The completion of the huge Cahora Bassa Hydroelectric Dam in 1974 attracted considerable international attention. The world’s fifth largest hydroelectric power installation on the Zambezi River by Lake Cahora Bassa was lauded by engineers and hydrologists for its technical complexity and the skill required for its construction. Built by the Portuguese at a time of dictatorship and colonialism as their infrastructural masterpiece, before pulling out of Mozambique later that same year, brochures for the power project affirmed the installation would “foster human promotion through an improved standard of living for thousands of Africans who live and work there” and that the power station would also boost economic revenue for Mozambique as it would sell cheap electric energy to South Africa and other neighbouring countries.
A 1975 protocol signed between Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front) party and the Portuguese government provided for the project’s full Mozambican ownership and the reversion of the shareholding interest majority once the investment made for its construction was paid back: an event that was finally celebrated six years ago. HCB’s reversion to Mozambican hands was a source of immense national pride; so much so it has been regarded by some as a “second independence” for the country and heralded a final break with its authoritarian colonial past, with Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza declaring: “Cahora Bassa is ours.”
Topographic surveys for the possibility of constructing a dam at the Cahora Bassa rapids were first carried out as far back as 1956, followed by preliminary and feasibility studies commencing two years later in partnership with Hidrotécnica Portuguesa (HP). The dam began to be erected in 1969, following the signing of construction contracts worth US$600 million, with the construction work being awarded to a consortium called ZAMCO, which included collaborations with five countries: France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and South Africa. Also in 1969, the contract to supply energy to South Africa was signed with Eskom. Later, in 1975, the Hidroeléctrica de Cahora Bassa company was established to operate the new dam and power station.
In an exclusive interview with Upper Reach, Paulo Muxanga, Chief Executive at the Cahora Bassa Hydroelectric Dam, goes into greater detail about the significance of the reversion of the shareholding majority of HCB back to Mozambique as a political, economic and historic landmark, as well as a source of national pride and future growth potential.