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Tuesday 30 November 2010

Victoria Falls bridge set to last another 100 years

THE Victoria Falls Bridge, situated close to one of the country’s world-renowned tourist attractions, is in a position to last a hundred more years if its custodians stick to maintenance recommendations, an official has said.

In an interview with Sunday Business on Wednesday last week, the Emerged Railway Properties’ engineer, Mr Herbert Dvinotyiwei, noted that when the bridge turned a hundred years old a few years back, they sought services of consultants who made recommendations which if followed it can last for 100 more years.

“A few years back when the bridge turned 100 years old, we made consultations with our consultants and they gave us recommendations and said if we follow them well, it can last for the next 100 years,” he said.

Mr Dvinotyiwei said the recommendations include surface treatment of the steel, replacement of the footway, the roadway and the railway decks, the installation of concrete barriers, traffic lights, the drainage system and the foundation of the maintenance walkway.

He said they have, however, managed to go through some of the recommendations except for the replacement of the three decks that will cost more than US$1.9 million.

“So far we have installed the concrete barriers and done the other recommendations but we are left with the replacement of the railway deck which will cost close to US$800 000, that of the footway deck costing US$300 000 and the roadway deck which will also cost US$800 000,” he said.
Mr Dvinotyiwei said as from September until March next year, they will surface treat the steel on the bridge. They are painting the bridge to fight corrosion.

“As from September this year, we have been busy with the surface treatment of the steel whereby we are painting them so as to fend off corrosion. This will take up to March next year when the showers intensify making it impossible to paint and then we will resume again around July,” he said.
Mr Dvinotyiwei said they are appealing to all stakeholders to come forward and assist in the maintenance of the bridge as it benefits all of them.

“This is an appeal to say look, this is an asset that helps both you and us so if there is a way you can assist please come forward and do so,” he said.

Source: Victoria Falls bridge set to last another 100 years (Nov 2010)

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)

Monday 15 November 2010

Parks, Museums fight over Vic Falls

THE National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe has failed in its daring bid to wrest management of the Victoria falls from the Parks and Wildlife Authority.

Ministers have ordered Museums to back-off after the department’s officials stormed the Victoria Falls Rainforest last week and hoisted their own flag before seeking to replace Parks rangers.

The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (NPWMA) has been in charge of the Victoria Falls Rainforest since 1937. The Victoria Falls was declared a national monument in 1932, and earned the UNESCO classification as a World Heritage Site in 1989. The Authority takes receipts of US$2,5 million annually from visitors to one of the world’s most majestic waterfalls.

After a week-long standoff with Museums, the Parks’ director general, Vitalis Chadenga, said Friday that cabinet had restored them as the sole managers of the Victoria Falls.

He told reporters: “National Parks as well as the Museums and Monuments are all institutions of the State.

“The government has taken a position that the management of the rainforest reverts back to Parks and therefore compliance is expected.

“Status quo remains and should continue as such.”

Museums officials had tried to take control after claiming that the Victoria Falls, as a national monument, was under the Home Affairs Ministry, while the Parks Authority is superintended by the Environment and Natural Resources Management Ministry. The dispute has been ongoing since 2007.

The fight reached a crescendo in October this year when the Home Affairs Ministry – which is in charge of the police -- wrote to Cabinet advising that it was “bringing the long-drawn matter to closure”.

Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Melusi Matshiya said in a letter to Misheck Sibanda, the Cabinet Secretary: “Effectively, the (Parks) authority has thrown away all efforts and initiatives that government put into the matter with a view to amicably solving the dispute.

"In view of the current circumstances, and noting that efforts to resolve the impasse, through negotiation and mutual understanding continue to yield no results, the Ministry of Home Affairs wishes to bring this long-drawn matter to closure by simply enforcing the legal position as advised by the Attorney General.

"In this regard, the Zimbabwe Republic Police is now being requested to intervene for purposes of facilitating the peaceful enforcement of National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe management rights at the Victoria Falls.

"Intransigence cannot be allowed unchecked ad infinitum. Also, being accommodative cannot be seen as a weakness, particularly over so many years of patience.” And days after that letter, dated October 10, police arrived at the Rainforest with Museums officials to enforce the threatened take-over.

Sibanda responded by re-releasing a 2007 letter to reaffirm Parks as the department in charge of Zimbabwe’s premier tourist destination.

In the letter, Sibanda stated: "Please be advised that at the 23rd meeting held on 10th July 2007, Cabinet resolved that there be integrated management and conservation of Victoria Falls, World Heritage Site.

"As such, the suggested takeover of the management of the site by the Ministry of Home Affairs is at variance with the decision of Cabinet.”

Source: Parks, Museums fight over Vic Falls  (12/11/10)

Victoria Falls heritage status threatened

One of Africa’s most famous landmarks, Victoria Falls, is in danger of losing its status as a world heritage site following the construction of a restaurant and curio shop in the ­adjacent rainforest, which has sparked loud protests from Zimbabwean environmentalists.
Zambian authorities have also been dragged into the fray, as Zambia and Zimbabwe jointly administer the site under a management plan signed in 2007 that set guidelines for the management and protection of the rainforest and prohibits new development there.
According to the NGO Environment Africa (EA), a Zimbabwean company, Shearwater Private, started developing the zone, building a kitchen, restaurant, bar and curio shop, after getting the green light from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Charlene Hewat, the EA’s chief executive, said: “We support new and sustainable development but not at the expense of the environment. The issue with this particular development is that national and international laws governing the sanctity of a world heritage site have been breached.”
Legislation governing such sites prevents new developments taking place to prevent congestion and the overstay of visitors.
Unesco first listed the falls as a world heritage site in 1989. Its status came under threat in 2007 when the United Nations agency accused Zimbabwe of “mismanagement and overdevelopment” of the site.
“A world heritage site is governed by very strict laws and, if they are transgressed, Unesco certainly has the right to revoke the status — Once again there is a very real ­possibility of that ­happening,” said Hewat.
Political deals 
It is understood that Shearwater, in partnership with the wildlife authority, initially proposed upgrading only existing facilities, which comprise an information centre, ablution blocks and food and beverage amenities. But green activists say the company has built new infrastructure.
Speculation is mounting that Zanu-PF bigwigs, known to have a large portfolio of businesses in the resort town, may have influenced the authority’s decision to allow Shearwater to build, contrary to regulations.
“This matter smacks of political dealing, with someone high up trying to strengthen his or her hand in business,” said one environmentalist, who requested anonymity.
Asked for comment, Francis Nhema, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, said: “I’ve sent my officer to check on what’s happening in the Victoria Falls, as I’m also anxious about developments there and will issue a response when the official has given me feedback.”
Local stakeholders and residents of Victoria Falls said they were not consulted about the development.
At a crisis meeting at the offices of the municipal board in October, the Environmental Management Authority of Victoria Falls decided to mount a legal challenge to force the government to cancel Shearwater’s operating licence.
Nhema said: “All stakeholders have to be involved. If that wasn’t the case then there’s definitely a problem.”

Thursday 11 November 2010

Vic Falls municipality dumps raw sewage into Zambezi

The Victoria Falls municipality has been dumping raw sewage into the Zambezi River for over a year, after allegedly failing to deal with waste emanating from two of the country’s world renowned hotels — Victoria Falls and Kingdom.
The hotels are located on low-lying land and are not connected to the town’s sewer system because of gradient, meaning a powerful pump is needed to channel sewerage from the hotels up the gradient.
Instead, pipes have been laid to carry and pour sewage into the mighty river, between Rapid Four and Six. The area is popular with tourists for white water rafting.
Although senior council officials who included the mayor, town clerk, director of engineering services and public relations manager were reluctant to comment, sources in the resort town said the authorities had cited lack of financial resources for the failure to deal with the sewage problem.
A council official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed yesterday that raw sewage has been channelled into the river for more than a year now.
He said the pipes which linked the hotels to the municipality’s sewerage ponds had broken down resulting in effluent flowing into the river.
Africa Sun chief executive officer Shingi Munyeza professed ignorance over the issue and referred questions to the Victoria Falls Municipality, while the hotels’ management refused to comment.
“The best persons to comment would be the council. They are the ones who handle sewage,” Munyeza said.
Victoria Falls mayor Nkosilathi Jihane referred questions to the town’s engineer Sheren Sibanda.
However, Sibanda refused to comment, politely saying her job “is not to speak to the Press”.
She further referred questions to the municipality’s public relations manager, Nqabutho Moyo, who requested questions in writing.
After receiving the questions, he passed the matter to the town clerk, Godfrey Maphosa.
Maphosa was said to be in meetings most of yesterday before he was later said to have left the office.
NewsDay, however, has pictures taken two weeks ago of the raw effluent spilling into the river.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Urban sprawl threatens Vic Falls

A massive $6 million planned structure next to the rainforest’s VIP entrance could cause uproar with environmentalists, already seething with anger over an open-air restaurant built at the public entrance.
The development is seen as a threat to the natural settings of the rainforest which could result in Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, losing its World Heritage status.
Documents at hand showed the grand plan by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) and Shearwater, a private adventure company, which established a restaurant, merchandising and information kiosk at the entrance, is to construct a massive complex, including an auditorium and conference room, at the VIP entrance.
The parties signed a 29-year-long build, operate and transfer agreement, which commenced on September 1 2009 and will run until 2038, for the VIP entrance project.
ZPWMA will own the property at the expiry of the agreement. According to the memorandum of agreement between ZPWMA and Shearwater’s parent company, Innscor Africa Limited (IAL), the latter shall provide retail and merchandise, photographic and DVD production and sales, food and beverage and transport (eco-friendly electric soundless golf carts for the elderly and invalids), at the property.
IAL will also run a DVD auditorium and conference room. In addition, the company will show documentaries on the geology, history and the 12-month cycle of the Victoria Falls.
IAL will provide funding for the project while the authority shall “ensure that the project is acceptable by all local, national and regional stakeholders . . . ensure that the project management committee and the Unesco World Heritage Committee concur with the developments”.
Environment and Natural Resources Development minister Francis Nhema has already approved the project.
The revelations came at a time environmentalists and the business community in the premier tourism centre are campaigning to have the developments at the public entrance reversed, arguing that they were disturbing the rainforest ecosystem.
Victoria Falls was declared a national monument in 1937, a protected area in 1952 and a World Heritage site in 1989.
The VIP entrance project, which should commence soon and be completed in 2012, has courted controversy given that construction will start a few metres from the banks of the Zambezi River.
Shearwater public relations manager Clement Mukwasi confirmed the VIP entrance project but said his organisation would ensure that it was done in an environmentally friendly way.
“The VIP gate is a commitment we have entered into. We have a contract and we are going to develop the place. We don’t expect negativity on the project because we have learnt our lessons and we will consult all the stakeholders in a manner they want us to,” he said.
However, Environment Africa chief executive officer Charlene Hewat, whose organisation has embarked on an intensive campaign against the open-air restaurant project, said the rainforest was in danger because of the developments.
She said there was need for wide consultations and an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be carried out before the project was approved.
Hewat said the open-air restaurant was against the Zimbabwe-Zambia joint management plan of 2007 which put “a complete moratorium on the construction and development of all tourism infrastructure, facilities or services within the World Heritage zone”.
The management plan was put in place when Unesco threatened to delist the rainforest after a Zambian investor tried to build a hotel and golf course on the shores of the Zambezi River.
Hewat said when the original project was submitted to stakeholders for approval it was presented as an upgrade of existing infrastructure.
She said a proper EIA was not done.
“However the final development was of a much larger scale, with the building of new infrastructure and by so doing, governing legislation has been breached and the stark reality is we could once again be faced with the threat of being delisted.”
Mukwasi however said the open-air restaurant project was above board and that all stakeholders, including Environment Africa and the business community, some of whom were now speaking against the project, were advised of and approved the project.
He said the opposition was part of business politics and had nothing to do with the environment.
“The uproar is caused by mainly competitors; it’s not an environmental issue. Environment Africa was consulted, they endorsed the project and it was built in their presence. From June to September when we were constructing we had no complaints.
Complaints filtered in on September 27 when we had a trial run. I think people should be ethical enough to accept competition,” he said.
Mukwasi said measures had been taken to preserve the environment including a “comprehensive” EIA, adding that all known existing legislation was followed.
“The restaurant was constructed between two existing buildings which are the toilets and information areas. It’s not in the rainforest. It’s a refurbishment of the entry to the rainforest. The material used (pole and thatch) blends with the environment. The colours blend well, the seating capacity is reasonably small,” he said.
“The buildings are within tree height, and in fact, they have beautified the entrance to the rainforest. There also has to be a distinction between a core zone and a buffer zone; we built in a buffer zone and it’s allowed.”
Despite the controversy surrounding the project the restaurant is popular with tourists.
The visitors’ book only has one negative comment in which one tourist felt that the food was too expensive.
Source: Urban sprawl threatens Vic Falls (09/11/2010)