Kariba’s iconic St Barbara Chapel

By Ngoni Shumba

Roman Catholic Church in Kariba – St Barbara Chapel, is an iconic landmark on the resort town’s infrastructure.

It is the only building whose architectural design was carefully modelled in tribute Kariba Dam—is a double curvature concrete arch dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe, complete with a plaque to honour people who died constructing the dam in 1957.

During construction of the dam, there were heavy rains which led to the coffer dam being destroyed, sweeping away many workers  with 11 Italians having their bodies thrown against the wet dam wall concrete.

The chief engineer decided against trying to pluck their bodies out and went for the bold but practical option of plastering them into the wall where they remain up to now.

The dam’s first phase was constructed from 1955 to 1959 but it was to be fully completed in 1977 due to economic and political factors.

The chapel which is located in Kariba Heights bellies no secrets and is an important reminder of the story of the dam’s construction.

It has seven black gates which Ralph Chingwena, a local tour guide, said shows that construction of the dam went on throughout all seven days of the week without respite.

There are six pillars around it’s alter which represent the six flood gates on the dam wall.

The church’s crucifix is sitting atop a curving wall that is broad at the bottom and tappers high up in symbolic resemblance to the dam wall.

To remove any doubt that it is designed and built to honour the magnificent dam there is a plaque that has a list of all the people who died during construction of the dam.

The dam was built by Italian company Impresit which employed Zimbabweans, Zambians and Malawians. It is 617 metres long, 13 metres wide at the top from 24 metres at the bottom.

From the top of the dam to the water level below there is 120 metres and an 80 metre deep pool below.