Livingstone, Zambia
17° 51' S 25° 52' E
Dec 19, 1999 22:04
Distance 87km

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Text written in: English

To Zambia by Steam Train

When I awoke this morning I went immediately out onto the balcony to take in the view.  I stared out towards the Zambezi River and Zambia beyond.  It was a beautiful bright sunny day.  Ruth and Erin were still sleeping and it was a shame to wake them from slumber.  Instead I sat out on the balcony and wrote two or three postcards.  It was rather early and there was plenty of time before breakfast.

As you may know I take a great interest in history.  The conflict in Rhodesia was as well known in Scotland when I was a child as the war in Vietnam.  The Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Rhodesian Government took place three weeks before I was born and is part Declaration of Arbroath (1320) and part the Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America (1776).  Time for a little more history:

Whereas in the course of human affairs history has shown that it may become necessary for a people to resolve the political affiliations which have connected them with another people and to assume amongst other nations the separate and equal status to which they are entitled:

And whereas in such event a respect for the opinions of mankind requires them to declare to other nations the causes which impel them to assume full responsibility for their own affairs:Now therefore, we, the Government of Rhodesia, do hereby declare:

That it is an indisputable and accepted historic fact that since 1923 the Government of Rhodesia have exercised the powers of self-government and have been responsible for the progress, development and welfare of their people;

That the people of Rhodesia having demonstrated their loyalty to the Crown and to their kith and kin in the United Kingdom and elsewhere through two world wars, and having been prepared to shed their blood and give of their substance in what they believed to be the mutual interests of freedom-loving people, now see all that they have cherished about to be shattered on the rocks of expediency;

That the people of Rhodesia have witnessed a process which is destructive of those very precepts upon which civilization in a primitive country has been built, they have seen the principles of Western democracy, responsible government and moral standards crumble elsewhere, nevertheless they have remained steadfast;

That the people of Rhodesia fully support the requests of their government for sovereign independence but have witnessed the consistent refusal of the Government of the United Kingdom to accede to their entreaties;

That the government of the United Kingdom have thus demonstrated that they are not prepared to grant sovereign independence to Rhodesia on terms acceptable to the people of Rhodesia, thereby persisting in maintaining an unwarrantable jurisdiction over Rhodesia, obstructing laws and treaties with other states and the conduct of affairs with other nations and refusing assent to laws necessary for the public good, all this to the detriment of the future peace, prosperity and good government of Rhodesia;

That the Government of Rhodesia have for a long period patiently and in good faith negotiated with the Government of the United Kingdom for the removal of the remaining limitations placed upon them and for the grant of sovereign independence;

That in the belief that procrastination and delay strike at and injure the very life of the nation, the Government of Rhodesia consider it essential that Rhodesia should attain, without delay, sovereign independence, the justice of which is beyond question;

Now therefore, we the Government of Rhodesia, in humble submission to Almighty God who controls the destinies of nations, conscious that the people of Rhodesia have always shown unswerving loyalty and devotion to Her Majesty the Queen and earnestly praying that we and the people of Rhodesia will not be hindered in our determination to continue exercising our undoubted right to demonstrate the same loyalty and devotion, and seeking to promote the common good so that the dignity and freedom of all men may be assured, do, by this proclamation, adopt enact and give to the people of Rhodesia the constitution annexed hereto;

God Save The Queen

Given under Our Hand at Salisbury this eleventh day of November in the Year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixty five.

Whatever you think of the politics of Rhodesian independence, you have to admire the spirit of the colonists, taking destiny into their own hands in an attempt to map out their own future in Africa.  The Rhodesians defied world opinion, British & United Nations sanctions, and fought against local terrorists/freedom fighters backed by the Soviet Union and their allies.

I got the family up and we had breakfast in the Kasibi Terrace Restaurant at Elephant Hills at 0900hrs.  We were in no particular rush this morning. We were picked up from our hotel at 1000hrs and driven the short distance into town, being deposited at Victoria Falls Railway Station, after picking up passengers at the Victoria Falls Hotel.  The station itself is not much to look at, not much more than a platform, however the steam train and vintage Rhodesian Railways first class carriage were a different matter.

“What better way to capture a legendary era than on a fully refurbished steam train, viewing mystical Africa the way it would have been done over one hundred years ago, in the comfort of a first class section of an authentic steam train?  Our class 10, 1922 and class 12, 1924 Steam Locomotives, with a 1901 First Class coach and two dining cars are completely refurbished to this era and all museum pieces. They are used to take clients on morning tea runs over the Victoria Falls Bridge and into Zambia, gracefully steaming next to the great Zambezi River.”

We were welcomed aboard the train and offered a drink and some snacks, before being updated on the proposed itinerary.  Today we would leave at 1030hrs, steam across Victoria Falls Bridge into Zambia, stopping only to complete immigration formalities, before proceeding to the Railway Museum in Livingstone.  After a visit to the Museum we would have lunch on the train and then proceed back to the Victoria Falls Bridge, stopping to allow photographs, before returning to Victoria Falls station at 1400hrs.

Off we went at a rather sedate pace towards the Zambian frontier.  It was a great feeling sticking your head out the window, smelling the smoke of the engine and feeling the soot on your face and hair.  After this initial elation I returned to the serious business of obtaining value for money.  The trip included complementary drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, so I set about polishing off as many Zambezi lagers as possible in the allotted time!  Ruth stuck to orange juice in order to look after Erin!  At the border staff took our passports to Zimbabwean immigration whilst we stayed put on the train.  Once we had the necessary stamps on our documents we proceeded across the Victoria Falls Bridge and went through immigration procedures on the Zambian side.  All quite painless without having to leave the train.  Only one Zambian official came on board to walk the length of the carriage.  After this we were free to continue on under steam to the Railway Museum.  The Victoria Falls Bridge, which we will return to later, personifies the dream of a Cape to Cairo railway line as pursued by Cecil John Rhodes.  It is hard to believe that the bridge, shipped out in sections from England, is now 105 years old and is still a key arterial route.

By the time we got to the Railway Museum I really needed a break from imbibing.  Ruth stayed on board with Erin whilst I wondered around the largely open-air museum in the baking heat of Zambia.  I believe that the Railway Museum was once the depot for the famous Zambezi Sawmills Railway, until it ceased to operate in 1973.  In essence the Railway Museum contains many abandoned engines and carriages, left in the open to the elements.  It is rather like an elephant’s graveyard of steam.  The Zambezi Sawmills Railway was once the largest private railway in the world (allegedly).  I noted that the North British Locomotive Company (Scotland), which went bust before I was born, built a number of these abandoned engines.  My attention was drawn to one engine in particular, called ‘The Princess of Mulobezi’.  A plaque explained that the North British Locomotive Company built it in 1922/24.  It was saved by David Shepherd and handed to the museum in 1983.  It originally served on Rhodesian Railways and transferred to ZSR in 1960.  It was the last train to run on the Mulobezi Line on the 31st January 1973.  On one level this wasn’t much of a museum, but the concentration of abandoned steam engines is impressive.  Perhaps one day I will visit the Railway Museum in York and see properly preserved engines, but the minimalist approach in Livingstone is certainly different!

I returned to the train, accepted a beer at the carriage door and took my seat just as we set off back to the Zimbabwean border.  We stopped at Livingstone Railway Station and had lunch served in the Dining Car.  A number of children approached the carriage asking if we wanted to change money.  They had various coins on offer including a 50p piece from back home.  Ruth gave them a few Zimbabwean dollars for the coin. 

The highlight was certainly stopping on the Victoria Falls Bridge for photographs over a glass of champagne.  There were also a group of bungy jumpers gathered at the centre of the bridge waiting there turn to jump off into the unknown.  As I have previously jumped off the Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, New Zealand, in 1994, I did not express any interest in having a second go! 

It is historically interesting to note that a peace conference of sorts took place on board a South African Railways train on the 25th August 1975.  The venue was the Victoria Falls Bridge, with half the conference carriage being in Rhodesia and half in Zambia.  The attempt to find a settlement was a failure.  It is recorded that some of the South African peace brokers stayed at the newly opened Elephant Hills Hotel.

We returned to Victoria Falls Railway Station shortly after 1400hrs.  It was with regret that we left the train after purchasing a few souvenirs and having one last beer.  Indeed I took a full bottle with me to keep me going on the journey back to Elephant Hills!  I am afraid the rest of the afternoon was spent by the pool, drinking water and trying to detoxify from the previous overindulgence.  Erin was very happy splashing in the water.  I really had planned to go back into town but we will have time tomorrow morning.

In the evening we had dinner in the Kasibi Terrace Restaurant at Elephant Hills.  I had thought about taking the shuttle bus down to the Victoria Falls Hotel to experience its Edwardian atmosphere.  But when push came to shove, I just couldn’t be bothered.  Pity really, but we did have an excellent dinner at Elephant Hills.  Rather similar to last night actually.  I couldn’t resist having Livingstone’s Secret (game meat) again.  A good end to a fine day.  Near the end of our meal I remembered that we were supposed to have been in Macau this evening to witness the end of Portuguese colonial rule.  Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) is rather a long way off course!


Photos / videos of "To Zambia by Steam Train":

Erin Burnett in a Rhodesian Railways First Class Carriage en route from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, to Livingstone, Zambia, on the Victoria Falls Safari Express. Duncan, Ruth & Erin Burnett on the famous Victoria Falls Bridge over the Zambezi River, between Zambia & Zimbabwe.  The Victoria Falls Safari Express is in the background. Duncan, Ruth & Erin Burnett on the Victoria Falls Safari Express, steaming between Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and Livingstone, Zambia. Victoria Falls Railway Station, Zimbabwe. The Victoria Falls Safari Express at Victoria Falls Railway Station, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). The Victoria Falls Safari Express at Victoria Falls Railway Station, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). Duncan, Ruth & Erin Burnett on the Victoria Falls Safari Express, enjoying lunch in Livingstone, Zambia. Crossing the Zambezi River on the Victoria Falls Bridge, between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Victoria Falls Safari Express steaming towards the Zambian frontier. The Princess of Mulobezi steam locomotive (No.156) is a 10th Class engine built by the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, Scotland, between 1922 & 1924. The Railway Museum, Livingstone, Zambia. The locomotives in the picture were built by the North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow, Scotland. Duncan Burnett at the Railway Museum, Livingstone, Zambia. Local children crowding round the Victoria Falls Safari Express, Livingstone, Zambia.