Katima Mulilo (SiLozi: quenches
the fire, referencing nearby rapids in the Zambezi) is the capital of the
Caprivi Strip, Namibia's far north–east extension into central Southern
Africa. It comprises two electoral constituencies, Katima Mulilo Rural and
Katima Mulilo Urban. Katima Mulilo, which is sometimes shortened to just "Katima",
had 22,134 inhabitants in 2001, a number that is estimated to have risen to
28,100 in 2010. It is located on the national road B8 on the banks of the
Zambezi River in lush riverine vegetation with tropical birds and monkeys.
The town receives an annual average rainfall of 654 millimeters (25.7 in).
The nearest Namibian town from Katima Mulilo is Rundu, about 500 km away. About 40 km east of Katima Mulilo lies the settlement of Bukalo, where the road to Ngoma branches off that joins Namibia to Botswana.
On 28 January 1935, the administrative centre of the Caprivi Strip was moved from Schuckmannsburg to Katima Mulilo. This date is assumed as the foundation date of Katima Mulilo. The regional office, the only brick–and–mortar building at Katima at this time when the area consisted exclusively of pristine forests, was built under a giant Baobab situated near today's SWAPO Party regional offices. In present times the tree is known as the Toilet Tree because of a rest room carved into it.
Katima Mulilo was very sparsely populated at that time. It had a missionary school run by the Seventh–day Adventists, and the small settlements were connected only by sleigh tracks. Without any roads nor other infrastructure it was difficult to administer the Caprivi from here. The South African administration therefore decided to shift the regional office again, this time to Pretoria, in 1939. Due to the vicinity to important transport routes, particularly the railway bridge at Victoria Falls, the location of Katima Mulilo became strategically important in the Second World War which broke out soon afterwards. All military supplies, people, and goods had to be flown in. The first car of the town came in 1940 and belonged to the air strip operator.
In 1940, William "Bill" Finaughty established the first shop in the Caprivi Strip in Katima Mulilo, the settlement that surrounded the shop was subsequently named for him. In the 1950s, transport on the Zambezi River was established and allowed connection to the train service at Livingstone. The M'pacha Airfied, today Katima Mulilo Airport, was constructed in 1965 at a cost of 65 million Rand, an astronomical amount at that time when 2 Rand roughly equalled 1 Pound sterling. A police station was erected in 1961.
Katima Mulilo became a segregated town in 1965 when the erection of the Nghweeze township began. The South African administration was unhappy with the Mafulo informal settlement where members of the Caprivi African National Union (CANU) where staying and conducting political activism. As a response to this development, Nghweeze (which literally means "stab me") township was established to enable some degree of control over Blacks by only allowing local workers and their families to take up residence. At the same time the central parts of Katima were declared the Katima Mulilo Proper residential area and restricted to Whites. Contract workers from the company Lewis Construction from Salisbury (today's Harare in South Rhodesia (today's Zimbabwe) that built Nghweeze camped in an area that for this heritage is named the Lewis informal settlement. The town had only 575 inhabitants at that time but grew to over 5,000 until 1978.
In 1971 the area around Katima got involved in the South African Border War. As in World War II, it was a strategically important location, this time due to troops transports into and out of Zambia and Angola.
The settlement also was at the centre of the Caprivi conflict in the 1990s, an armed conflict between the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), a rebel group working for the secession of the Caprivi Strip, and the Namibian government. In the early hours of 2 August 1999, CLA launched an attack occupying the state-run radio station and attacking a police station, the Wanella border post, and an army base. A state of emergency was declared in the province, and the government arrested alleged CLA supporters.
The oldest suburbs are Nghweeze, the former Blacks' township, and Katima Mulilo Proper, the area restricted to Whites during the apartheid era. Further parts of town are named Butterfly, Cowboy, Chotto, Mahohoma, Nambweza, Soweto (SOuth–WEstern TOwnships, a reminiscence of the famous suburb of Johannesburg), New Look, Mabuluma, Lyambai, Bebi, Greenwell Matongo, and NHE (from National Housing Enterprises, a governmental low-cost housing company that drew development here).
Katima Mulilo is inhabited by members of the Masubia and Mafwe tribes. The town's coat of arms, still very similar of that used by the Caprivi government, depicts these tribes as two elephants facing each other, symbolising unity and peaceful coexistence of the two tribal chiefs.
Economy and development
Established and run as a garrison for a long time, Katima Mulilo still shows signs of its military role today. In the city centre was the South African Defence Force military base, almost every house had a bomb shelter. The town benefited from the military presence in terms of infrastructure and employment, and there are still a number of military bases surrounding the town.
Since the opening of the Katima Mulilo Bridge in 2004 that spans the Zambezi River and connects the Zambian Copperbelt with the Namibian deep sea harbour at Walvis Bay, Katima Mulilo has become a boom town that attracts significant investment. This development has, however, also fanned illegal business activities, and driven the establishment of shanty towns to an extent that endangers social stability.
The town features an Export Processing Zone and the largest open market in Namibia. There is an important international electricity inter–link facility, the Caprivi Link Inter–Connector; its inauguration has improved the power supply to the town. The Zambezi Waterfront Tourism project is currently under construction. The Caprivi Vision, a newspaper from and for the Caprivi, is published in town.
Since being proclaimed a town on 2 October 1999, development has been steady but Katima Mulilo does not yet compare to more established towns and cities in Namibia. Few streets are tarred, and there is a lack of street lights and sewerage. The town does not have a single traffic light. Many residents use the bushes for lack of toilet facilities, and there have been many outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhea.
The town has been affected by corruption, financial mismanagement, and infighting between councillors ever since SWAPO took the majority in the town council in 1998. Water supply has been unstable due to money owed to the national water supplier, NamWater.
Katima Mulilo is the terminal town of the Trans–Caprivi Highway, and the highway together with its extension to Zambia (and further throughout the entire continent to Tripoli on the Tripoli – Cape Town Highway) is called the Trans-Caprivi Corridor. The Trans–Caprivi Highway was opened in 1999, and the bridge to Sesheke, and with it the entire Trans-Caprivi Corridor, in 2004.
Katima Mulilo is not yet connected to the Namibian railway network. In October 2007, a proposal was announced for a railway connection between Namibia and Zambia which would pass through the town. The line would join Grootfontein to Katima Mulilo then 130 km to Mulobezi with an 80 km upgrade of the line to Livingstone.
The town is served by Katima Mulilo Airport, situated about 18 km to the southwest which is serviced by regular flights from the capital Windhoek.
Culture and education
Before Katima Mulilo was officially founded missionaries already ran schools in the area. The Seventh–day Adventists operated one, as did the Capuchin Order. Today there are a number of schools in Katima Mulilo such as Katima High School, Caprivi Secondary School, Kizito Secondary School, Ngweze Secondary School, Mavuluma Secondary School and many primary and junior secondary schools.
Katima Mulilo has two institutes of tertiary education, the Zambezi Vocational Center and a campus of the University of Namibia (UNAM) for teacher training, formerly the Caprivi College of Education (CCE). At the time of the merger with UNAM, CCE had 400 enrolled students and 70 staff.
The town houses the community-based Caprivi Art Centre and holds an annual Caprivi Cultural Festival.
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