COULD an angry river god be to blame for Lake Kariba's desperately low water levels?
Traditional chiefs on both sides of the lake believe this might just be the case. They've reportedly turned to rain-making ceremonies to appease the god, known locally as Nyaminyami. But not everyone is impressed.
"Laugh or cry?" asked @ZimMediaReview in a tweet next to a photo of a banner headline on Wednesday for the official Herald newspaper which reads: "Rain-making ceremonies for Kariba."
Law expert and academic Alex Magaisa tweeted: "Desperate measures… apparently the river gods need appeasement".
State media said that some chiefs believed the low water levels, which threaten to paralyse electricity generation in Zimbabwe, "could be as a result of failure to conduct traditional rites".
"Water levels have not gone down to such levels since the 1995-6 season and there is concern that the river god Nyaminyami could be in need of appeasement," the report added.
Meanwhile, in what has been described by residents of the resort town of Kariba as a "rare spectacle", the fabled and legendary Nyaminyami river god is said to have recently made an unusual "public appearance".
According to the traditions of the Tonga people that live along the Zambezi Valley, the Nyaminyami is a river god that lives in the mighty Zambezi River. The legendary creature is believed to have the torso of a snake and the head of a fish. The Tonga people believe that Nyaminyami was separated from its feminine partner during the construction of the Kariba dam wall. It is further alleged that the frequent earth tremors felt in the area since the wall was built are caused by the spirit as it makes efforts to reach his partner. In the past, the creature is reported to have been sighted as it tried to make its way to the other side of the dam wall in search of his dear loved one.
Local tradition states that the two Nyaminyami's are lonely and only the destruction of the dam wall will reunite them. In this most recent sighting of the creature, residents said that the fabled river god "revealed" itself to the residents of Mahombekombe in broad daylight.
During a recent tour of the Zambezi Valley, our news crew interviewed a number of local residents about this strange happening and the majority of the residents in the fishing town confirmed witnessing the appearance of the giant snake-like creature.
According to eye witnesses, the river god is said to have slowly snaked its way, in broad daylight, from the shores of the lake before it plunged into the lake's deep waters.
"I saw the snake-like creature with my own eyes. This is not news. Ask anyone who lives around this area and you will get confirmations of the story. The legend of the Nyaminyami river god is fact and not fiction," said Tapera Siyanyungura of Jack Village, Mahombekombe.
A fisherman by profession, Siyanyungura went on to explain what he witnessed on that day.
"We were anchoring our boat near the District Development Fund (DDF) harbour when we saw a large group of people rushing to the harbour. We quickly roped in our boat and rushed to where the group had gathered. I saw, with my own eyes, a monster snake that was almost two hundred metres long.
Everyone watched from a distance as the snake slowly made its way from one part of the harbour to the other. It then plunged into the lake," added Siyanyungura. He said it took the giant snake close to 45 minutes to cross the harbour.
Another fisherman, Masenzi Dube confirmed the appearance of the snake.
"I know that many people will not believe this. The truth of the matter is that Nyaminyami revealed itself to the people recently. It moved rather slowly. The snake has the same features as those of a python. This is a true story that you can confirm with any Mahombekombe resident," Dube said.
According to Dube, the snake was big that even vehicle could not have been able to trample over it. Before the news crew had descended on the Zambezi Valley, several media houses had reported this unusual appearance of the mythical creature.
This is not the first time that that river god has reportedly made an appearance on the vast man-made lake. Since the construction of the lake, the river spirit had been reported to have been seen on numerous occasions.
The legend of Nyaminyami has several tales, among them a local folklore that states that during times of severe drought, the creature would avail itself and the Tonga people would cut its fishy body for relish.
"In our culture this act of the river god availing itself so that the locals would cut meat from its body is called Jamakutendwa, which in Tonga means something that you can eat but not finish. The snake-like creature served the same function as that of the biblical manna from heaven," added Sibanda.
According to oral tradition, the name Kariba was derived from the word Kariva, meaning a small trap. This, according to locals referred to a particular place in the river where the Tonga believed was the home of Nyaminyami. Locals believed that anyone who ventured near the rock was dragged down the bottom of the river to spend eternity under the water.
Construction of the lake began in 1950 and took 10 years to complete. Historical facts states that the Tonga elders were against the construction of the dam since it meant that the Tonga people would be relocated.
The elders also knew that their river god would be angry. They predicted that Nyaminyami, protector of the river, would not allow the dam to be built. Construction of the dam came to a temporary halt in 1957 when the waters of the lake rose, resulting in floods that swept away both humans and animals. Much of the dam was washed away and a number of people died, including some white constructors.
When the bodies of the whites could not be found, the Tonga were asked for help since they knew the river better than anyone else. A calf was slaughtered as a sacrifice and thrown into the river.
"The following day, the bodies of the whites re-emerged. I personally witnessed this account," said Sekuru Alberto Fero, who came to Kariba in 1947 from Mozambique.
Sekuru Fero, a former employee at the dam construction site, said in 1958, the Zambezi flooded even higher than the previous year, and again major parts of the dam were washed away.
He said the local people knew that what was happening was a sign of anger. Nyaminyami was angry with the construction of the dam and separation from its partner, said Sekuru Fero.
Despite Nyaminyami's fury, the dam was, however completed in 1960. The Tonga people still believe that their river god will one day destroy the dam, attributing the recurring earthquakes in the area which, they believe is caused by Nyaminyami. Now there are also believes that Kariba dam is drying up and giving Zesa a torrid time at the behest of the mysterious Nyaminyami snake which allegedly still wishes to meet its dear 'wife'.
Fears are that if the tales of the Nyaminyami are true and it succeeds in destroying the dam wall, it would be catastrophic to people living in the Zambezi Valley. Not only would the Zambezi Valley be completely immersed in water, the Cabora Bassa dam downstream will be damaged and Mozambique would suffer another tragedy.
Meanwhile, Energy Minister Samuel Undenge warned this week that Zimbabwe would have to "bite the bullet" and hike energy tariffs, as power shortages worsen as a consequence of Kariba's dropping volumes. He has said that power generation could be further cut by 50% in January as the water sinks even lower.