The last time I used the Mutare Masvingo highway was in 2003! I have always found that route fascinating and as a child the boabab trees were so amazing. And then there was Birchenough Bridge.
Named after Sir Henry Birchenough, Birchenough Bridge is the name a bridge in Zimbabwe which spans across the Save River (a 400 km river of southeastern Africa, flowing through Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The is Zimbabwes second largest river, fed by the Odzi River and flows to Mozambique into the Indian Ocean.
The Save River at this point is also the provincial boundary between Manicaland Province and Masvingo Province.
The town which lies next to the Bridge is also called Birchenough Bridge, a centre of a small-scale farming area. The bridge links Mutare with Masvingo, it lies almost halfway between the two cities. Twenty minutes from Birchenough Bridge on your way to Mutare is Nyanyadzi and is the turn off to the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
The bridge was funded by the Beit Trust, and Sir Henry Birchenough was the chair at the time. His ashes are buried beneath the structure of the bridge. So reads the plaque
“Within these walls repose the ashes of Sir Henry Birchenough and of Mabel his wife. They wished to be laid to rest in the country they had served among the people they had loved Rhodesia will hold them for ever in fond and grateful memory” “E’en in our ashes live, their wonted fires – AD1937”
(The year my father was born!)
The other second plaque reads;
“This was erected by the Beit Railway Trustees out of funds bequethed by the late Alfred Beit and at the request of the people of Rhodesia was named The Birchnough Bridge in recognition of the services rendered to the country by Sir Henry Birchenough AD1925 – Ralph Freeman – Engineer”
Design of the Bridge
The bridge was designed by Ralph Freeman who was also the structural designer on the Sydney Harbour Bridge hence the close resemblance. It was built by Dorman Long and completed in 1935 and was the third longest single-arch suspension bridge in the world at the time at a length of 329 m (1,080 feet).
It’s the only bridge without any piers or supports on the bottom holding it for its support. Its value to Zimbabweans was confirmed by its appearance on the 20c coin, along with other great structures like Great Zimbabwe ($1 coin) and natural landmarks like Matopos rock formations (50c)
The Zimbabwe Department of Roads (ZiDeRa) has reduced its load capacity. Any vehicle weighing more than 25 tonnes is not allowed. 15 tonnes down from the limit in 1970. There is also a weigh bridge. Passengers have to disembark from buses so they pass the weight test and they have to walk. I seriously doubt that passengers on the bus would tip the scales beyond the 25tonne mark.
School children cross the bridge daily to and from school
Roast birds at Chakohwa a delicacy, though I have never tried these particular ones. These quelea birds are caught through poisoning and then gutted.
I wonder if Zimbabwe’s post colonial progress can also be measured by the number of monuments of this nature which have been built after independence. Whether that is a fair gauge I don’t know. It could be argued that since then there was no need for such and focus was put in other areas.