.

Meals will be prepared by participants themselves and what has happened in the past is that they have a braai going all day long and anyone who is hungry pops down to the fire and ‘burns themselves some nyama’

This event will take place at Mulungushi Dam just outside Kabwe which is a pleasant, relaxing venue for such a weekend ‘away from it all’.

For further information, contact Conrad on Tel 0977 573-626 or via email on kbergfamily@gmail.com.

Written By: The Lowdown - Dec• 31•12



Written By: The Lowdown - Dec• 31•12

“A nation that destroys it’s soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

This is the sight that met me on my way home on 6 October, a sight which has met me for nearly forty years.



And this  is the sight that met me on 9 November as I drove home.


The land on which this devastation has taken place is State Lodge, the President’s country residence.


Up until the early 80’s the entire property, State Lodge, was heavily forested.  When the deforestation started a concerned neighbour wrote to President Kaunda expressing concern.  Nothing happened and the following year the deforestation continued. Another letter was written and again nothing happened. By year three there were no more trees to write about. Although at this stage, the trees on the sides of the hills and immediately adjacent to the State Lodge fence were untouched.  This latest ring barking and the area that has been cleared around it is on the side of the hill.


Ironically, this tree was ring barked in the same week that it was announced in Parliament that twenty five million trees will be planted during the current tree planting season to help address our depleted forests. It was also the week in which all timber licences were suspended. Not only is it ironic, but it is also down right embarrassing that this destruction of trees is going on ‘right under the President’s nose’ so to speak.


We applaud Government for their action; it was urgently needed.  But it should not stop with tree planting.  Forestry officials need to go out into the field and educate people that it is not necessary to remove a tree to plant maize; that maize can be intercropped with trees.


Amongst the tree species to be planted are pine and eucalyptus for timber and poles, faldherbia albida for animal fodder, nitrogen fixing and firewood and moringa oleifera for medicine and oil, and fruit trees. Eleven nurseries are to be established around the country which will produce 17,500,000 seedlings. These nurseries will involve local chiefs, schools and churches in the production of the seedlings.  Hopefully this will give these people a sense of ownership and as a result they will care for the trees into their old age.


We wish Government every success in their endeavours. But we cannot pass this opportunity to remind them that it will only succeed if they have the right management in place, people who have the right work ethic, who are there to do the job properly and who are on the same agenda as Government rather than on their own agenda. We say this as we have received numerour reports of Forestry Department officials who are encouraging people in rural areas to grow pine and eucalyptus trees as the very same officials have private contracts to supply poles.


I, in the meantime, am going back to check how the digging of the holes are going for the 150 trees I intend to plant this year as soon as the rain starts.


“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Warren Buffett