Discovering the real Zambia

Story highlights

CNN's Errol Barnett visited Zambia on his first Inside Africa assignment

The town of Livingstone is a few kilometers from the magnificent Victoria Falls

Livingstone has a rich Jewish heritage, dating back to the 1930s

Chinese-funded infrastructure projects are helping modernize Zambia

Livingstone, Zambia CNN  — 

Venturing out on my first assignment for “Inside Africa” in Zambia was an absolute privilege. My goal is to discover unexpected stories, meet the most interesting people and reveal something special about where I am. In Livingstone, Zambia – heat aside – this was easy.

This town is nestled a few kilometers away from the magnificent natural wonder of Victoria Falls, split down the middle by the Zimbabwe-Zambian border. For decades the Zimbabwean side received much more attention, more tourists and as a result more income.

More recently, Zimbabwe’s political instability has meant Zambia has a real chance of being the destination of choice, but there’s a great deal of catching up to do.

Victoria Falls … without the bungee jumping

Livingstone is lacking in infrastructure; most roads are unpaved and riddled with potholes. In fact, the first traffic light was installed in 2011 – locals call it “the robot.”

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Errol Barnett on 'Inside Africa'
04:32 - Source: CNN

Amid the heat, we witness a smooth, glistening, silky-black strip being paved, asphalt bubbling as cooling water escapes from oily road ingredients. Managing the operation and driving the machines are Chinese men under conical hats.

They’re working with local men, helping to facilitate a smooth straight road meter by meter. This exposes one of many Chinese-funded infrastructure projects taking place all over the African continent. The Zambian government sees an eager investor, China sees a partner in the “emerging” world.

We move on to a Christian church in the center of town that at first glance seems typical. But at the center of the facade over the main entrance sits the faint imprint of the Star of David, the symbol of Judaism.

We’ve been brought here by John Zulu, a young man working with the Zambian Heritage and Conservation Commission. He eagerly tells us that during the 1930s and 1940s European Jews fled persecution and found not only safe haven in Zambia (then called Northern Rhodesia) but prosperity. This was their synagogue.

He also showed us the local cemetery with dozens of headstones further exposing the rich Jewish history of Livingstone. By now most have left, many moving to Lusaka, the capital after independence. This was certainly something I didn’t expect to find.

As we walk down what used to be uptown Livingstone, the erosion of a century of life is obvious. Old buildings, worn roads and a sense of lost excitement. Yet one smiling man stands out to me; he’s working blissfully on an old antique, a free-standing Singer sewing machine.

I ask him how old it is – as I’ve only seen these things in time-period movies. He chuckles saying he has no idea, adding that he found it, maintains the parts and that he thinks it is beautiful.

To me this represents true Zambian spirit; an openness to the outside world, constant resourcefulness and a romantic view of history.

In the next show, I’ll show you the magnificent views below and above Victoria Falls. I’ll meet those who depend on this natural world wonder and the mighty Zambezi river that feeds it, as I attempt to bungee jump for the first time!

Come with me Inside Africa!