Documentary about the Tazara railroad in east Africa, built by the Chinese after independence but now in crisis with derailments and mechanical breakdowns happening daily.
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You can learn a lot about a country by travelling on its railways.
I went out with a maintenance crew to repair the track in Tanzania.
But our maintenance trolley broke down.
So now we're stranded in the middle of the African bush.
I'm beginning to think Tazara, the Tanzania-Zambia railway,
may not be as efficient as their PR woman had led me to believe.
But at least we're not in any danger.
Apparently, as long as you remain silent, elephants rarely stampede.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS
-I'm Mr Langan.
-Nice to meet you, Shuly.
-It's my pleasure.
-How do you say, jambo?
That was lovely.
I've just left Dar es Salaam train station.
I should arrive in Zambia,
Kapiri Mposhi, in two or three days.
To be honest, everything I know about trains,
I got from Thomas the Tank Engine.
But then the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority was never just a railway company.
It's Africa's Freedom Railway.
Built by the Chinese to carry copper out of Zambia, Tazara
also carried the hopes and dreams of post-independence Africa.
Wow. Walked into third class, bumped into a choir.
Completed in 1975, Tazara was China's first major development project in Africa.
A new kind of foreign investment based on mutual benefit,
as Chairman Mao called it, instead of colonial plunder.
But whereas China's interests in Africa have grown massively,
Africa's Freedom Railway has struggled to survive.
By the end of last year, Tazara was on the brink of collapse and I wanted to find out why.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS
The train travels through Selous, the largest game reserve in Africa,
and across the flat plains and farm land of Tanzania,
before winding its way up the mountains and crossing into Zambia,
stopping at Kapiri Mposhi.
He's still asleep.
Come in, come in. Please come in.
'America considers China's growing presence in Africa a threat.
'But my neighbours in first class seemed pretty friendly to me.'
Are you here on holiday?
-To build the highway.
30,000 Chinese workers build this railway. Is it famous in China?
Yes. The people who is older, they know this.
Tanzania and China, they are friends.
The brother country!
My other neighbours were grandmothers from Zambia, they are local traders.
Are you suspicious of me?
No, I'm not suspicious
because you have introduced yourself that you are from BBC.
'I was amazed to discover they'd also just come from China.
'They buy cheap goods in Beijing and sell them in Zambia.'
Do you remember when Tazara started,
what it was like under President Nyerere and Kaunda?
That liberation struggle?
I was there.
I was a...politician.
-You were what, sorry?
-I was a politician myself.
-I was working together with Kaunda.
-So you were part of the liberation struggle?
-And the struggle for independence?
-Yeah. I do it.
And do you think it's been a success so far?
Are things getting better now in Zambia?
Not now. In the time of Kaunda, it was better.
-Oh, you think it was better then?
-Yes. Better than here.
Because there are so many...
-So many corruptions?
Does that make it difficult doing business?
Yes. It is good, but, you know.
I'd been promised complementary toilet paper and mineral water,
so I went in search of the first class coach assistant.
-How are you?
-I don't know how to speak Swahili.
-Ah. You're from Zambia?
-That's why your English is so good!
-What is your name?
-Cynthia. My name's Sean.
How long have you worked on Tazara?
-How many years? One year?
-Not years. Only three months.
-Do you like it?
-Yes, I like it.
-Yeah? You enjoy it?
Tazara's had to cut its passenger service from six trains a week to only two.
But it still provides a vital lifeline for the rural community.
Local farmers and traders call it the People's Railway
and use it to carry everything
from crops to kitchenware, livestock and...
And are you bringing that to sell somewhere?
-Yes, I'm going to Kapiri to sell.
-Is it nice, caterpillar?
-Yes, very nice, caterpillar. You eat.
You know what?
No, it's not bad, I promise.
That one's going out the window. Whooh!
And it's not only traders on the train, at every stop an army of food sellers emerge.
Mama Ntilies, they're called, or literally, "mama serve me".
As the train makes its way through the countryside, it brings "maisha"
which means life in Swahili, or livelihood.
But I was looking for my complimentary bed clothing and went to find Cynthia.
-Have you finished your work for tonight?
We are still working.
-Yes. All night.
When do you go to sleep?
Any station, you should wake up.
When I reach Mlimba, I wake up. When I reach Ifakara, I should wake up.
So you don't really sleep at night?
Well, we're finally here - Kapiri Mposhi. It's been a long journey.
Kapiri Mposhi is the gateway to Zambia's Copper Belt.
But thanks to my research - Thomas The Tank Engine - I knew there was someone important I had to meet.
He'd be able to tell me everything about the railway.
Good morning, Mr Station Master!
Good to see you.
-So this is your office?
This is my office.
And is this your station?
Yes. Actually, I would say it's my station.
It's your station, isn't it?
I'm in charge. But there are some big, big people to see.
But it doesn't get any bigger than the station master!
Who could possibly be bigger than you?
This is your station, yeah?
-I know you have to say there's some bigger people.
Ah! Mr Station Manager!
What is that?
-This is a trophy.
-Wow. For what?
So it says, "Regional Managers.
"Floating trophy. Best Traffic District Annual Safety Award."
When did you get that?
-20 years ago?
That's the last time you won it?
Yes. In fact, it was a promotion for safety.
Yes. There were some days which you're given, without causing an accident with the trains...
-You got that?
-Yes. Being awarded this.
-He switch sides.
-Are you sure?
Oh, my God!
'Joseph agreed to take me on a tour of the goods yard.'
This is the caesium copper.
And this is the biggest export from Zambia?
Wow. It's a sea of copper!
This copper alone must be worth quite a few thousand dollars.
Which is about 2.9 tonnes.
'It's worth more than a few thousand.
'This single pallet alone is worth over 20,000 US at today's prices.
'And the whole yard was worth millions.'
This is what it's all about.
This is why the railway, Tazara, was built by the Chinese.
To get this copper out of Zambia.
Do you have a small farm?
Yes, I have a small.
To sustain my family.
What do you grow on your farm?
So you need a farm to sustain your family?
I've got five children.
They go to secondary schools.
To pay for the schools and for feeding.
Sometimes, it's a choice, is it, between buying maize or medicine, if one of your children get sick?
When I've got maize, sometimes I may sell maybe one or two bags
to get money to buy medicine.
That's why farming is good.
Joseph also has a pension plan, a little project he's been working on to raise some extra cash.
'It was just a short walk along the track back at his house.'
So this is your project?
My project is behind here.
The salary that I'm getting is too little, you know?
I've got five children, with these other three.
So these are my plans.
These will be assisting me.
You want to breed them?
To start having lots of pigs and then to sell them?
Yes, to sell them. Exactly.
Joseph's wife, Minerva, has gone back to school.
And Joseph was so proud, he wanted me to meet her.
-How are you?
I'm very pleased to meet you.
I'm so sorry to come round. It's lovely to meet you.
OK. Thank you to meet you.
I'm Sean from the BBC.
We were waiting to see you in your school uniform.
You look very smart. It looks great.
So are you enjoying school?
-Yes, very much.
-Must be lovely.
What are you studying?
It's a lot. All the subjects.
-You're doing all the subjects?
Imagine - after giving five children, she decides to go back to school!
Bye-bye. Bye, children.
'As I was leaving, Joseph told me they now have three extra children to care for.
'Their mother, Joseph's niece, had recently died of AIDS.'
The next day, I join passengers boarding the train for the long journey back to Dar es Salaam.
Shuly, how are you? You've got a lovely new hairstyle. Yes?
-Thank you very much.
-How was your weekend?
-It was nice.
Did you go to the hairdresser on Saturday?
No, it's just a wig.
-No! Is it?
-Is it a wig?
-How are you, Cynthia?
-I'm on your coach today, yeah?
Is your hair yours, or is it a wig?
-Yes, it's a wig.
So is that the fashion in Zambia?
-Yes, it's a fashion.
-They look very good.
-They look very good.
-OK, thank you.
The next morning, I woke up to find our train had come to a stop.
And, for some reason, there seemed to be a lot of mechanics poking about under my first class carriage.
-Coach number 1004.
-Is there a problem with...?
No, it's for fuel.
-Oh, it's just refuelling?
Well, I heard the maintenance crew saying
there's a problem with this compartment,
but I don't think they want to admit it to me.
So they are saying there's not a problem with the train.
-So, Sir, what's the problem with this carriage?
-I think he...
there's no problem of this train.
-But this compartment may not be able to travel?
So there is something wrong with this carriage?
Yes, something wrong. But it's minor something.
-Yes, minor something.
-Is it the wheels?
-The wheel setting.
-Yeah. It's all they are.
There's a problem with this...
We put letters... hello, sir, how are you?
-I like this, a letter box for the train!
It's a good thing we're delayed.
'With only one day off a week, Cynthia and Shuly work, sleep, eat and shop on the train.'
-That's nice. Honestly, really.
Let me have a look. I used to work in fashion as a fashion journalist.
-Really! Why are you laughing?
I think that's lovely.
'As the girls haggled with the trader over a few pennies,'
I looked out across all the copper wagons, worth millions of dollars, just sitting there.
The goods train had been stranded for two days,
not due to a technical fault like ours,
but because there was no money to pay for the fuel.
The workers I spoke to blamed mismanagement and corruption.
But it looked like they'd managed to fix the minor problem with the wheels.
Shuly, is the train leaving without us?
It will come. Don't...
-Oh, don't worry?
The three girls...
I was going to look at the copper, but the girls are calling.
After a four hour delay, it was great to be on the move again.
But we didn't get very far.
Are we stuck here tonight?
It could be so. But we'll be leaving any time,
I'm pretty sure we'll be leaving any time.
Our train had come to a halt because of an accident further up the line.
A goods train had been derailed.
I seemed the only one to be surprised.
How long are we going to be delayed for?
This...well, I'm not certain, because we have no communication with the accident site.
-Have you seen this kind of thing before?
Have you seen these kind of things happen before, a derailment?
Oh, yes, several times. Yes, several times.
Has it ever happened to you?
Really. Not once, many times as well.
Not so much dangerous.
Because our line profile is now quite poor.
-No proper maintenance.
I'll come up and say hello.
-Can I say, it's a great privilege and honour to meet you.
-OK. OK. OK.
You're doing a great job. Why are you laughing?
Remember, you're the men who get us there. You're the men we rely on.
-Yes, we are.
-You're used to these kind of delays.
It's quite normal, yes.
Your speedometer says we are doing we are doing 25/30 kilometres.
Oh, no, no. We don't get 20. It's not working properly.
We should blow the horn.
Also, you can see the cable, this cable should be here.
-So, you guess the speed?
Yes, we guess the speed.
Some time ago we used to count these telephone poles,
but now I can just look outside and give out an estimate.
Well, I can tell you now that we are doing zero.
This now is zero.
-I might come and join you. Have a beer.
-I think we'll be here for a while.
-Yeah, maybe around 20 hours.
That's what they're saying.
-Another 20 hours?
-Around 20 hours. That's a long time.
We must settle for 20 hours.
By which time we expect him
to finish clearing the wreckage on the line.
Well, it's now 11 o'clock at night
and we're still stuck in the middle of nowhere.
We were supposed to have arrived in Dar es Salaam at midday this morning.
I can hear babies crying.
Cos it's stifling hot and humid.
There are no lights on in the compartments.
And third class is completely dark.
And these passengers... For me, it is a train journey,
and this particular one feels as intense as when I was filming in war zones. I'm exhausted.
Yet, this is just a train journey,
and an everyday...
occurrence for the passengers.
-Hi, how are you?
We're not leaving?
Not just yet.
-Not just yet.
-You must be tired.
I was just saying, for me, this is an experience, but for you, this is your everyday life.
Yeah, everyday life.
And you're on the train back.
Sometimes we get to Dar es Salaam tomorrow,
the same day, and turn back.
How are you, Cynthia?
I'm fine. Thanks.
In the future, what would you hope to do?
-In the future?
-If you had your dreams come true.
I want to have a happy family.
Yes. To get married, with four children.
Four children? That's a nice dream.
-Are you in love?
-Have you ever been in love?
Yes, now too much disappointment.
Too much disappointment?
Well, I just saw a wagon down there and I'm not sure
if it's part of the derailed train last night that delayed us.
It's now six in the morning.
At least we're moving again.
This is the express train.
We are going along at a snail's pace.
We were supposed to arrive in Dar es Salaam yesterday at midday.
We limped back into Dar es salaam.
A breakdown, a derailment, and a 20-hour delay.
Freedom Railway, built to carry the vast copper wealth of Zambia,
and the dreams of post-independence Africa,
was literally grinding to a halt.
And now I wanted to find out why.
Well, here I am at the head office of the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority, Tazara.
I just want to show you this as well.
These are the founding fathers of the Tazara railway.
President Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania,
and President Kaunda, the first president of independent Zambia.
But The Great Leader, Chairman Mao?
I thought China had moved on.
The head office is the hub of any operation.
But this one felt more like an abandoned outpost.
It doesn't really matter what time you come to the Tazara head office.
It's a huge building with all these corridors, lots of offices,
but it always seems to be empty.
And this is the place and these are the people who are running the whole network.
So here's one door which says
Manager, Corporation Planning and Research.
One of these offices is where the Chinese are.
I'm whispering because they don't really want me to film them.
They're like the ghosts in the machine.
I'd heard rumours about the Chinese advisers working at head office,
the so-called Chinese Railway Expert Team.
But no-one could tell me exactly what they did.
Ah, chief internal auditor.
He might be able to tell me where all the money's gone.
In 1969 the Chinese gave Tazara 400 million, interest-free loan.
In the late '90s,
'89-92, Western donors gave 150 million.
And in 2008, Tazara went bankrupt.
Let's see if he's in.
Can I ask you a question?
It's a very big office here, Tazara, but it's always empty.
Most of these rooms are occupied, they are not empty.
There are people inside working.
-I'll come downstairs and say hello.
Let me introduce myself.
-Are you a journalist?
-I am, yes.
-My name is Sean Langan.
Langan. Sean Langan.
Tazara went bankrupt.
No. Watch that, eh?
We have never been declared bankrupt.
We didn't go bankrupt last year.
2008, you're talking about last year, we went bankrupt, that's your statement?
I'm asking you. I thought I read somewhere in newspapers.
No, it is not true. It was not correct.
We didn't go bankrupt.
What do you do?
I'm a controller here.
-A train controller or financial controller?
Oh, you're a train controller. Nice to meet you.
Can I come and say hello?
-Ah, hello, sir.
Have I come to the wrong place?
No, no, no. You are just in the right place.
Whom are you looking for?
Nice to meet you, sir.
My name is Sean, BBC.
-BBC? OK, my name is Alex.
-Nice to meet you.
-I am a working traffic manager.
-You're the traffic manager?
Yes. This is where we contact our train operations.
Ah, this was more like it, the control Room, the beating heart of any railway.
-You're the traffic controller?
-The traffic manager.
I manage all the movement of trains.
I noticed the train drivers, are you able to talk to them?
The train drivers, we don't talk to them,
because we don't have the facility in terms of communication equipment.
As you can see, our controller is the one on duty.
And what we use are these train working diagrams.
This is one where we record the movement of trains.
But normally, I imagine, in control offices,
you would see those red lights, the old-fashioned ones.
No, that is a system which is called Centralised Train Control.
Even the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine had those systems.
The flashing lights.
OK, but unlike ourselves here.
We have this control office which is according to the way our resources are.
We just have to go by this.
-Because you're doing it on paper.
-Yes, it is done on paper.
The train working diagrams seemed to work well on paper.
But in reality, Tazara has a hard time keeping track of the trains,
as they can't actually talk to any of the drivers.
They have to call the stations and ask them if they've seen a train.
You are cutting out. What is wrong with your radio?
I can't help noticing the clock behind you.
-Ah, yes, this clock.
-At the moment it's not working.
It has not been connected with power,
so we just depend on our own watches.
At least all the controllers can afford to have a watch.
Good afternoon, Mr Sander.
-Now, Felix, I want you to do something quickly.
A customer wants the information to track his wagons.
They want to know...
The Fat Controller!
Tazara was clearly not a functioning railway.
The control room felt more like a comedy of errors.
Red means stop.
Red means stop.
Yellow means start.
What on earth were the so called Chinese Railway Experts doing?
This was their biggest development project in Africa.
I was determined to get some answers.
But to do that, I needed to speak to Chinese Expert Number One, Mr Meow.
Or, failing that, Chinese Expert Number Two, Mr Jang.
And that's when I walked in and found their number three, Mr Yu.
Ah, Regina and the Chinese experts!
-How are you?
-Fine, thank you.
-Happy new year.
Mr Wu, do you think Mr Jang will give me an interview this time?
Mr Jang? He's sick.
-No. Is he in China?
-He's in Tanzania?
Just back from China after a health examination.
-Please tell him I say hello.
Will he be coming back to work this week or next week?
No, tomorrow morning.
-If you say I'm here.
-And I would love to speak to him.
Nice to meet you.
So you are the translator to Mr Meow?
Yes, Mr Meow.
And Mr Meow is...?
-The team leader.
-The team leader.
So if I want to speak to Mr Jang I have to ask permission from Mr Meow?
Maybe you can just go to talk with Mr Jang.
Shall I say hello to Mr Meow? Can you introduce me?
-Mr Meow is not there.
-He's not there.
-He has gone to the workshop.
What workshop? Is there a workshop here?
The Dar es Salaam workshop, just near by, in there.
I think I should film that. That's where they maintain the locomotives. It's a good thing to see.
You can go with Sammy, the chief mechanical engineer.
This man? What's he called?
I'll speak to him. Thank you. Hello.
'I was beginning to feel like the parcel in pass the parcel.'
Sorry, Sam, I'm from the BBC.
-Are you the chief mechanical engineer?
-Sorry, my name is Sean Langan.
Are you in charge of the depot here in Dar es Salaam?
I'm in charge of all the rolling stock which means all depots and workshops.
What are some of the main
problems you face? The difficulties?
Currently what we are facing is
spare parts missing.
For the American locomotives?
For the entire fleet.
In terms of wagons, coaches and the locomotives.
Can I ask
why is there a problem getting spare parts?
Currently I can say it is the financial position of the company.
My next stop - the maintenance depot.
But I was beginning to wonder if the problem was mismanagement
and not just a lack of money and spare parts.
You know, this is like every boy's dream.
-You know, all children love playing with train sets.
-This is like a giant train set.
Can I ask you, is the Chinese equipment...
What is the best, German, Chinese or American?
Why is this man laughing when I asked that?
I think it's safe to say the German ...
he's still laughing.
No, we love the Chinese, and they are the ones who helped and co-operated and built it.
And the Americans said no.
The American G locomotives are good.
The G locomotives are good.
-The Germans are brilliant.
-And the Chinese?
The Chinese, we have seen some limitations in the older models.
Are the wagons or the locomotives serviced regularly?
If spare parts were readily available, the maintenance wouldn't have been a problem.
-But if we don't have enough parts, and that is the problem.
-So that's the problem, not the servicing.
In fact, Tazara has been criticized in official reports for failing to service rolling stock.
So this is one of the famous Chinese locomotives.
Is that one of the early ones?
No, these are the new generation of locomotives from China.
It is waiting for spare parts.
It's awaiting spare parts? How new is it? It doesn't look that new.
Not quite new, it was here since 1998.
That's quite new.
-And it's waiting for spare parts?
-Yes, for overhaul.
And a paint job.
In 2008, the Chinese and African governments were so concerned by the lack of proper maintenance,
and by the woeful mismanagement,
they sacked the Managing Director and his Deputy.
Now that's a big engine.
I had to film that because the train spotters like writing it down.
Are these more engines here behind us?
-These are the MTU.
-These are German-made.
-These are the German ones?
-We used to have a big fleet powered by MTU.
-In the 1980s? '87?
But it's quite sad to see these engines behind you
in such disrepair, because they're beautiful engines.
These are very powerful and reliable engines.
But you haven't got equipment to fix them?
-It's just spare parts.
It's like an elephant's graveyard.
Sir, it's like an elephant's graveyard. It's a bit sad.
I heard once, one of the trains hit an elephant.
-It happens, it happens.
The last time I was riding to Zambia
-and we ran into eight elephants.
-And we killed three.
-And you know what happened? It just bent a bit.
Wow! That's amazing.
After all that talk of elephants on the track
in the Selous Game Reserve, there was only one place to go.
I headed out on a maintenance trolley with Ismael and his maintenance crew.
I'm not sure if we are coming out here to fix any track,
but it's turning into my own little private safari tour.
The elephants have right of way.
We came across the rest of the crew, but instead of fixing track, they'd gone fishing.
We packed away the fishing rods.
There was no shortage of fish, it seems, but what we needed was fuel.
Is there a problem, Ismael?
There are 1,000 miles of track to maintain.
But these men are having to do the work of a tamping machine by hand,
packing stones as ballast to make the tracks more durable.
So this is to stop the rail from buckling?
To avoid the buckling.
These men can't lift the heavy stone sleepers, like the tamping machine,
which is vital to make the track parallel and level.
That's important on a railway line.
I didn't get that from Thomas The Tank Engine!
Is it true...in the movies, they used to put their ear
to the track to listen?
If you listen to the track you can hear a train coming?
-I used to see that in the old movies.
-It's not true.
-It's not true.
Tazara does have one tamping machine in Tanzania,
but it was in Dar es Salaam, awaiting spare parts.
The failure to maintain the track hasn't only caused derailments
and delays, it poses the constant threat of a serious accident.
At least our maintenance trolley was running OK...
When a maintenance trolley breaks down,
you know a railway is in trouble.
-Thank you, Ismael. Thank you, mate.
The next morning, after a night in the local village,
I returned to the station to catch the train back to Dar es Salaam.
Many of the passengers have been waiting all night.
The train was due at 7am precisely,
but was already four hours late.
-Sir, are you talking to the station?
-To the train?
-To the control office.
In Dar es Salaam?
Do they know where the Rakuba train is?
-Do they know when the train is coming?
-Yes, it's coming.
-Half an hour, it'll be there.
-Half an hour?
Why was it late?
-It was an accident.
Ismael, thank you so much for everything.
You've looked after me. I'll always remember our day.
It was good.
I'm back. And I'm back with the first-class girls.
There was another delay. You were delayed four hours?
Four hours, yes.
-Is that a new wig?
Ah, new extensions. They look good.
But that's your natural?
-Natural looks beautiful.
You must be so tired at the end of these journeys.
And you never get time to rest?
But because we're late, you come back tomorrow.
So, you have one night to rest.
When you're in Dar es Salaam, do you stay in the Tazara compound?
-You sleep in the train?
-So tonight, you'll sleep here?
As we came back into Dar es Salaam station,
I realised no Tazara journey would be complete
without a delay or a breakdown.
It seemed the entire network was in meltdown.
1,000 miles of railway track, and only a single goods train was running that day.
After a long delay, at least my appointment had arrived with the managing director, Mr Chipewo.
-How are you?
I'm very well.
-Sorry, I know you're very busy.
-Good to see you.
-Nice to see you.
-Please sit down.
I read in some reports at the end of 2008, that Tazara was bankrupt?
Yes. As a matter of fact, there was no money in the bank.
And the shareholders, who are the two governments, weren't able to chip in any amount of money.
There was no money to buy fuel to run the trains.
And the worst is, workers weren't paid their wages for three months.
Coming into that situation,
where do you start?
What was your strategy?
Or even if you have a strategy, if you've no money?
I said, I'm looking for a customer with cash who will give me money, and I'll carry his train.
And I found one that had sold some sulphur in the port.
He paid, right on the spot, 150,000.
That's where I started.
That was the seed money.
And then the trains started moving.
I was moving the trains that were stranded, and at the same time
collecting the money from the customers that were able to pay cash.
-So, Tazara Railways had come to a standstill?
-So you kick-started it.
But that's not a long-term strategy.
You got it running...
In November, I conducted a workshop in strategic management,
so we could have a new vision.
Also, have a mission, and work out strategies to attain that vision.
What's the new vision of Tazara?
-The new vision is that we become the best run railway in Africa.
Sadly, Mr Chipewo never got the chance to put his vision into practice.
A few weeks later he lost his job.
And just then, I saw it flash before my eyes.
The fabled track-tamping maintenance machine.
It's the only one in Tanzania.
-There's only one?
-Yeah, we had two, but one is in Zambia.
And you had two before in Tanzania, but one is broken?
-One is broken, yeah.
-Do you like football?
-Yeah, I do like it.
-Because the World Cup...
I like, and I'm a fan of Manchester United.
Oh, well I'll stop filming!
-I'm a fan of Arsenal.
Do you want to change your mind?
He didn't stop.
No spare parts, no fuel, and now, no MD.
There was only one question left to ask.
Had all the money gone too?
-I'm from BBC.
-What's your name?
-My name is Sean.
Are you both working for Tazara?
I used to work here.
I have already retired.
So, you worked here for how many years?
I retired in July, 2007.
When did you start?
How are you?
-How are you?
-Are you feeling better?
A little better.
What was wrong with you? You had a fever?
Just a little fever. I think, maybe some inflammation.
-I'd a slight throat...
I met Mr Chang. He said, maybe he'll talk to me on camera,
-because we have such lovely conversations off camera.
-He said, MAYBE he'll talk to me.
So, hopefully. All the best.
-See you soon.
-See you soon.
I've been trying to talk to the Chinese experts
since I've been here, but they don't like to be on camera.
-Not on camera?
-No. Whenever I try talking to him, they don't like it.
Maybe the questions are very difficult, they don't want to speak on behalf of their country.
Of their country? Yeah.
-Maybe that's their reason.
-But this is freedom railway.
We should all be free to talk!
Good luck. Are you going to ask them to pay your pension?
-He wants money?
-Am I ready? Can I go in?
-Yeah, go in.
Have they agreed to pay your pension?
-No, no, no.
No, no, no. They've no money.
No money? So you haven't got your pension?
-Not yet, not yet.
Let's see if the head of finance, Sarah, is here.
-Have you met my boss, my friend?
Ah, no. I thought you were the boss.
No, I have a boss.
-What, there's someone more important than you?
It can't be possible.
What's the name of the new director, the managing director?
Wow, have you met him?
Yes, I met him this morning.
Did you say goodbye to Mr Chipewo?
By the way, Sarah, are you going to tell me everything about the finance?
I will, once I'm given the go-ahead, definitely.
Do you have the money to pay for the fuel for my train?
-You're really asking!
-Well, I know.
I was in the control... I was in the control room yesterday,
and the trains were stopped in Mbeya, because there was no fuel.
-They didn't have the money to pay for the fuel.
-Who said that?
I don't know who said that.
There was no hiding the truth, even from me. Tazara was flat broke.
The Chinese have now had to step in
and rescue the financially crippled railway from total collapse,
with a new loan of 39 million.
What about South Africa? Would you like to go to the World Cup?
Ah, no, no.
I have no fare. Because I know from here to South Africa,
-it's a lot of money, I mean by paying a fare.
So, you'll watch the World Cup on television?
Yes, I just watch it on television.
If England win, I'll be very happy.
Red means stop!
Now, this is shunting work...
Ah, you see.
It was time for me to visit Zambia's copper belt.
But as I walked out of head office,
I thought I'd caught my first ever glimpse
of the elusive Chinese Expert Number One, Mr Meow.
Hello, sir. Are you not Mr Meow?
-My name is Chanza.
-My name is Sean.
How are you? Nice to meet you.
I'm making a film about Tazara.
-I was filming October, November...
Here's our leader, Mr Meow.
-How are you?
I've been filming...
He's looking at me like...
-Tell him I'm sorry.
-If you want to talk with him, you should ask...
He's our leader of...
..of Chinese credit here.
-Yeah, no problem.
-I like BBC.
-Will the Chinese government...
I'll ask permission.
-I don't want to cause trouble.
-Today, I'm not so comfortable.
-I have more fever.
-You have fever?
-I'm so sorry.
Bye-bye. Say sorry to Mr Meow.
The Chinese experts never did explain to me what they were really doing there.
I later discovered a decision about Tazara's future had already been made in Beijing.
In the car to Zambia's copper belt, China's growing presence in the area became clear.
And then, the news was announced,
the exclusive concession to operate Tazara would be handed over to a Chinese-owned railway company.
Africa's Freedom Railway was about to become Chinese.
No-one at Tazara had been willing to tell me the truth about the Chinese,
but an accountant I met on the side of the road, who works for one
of the major mining companies, was clear about their intentions.
You see these guys?
They need a living. Do you know what he's carrying?
-He's carrying copper from this slag.
-The slag heap?
This slag copper. He wants to sell so that he can feed his family.
This is a country which has got a lot of natural resources,
which we're supposed to use to benefit ourselves.
The country's natural resources are the sovereign of these people.
But what are we getting out of our natural resources? Nothing.
Who is making the money? Because there's money all round us.
-There's a mountain of money here.
The so-called investors, these are the guys who are making money.
Not Zambians at all.
The President of China came to Africa late last year,
and was talking about 10 billion of investment in the next few years.
To me it's not investment.
They're actually taking our own resources. OK?
If they're investing in our country,
they must have a big share in the social responsibility.
Some of these investors who have come, they're sort of like running the country. Why?
Because they've corrupted the governments in Africa.
-OK? They have more say that the native...Africans.
-And the elected leaders?
African dreams of independence have failed to materialise.
They're now increasingly reliant upon the Chinese.
The fact that Tazara has never come to a standstill is because of the people who work on the railway.
Somehow, against all the odds, they have always managed to keep the trains moving.
Cynthia invited me back to her house, where she had a surprise waiting for me.
It's lovely to meet you! You're the grandmother of Cynthia?
-My name Sean.
-This one is my baby, this is my baby!
Hello, how are you? Nice to meet you.
-What's her name?
I didn't know you had a daughter.
Oh, I have.
I had her when I was at school, Grade nine.
16? Do you miss her when you're on the train? Yeah, I miss her.
-Now, I'm fighting for her.
Cynthia is still fighting, and next year she hopes to get her daughter into school.
The Chinese are doing what every foreign investor has always done in Africa.
My most lasting impression is how the people I met have never lost hope,
and still struggle to achieve their dream of providing for their families.
In June, Tazara is lying on special trains for the World Cup in South Africa.
Let's just hope they get there on time!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
In a moving and often funny documentary, award-winning film-maker Sean Langan is off to east Africa to ride the rails of the Tazara railroad, whose passenger and goods trains travel through spectacular scenery and a game park teeming with wild animals.
The railway was built by the Chinese just after independence to link Zambia's copper belt to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, and once carried the region's hopes and dreams. But now it is in crisis. Every day there are derailments, trains running out of fuel and mechanical breakdowns.
Langan meets the train crews, controllers and maintenance crews who battle to keep it going - and at Tazara HQ he is on the track of Tazara's elusive Chinese railway advisors to find out why it is in such a parlous state.