BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Africa
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"One moment you're in the heat of the African bush, and the next, it's very very cold."
 real 56k

The BBC's Peter Biles
"Fot just over three minutes it seemed as though night had fallen"
 real 28k

Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Africa marvels at solar eclipse
Angola was the first country to see the full eclipse
The first total solar eclipse of the new millennium has swept across southern Africa, with thousands watching the sky go dark from Angola to Mozambique and Madagascar.

It's so strange to see the darkness in the midst of light

Charles Mjima
The eclipse took about an hour to travel eastwards from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

Thousands of tourists travelled to the continent, where many wildlife enthusiasts gathered to see the effects of sudden darkness on animal and bird life.

But there have been concerns that many local people were risking damage to their eyesight by looking directly at the sun, because they were unable to afford protective glasses.


At Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe, night insects suddenly began to appear, and the temperature dropped sharply as the sun was obscured.

Eclipse rave, Lusaka
Some tourists saw the eclipse at a 10-day eclipse rave near Lusaka
Wildlife researchers' initial observations suggested that many animals were confused by the sudden onset of darkness and the equally quick return to full daylight and a warm afternoon.

In Angola, the police warned drivers to stay off roads as the sun went into eclipse.

The eclipse was first seen in the coast town of Sumbe, bringing with it a few tourists - a rare sight in this war-torn country.

"I was very excited because I am watching my first eclipse," said 11-year-old Dominic Negil.

"It's very nice. There's lots of tourists. Normally we never see any at all," he said.


In Zambia and Zimbabwe, many more tourists joined locals to watch the event.

Zambia declared a national holiday, and hosted an estimated 20,000 foreign visitors, its biggest ever influx of tourists.

"This is absolutely amazing. We have had a thoroughly good time," said Edgar Strunz, a 23-year-old Austrian.

Boy wearing special glasses
Some had glasses, but many did not
"It's so strange to see the darkness in the midst of light," said Charles Mjima, who had travelled from his home in Zambia's copper belt to see the eclipse in the capital, Lusaka.

For some, the experience had a spiritual dimension as well.

"You feel in touch with the cosmos. It is awe-inspiring. It is little wonder that the ancient Greeks thought it was an action wrought by the Gods," said Paul Kissinger, a retired American college professor who travelled to Lusaka for the event.

Eye fears

There were widespread fears that people might damage their eyes by looking directly at the sun.

Countries in the path of the eclipse issued warnings not to look directly at the sun.

French rugby team
Tourists came from all over the world
In Angola, millions of protective glasses were given out free, but they were reportedly being resold.

In Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe shops were selling out of glasses the day before the eclipse.

Many people in Zimbabwe watched the sun through pieces of aluminium foil, sold by street vendors to crowds waiting for the eclipse.

But some people remained convinced that talk of a risk to eyes was just a marketing gimmick.

"It's just one of those ploys to dupe us of our hard-earned money," said Mary Phiri, a Harare shop assistant.


Some people saw the eclipse as a premonition.

Luanda poster
Safety posters were up in Luanda
"It means there are going to be problems, that there will be bloodshed," said Peter Sibanda of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association.

In Angola, the government warned people not to believe doomsday sects, who preach that people should look directly at the sun without protective glasses to welcome the new messiah.

And The Times of Zambia newspaper warned of "enchanters and devil worshippers" who were praying to the sun and "ready to sacrifice humans".

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories