River in central and southeast Africa; length 3,540 km/2,200 mi from northwest Zambia through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean, with a wide delta near Chinde. Major tributaries include the Kafue in Zambia. It is interrupted by rapids, and includes on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border the Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-tunya) and Kariba Dam, which forms the reservoir of Lake Kariba, which has large fisheries and, like the Cahora Bassa dam and lake in Mozambique, is a major source of hydroelectricity. Its drainage area is about 1,347,000 sq km/520,000 sq mi, making it the fourth-largest African river basin.
The river extends mainly through Zambia and Zimbabwe (being the territorial boundary between the two countries from near Shesheke to Feira) and Mozambique. It has three navigable sections but they are divided by impassable barriers. It rises in several streams in northwest Zambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its general course is southeast through the Baroki Valley to the Victoria Falls; from here the river bends northeast and east nearly to Tete, Mozambique, when it resumes a southeasterly course to the delta, situated some 320 km/200 mi northeast of Sofala in the Mozambique Channel. Its volume is largely increased by the Shire River bringing the waters of Lake Malawi. In spite of interruptions caused by cataracts, rapids, and sandbars, the Zambezi is navigable for shallow-draught vessels for some 645 km/400 mi, including about 193 km/120 mi towards its mouth. Below Tete the Lupata Gorge has a width of about 180 m/590 ft and a very strong current. Features of the Zambezi in its upper reaches are the Kanzalo Rapids and the Kariba Gorge.
The chief towns on its banks are: Maramba, Chirunda, and Feira in Zambia and Zimbabawe; and Zumbo, Chicoa, Tete, Sena, Mopeia, Chinde, and Quelimane in Mozambique.
The British explorer David Livingstone explored parts of the upper Zambezi in 1851-53, and saw the Victoria Falls in 1855.
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