This river is undeniably the longest in Zambia with a length of over 1600 kilometers. It is of a great significance as its water is used for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation purposes. It is the largest tributary of the Zambezi and principle river in Zambia.
It is also the most central and urban with over 50 percent of people from Zambia settled around its basin and 65 percent are urban. This waterbody features a mean flow rate of about 320 meters via its lower half with high season variation. It discharges about 10 cubic kilometers each year to River Zambezi.
It stands at altitude of about 1350 meters just along a relatively gentle plateau south of the border area of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, approximately 120 kilometers northwest of Chingola in the Copper belt Province.
Its source is in the northwestern province of Zambia and the area is largely a miombo woodland especially along the Congo Zambezi watershed with several branching dambos that lie from 10-20 meters lower than the highest ground, producing an undulating landscape. It begins as a trickle form the marshy dambos-Munyanshi swamp and with some little slope to speed up its flow rate.
It winds southeastwards and at about 50 kilometers, you will find features of a mature river. This waterbody receives rainfall amount of over 1200 mm during wet season and its channel has a width of 100 meters with a floodplain of fluvial dambos 1 to 2 wide.
Prior reaching a Copper belt, this river loses its wide floodplain and the channel reduces to 30 to 40 meters while it winds in a shallow valley only about 40 meters or lower than the bordering plateau.
It however flows close to the Copper belt towns of Chingola, Mufulira and Chililabombwe as well as via the outskirts of Kitwe and Nchanga. The most picnic site at this waterbody is hippo pool north of Chingola and this area is protected as a national monument. Within the Copper belt, the water is taken from this waterbody to irrigate small farms and market gardens. Around Kitwe, it changes course to the southwest and flows via forests and areas of gentle rock on which it floods in the rainy season, while maintaining a width of approximately 50 meters during the dry spell.
This river develops intricate meanders and channels within a swampy floodplain with oxbow Lakes and Lagoons. It flows about 20 kilometers west of the permanent part of Lukanga swamp that fills a circular depression and that drains via a channel into the Kafue. Between the swamp and river, there is a floodplain and when that and the adjacent parts are inundated during the wet season, the combined wetland goes up to 6000 square kilometers and this make up the first of the 3 major wildlife areas.
And this includes the Kafue National Park which is the second largest protected area in Africa and receives about 2 vast tributaries-River Lunga and Lufupa from the north. Along its outskirts, there are a good number of significant wildlife species especially antelopes, zebras, Cape buffaloes and many more. Itezhi Tezhi Gap channel on other hand is eroded by this river and it flows across a flat plain known as the Kafue flats also previously called Butwa.
However, the blue lagoon and Lochinvar national parks have been formed along these flats while in Mazabuka and as this river gets closer to Kafue town, a sugar plantation and many other farm estates exist especially around the fertile black soil and use water from this river during the dry season.
The Kafue flats stop at Kafue town and from here as the rift valley becomes deeper, the river reduces to 550 meters over 60 kilometers via Kafue gorge. The second dam in this waterbody is Kafue gorge dam and comes with smaller reservoir and generates electricity.