Cahora & Tete

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Major Zambezi bridge restored to former glory

Major Zambezi bridge restored to former glory

The Samora Machel Bridge which crosses the Zambezi River at Tete
The Samora Machel Bridge which crosses the Zambezi River at Tete


The Samora Machel Bridge which crosses the Zambezi River at Tete has immeasurable importance to the whole of southern and central Africa. A major landmark and transport link, the 762m bridge is crossed by an average of 800 heavy goods vehicles and 700 light passenger vehicles daily.

Cargo is transported for the coal mines in Moatize, the Tete tobacco production units, and for neighbouring countries including Malawi, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The bridge was originally completed in 1973, its construction involving 20,000 workers over a period of 18 months. In the years to follow, architect Edgar Cardoso’s masterpiece suffered from a lack of maintenance and abuse by Portuguese colonialists, whose huge trucks, transporting construction materials to the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric project, ignored the bridge’s 50 tonne limit. By the 2000s the bridge could no longer accept more than one lane of traffic and one heavy vehicle at a time. By 2008 several of the cables supporting the bridge had fallen.

The contract for the refurbishment of the bridge was awarded to Portuguese construction company Teixeira Duarte, and work began in March 2009. Initially due to last 18 months, the project was dogged by successive delays and had to be extended by a further five months.

As well as problems in terms of local traffic, the delay in the work also affected freight transport throughout southern Africa. Every day, queues of heavy goods vehicles stretching further than four kilometres, on both sides of the river, waited to cross. There was a lot of work that needed to be done. In order to ensure its safety, the bridge’s supporting cables had to be replaced. It was also resurfaced, repainted and provided with new lighting. The total cost of the restoration was US$23 million.

To the delight of all who rely on it, the Samora Machel Bridge was reopened on 30 January 2011. Its re-opening has been a great relief to Tete residents with the queues of heavy vehicles having entirely disappeared.

The government now aims to divert heavy traffic to a second bridge over the Zambezi at Benga, six kilometres downstream from the Samora Machel Bridge. Work on the new bridge has already begun, and should take three to four years to complete. It will be approximately two kilometres long, and will link Tete City directly to the town of Moatize. When it is finished, all heavy vehicles will use it, and the current bridge will be limited to use by light vehicles and pedestrians. The cost of the project is estimated at over US$97 million.

Tete residents are proud of the Samora Machel Bridge as a national landmark. Whether you are travelling to, or through, Tete you are bound to cross it. So, do yourself a favour and take the time to enjoy its magnificence, as well as the fantastic vantage point for views of the river that it provides.

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Cahora & Tete

Read more from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 06, Sept 2011)