Thursday, 18 November 2010

Rich pickings at Vic Falls

VICTORIA FALLS - The government has rebuffed calls from environmentalists to boot out a company that has constructed a restaurant and curio shop in the core zone of the magnificent Victoria Falls world heritage site.

The tour operator, Shearwater Adventures, was last month granted permission by the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to construct a restaurant and start selling curios right in the core of the Victoria Falls rainforest. Environmentalists have expressed concern about the impact of the development on the conservation status of the Victoria Falls, one of the world’s seven natural wonders, and the livelihoods of more than 100 poor curio vendors and their families who were earning a living selling curios outside the rainforest.

The vendors from Ema Doyilini, Busy Island, Sinathankawu and Rainforest are complaining that they have been robbed of a living. Said one environmentalist: “The beautiful angels that David Livingstone talked about when he first saw the Falls must be weeping in their flight as they see this beautiful national asset taking its first step towards its demise. Imagine a restaurant in the Great Enclosure of the Great Zimbabwe monument? Yes you can’t believe it. But its happening in Victoria Falls. The Lozi, Toka Leya, Tonga and Nambya speaking people handed it down to our generation undisturbed. Is this the legacy that we want to hand over to our children?” The Zimbabwean understands the National Museums and Monuments had ordered Shearwater to get out of the rainforest saying its construction was in breach of UNESCO regulations. But this quasi government department has now been sanctioned, and authority over the Falls has now reverted back exclusively to the more pliant Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

Environmentalists insist the tussle over control of the Victoria Falls monument is being fuelled by the rich pickings amid reports it earns an average of US$7 000 a day in gate takings. The permanent secretary in the ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Sylvester Maunganidze said Shearwater was staying put and claimed its development of a kitchen, top class restaurant and bar, plus a converted and expanded information centre in the rainforest was done in accordance with government regulations.

“It is time the country fully utilises its vast natural endowment for economic growth especially tourism,” he said. “From a tourism point of view, the building of the pole and thatch restaurant at the gate to the Victoria falls is ideal as before requests had been put forward by tourists that they need a resting place near the waterfall.” To buttress Shearwater’s controversial development, the permanent secretary has produced a government communiqu, inked by the Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Ray Ndhlukula giving back the management of the Victoria Falls to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority until any recommended changes are approved by Cabinet.

Paul Connolly, a legal advisor to Shearwater, said in a statement: There are UNESCO regulations pertaining to the site. The UNESCO regulations say, among other things, that there should be no developments in an area which is not already designated a facilities area. Shearwater has simply improved and developed infrastructure within the physical parameters of the buildings that have been in existence for a long time. This is already a developed area and Shearwater did not go an inch outside that designated area.

Source: Rich pickings at Vic Falls (17/11/10)

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