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Saturday 21 December 2013

Update on the Shearwater elephants captured from Hwange

In November 2006, Shearwater Adventures located in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, captured twelve wild juvenile elephants from Hwange National Park for the purpose of training the animals for use in the elephant back riding industry. Once ZNSPCA heard about this capture, Inspectors visited the premises where the elephants were being held. One elephant had died a day after it had been captured while another female elephant had escaped from her enclosure. The remaining ten elephants were in a state of shock and showed clear symptoms of stress. After vet reports on the elephants were obtained and photographic evidence taken, the ZNSPCA appealed to National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (NPWMA) for permission to stop the training of these wild elephants and release the animals. NPWMA granted ZNSPCA permission to release the elephants.
On the day the elephants were scheduled for release, however, ZNSPCA Inspectors were told by a deputy Minister of Parliament to leave the elephants alone. Inspectors subsequently filed twelve counts of animal cruelty charges against Shearwater Adventures at the local Police station and submitted photographic evidence to prove the cruelty. Shearwater Adventures subsequently banned Inspectors from entering their property in order to examine the elephants. Two obstruction charges were filed against Shearwater Adventures with the Police. During the next few weeks, the docket for animal cruelty against Shearwater Adventures was "lost", ZNSPCA replaced it, the docket was moved to another police station, and finally all charges including the obstruction charges against Shearwater Adventures were dropped by the Police due to "lack of evidence".
ZNSPCA fought to gain access to the elephan/ts in the High Court for over a year. During time another two elephants died. Inspectors approached elephant specialist, Dr. Joyce Poole, for assistance. Dr. Poole submitted an affidavit regarding the cruelty involved in capturing and training wild elephants. Furthermore, she wrote a motivated request to the Attorney General requesting the ban on future capture of wild elephants (note that these documents were used by ZNSPCA in the subsequent Sondelani case as well). During this period the story was widely publicised in the press and on the Internet, causing the near collapse of Shearwater Adventures' business. Shearwater Adventure was, thus, forced to stop the High Court battle and asked ZNSPCA Inspectors to visit the elephants. Unfortunately, by this time, the intense and highly abusive training was over and Inspectors were unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that cruelty was continuing to take place.
NPWMA would not fully commit themselves to banning future captures of wild elephants, but shortly after issuing the release permit to ZNSPCA, verbally communicated that they would not be issuing further permits without ZNSPCA's knowledge.

Friday 20 December 2013

Govt avails more land for Victoria Falls expansion

THE Government has availed more land to the Victoria Falls municipality to help ease accommodation shortages in the resort town, an official has said.About 5,000 people are on the council’s housing waiting list in the town.

Patrick Chitumba Victoria Falls Reporter

Victoria Falls Mayor Councillor Sifiso Mpofu told Chronicle yesterday that plans were under way to avail more land for expansion purposes.

He said the new land would be given to residents on the housing waiting list to build their houses.

“We are happy to note that our boundary is now reaching the grid, about 10km from the town along the Victoria Falls-Bulawayo Road,” Clr Mpofu said.

“The department of physical planning is still to give us the actual size but that is a positive sign towards addressing housing shortages in the resort town.

“The town has limited space or land since we are in a parks area and therefore we welcome this development.”

Clr Mpofu said the local authority was also working with different partners on a combined Victoria Falls master plan to come up with a satellite township on the periphery on the town.

This, he said, was meant to ease congestion in the town and help address accommodation shortage. Clr Mpofu also said council business was lagging behind because there was no a substantive Town Clerk.

“The thing that is making our job difficult in the council right now is the unavailability of a substantive Town Clerk. We are failing to make proper decisions for the benefit of the town,” he said.

Source: Govt avails more land for Victoria Falls expansion (17/12/13)

Victoria Falls no more?

Date: 18 December 2013

The recently announced ZANU-PF proposal to rename Victoria Falls has attracted mixed reactions from tourism players with some raising fears that a name change could make the resort town unpopular and affect tourism.

Zanu-PF resolved at its annual national conference in Chinhoyi that Victoria Falls and several other institutions must be renamed. The Zanu-PF committee on sports, culture, religion and liberation heritage chairperson Ignatius Chombo said it did not make any sense for colonial names to remain in place in an independent Zimbabwe.

Chief Mvutu, whose jurisdiction covers Victoria Falls, yesterday said he had no problem with the renaming of the resort town, but expressed scepticism at officially marketing one of nature's grandstands as Mosi Oa Tunya (the smoke that thunders) as it was originally called by the local Tonga-speaking people.

He said marketing the name Mosi Oa Tunya would be tantamount to handing over all the Victoria Falls tourism business to neighbouring Zambia since that name was widely used in that country. "It has been long since the place was known as Victoria Falls and a name change is not bad," Chief Mvutu said. "I will suggest that they call it Mapopoma Falls. I am running away from using the name Mosi Oa Tunya because in Livingstone (Zambia) the name is widely used for lodges, parks and other institutions which will definitely take business away."

The national parks at the premier tourist resort are Mosi Oa Tunya National Park on the Zambian side and Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwean side. On the southern banks of the Zambezi River is the Zambezi National Park extending 40km west along the river.

However, Chief Mvutu warned the authorities against rushing to change the name saying they should first market the new name vigorously before officially renaming the resort town. "There is a danger that we are going to lose a number of tourists as they would not know about the new name. It's highly unlikely that our Zambian counterparts will change from using the name Victoria Falls, which will give them an advantage of tapping in on the influx of tourists," Mvutu said.

The Employers' Association of Tourism Operators (Eato) president and Shearwater Adventures public relations manager Clement Mukwasi said the government should engage a professional co-ordinator to manage the transition period as there was a risk of making Victoria Falls an unpopular destination thereby grossly affecting tourist arrivals which have been increasing tremendously in the past few months.

"The place is known as Victoria Falls in all international bodies such as the Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and international marketing agencies, so an abrupt name change will make the destination unpopular," Mukwasi said.

"The transition should be professionally managed so that people know of the new destination. Otherwise Zanu-PF as the ruling party is free to have a name change of the resort area."

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls Chapter president Jonathan Hudson said millions of dollars would be needed to market the place and that would be costly to the country to re-establish Victoria Falls as a popular international destination.

"There is nothing wrong with changing the name, but it would be costly to tourism," Hudson said.

"We would have to spend millions of dollars to market the place to put it back on the international market. We need a vigorous marketing drive," he said.

Source: Zanu-PF warned over Victoria Falls renaming (18/12/13) 

More on this story: Zimbabwe to rename Victoria Falls in anti-colonial name bid (18/12/13)

Botswana minister in canned lion controversy

Source: Africa Geographic Blog
Date: 12 Dec 2013

Botswana’s Minister of Agriculture, Christian de Graaff, is under fire after he exported a large shipment of lions to a canned hunting outfit in South Africa last month.

De Graaff sent 22 lions to the Makhulu Game Farm near Boshof in the Free State (South Africa). Employees at the facility, owned by Henk Vorster, openly discuss how the lions are hunted and their skeletons sold to Asian buyers. Some are bred for sale to international zoos.

At the game farm, a popular local tourist venue about 80km from Kimberley, 18 young lions were crammed together in a small quarantine enclosure of about 30m by 30m this week. With no shade and only a tiny corrugated iron-roofed hut to protect them, they were panting furiously in the blazing heat.

According to Werner Böing, the Environmental Management Inspector at the Free State Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Vorster is an “approved predator breeder in our province and his facility is up to standard”. Permits have been issued to move the 22 lions from Botswana to the Free State, he said.

De Graaff’s involvement in the breeding and hunting of lions was exposed by Botswana’s Mmegi newspaper in September. An investigation revealed that in 2005, the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks captured and donated two “problem” Kalahari lions, a male and a female, to De Graaff’s company, Phologolo Botswana Safaris.

The lions were kept at his Tautona Lodge in Ghanzi and had multiplied to 32 by the time he sent his shipment to the Free State in November. According to Mmegi, a dispute has arisen between De Graaff and Botswana’s Minister of Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, over whether the lions belong to him or the Botswana government, which has banned trophy hunting.

This is not the first deal De Graaff has done with commercial game farmers in the Free State. In 2011, he was given permits to export 26 lions to a farm called Smal Deel Unissen.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Zimbabwe to rename Victoria Falls in anti-colonial name bid

 At its conference last week, President Robert Mugabe’s party said it did not make sense to continue having colonial names and instead these should be replaced by local ones.

David Livingstone was not the first person to see the Victoria Falls, they (the falls) must be rebranded Mosi-Oa-Tunya

“Institutions bearing colonial names must be changed and be given indigenous names . . . School syllabuses must also change,” the party resolved.

“We should teach our children about Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, General (Josiah Magama) Tongogara and other gallant fighters of our liberation struggle.”

Victoria Falls was named after the British monarch, Queen Victoria by a missionary, David Livingstone, the first white person to set sight on one of the world’s seven natural wonders.

At independence in 1980, Mugabe’s government set out to rename most major towns and landmarks, although a number were left untouched.

A leader of an association of ex fighters for Zimbabwe’s independence, Jabulani Sibanda was on Tuesday quoted saying there was no going back on the resolution.

“We still have institutions like Allan Wilson School, what an insult, considering what that man did to our country.

“David Livingstone was not the first person to see the Victoria Falls, they (the falls) must be rebranded Mosi-Oa-Tunya. We have soldiers living at KG (King George) VI (Barracks),” he thundered.

“How can we have our barracks continue to be named after a foreign king?”

But there are fears this could have a negative effect on tourism, at a time the country is desperate for foreign earnings.

But a belligerent Sibanda maintained that if European tourists want to see the legacy of Queen Victoria “her grave is there in England and they are free to do so. Very soon they would be landing at Robert Mugabe International Airport”.

Some in Mugabe’s party have for long called for radical action to rid the country of its colonial past, but have surprisingly been stopped by the country’s 89 year old leader.

A lobby group within Zanu PF once wanted to have the remains of Cecil John Rhodes exhumed from the Matopos Hills and thrown into a river.

Before independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe was called Rhodesia, after Rhodes.

Another group wanted the removal of David Livingstone’s statue from the Victoria Falls, but again their efforts came to nothing.

More recently, the government tried to rename all schools with colonial names after what it terms liberation war heroes, but this failed spectacularly and it was forced to abandon the plan.

Source: Zimbabwe to rename Victoria Falls in anti-colonial name bid (17/12/13)

Friday 6 December 2013

Batoka Dam project secures US$6M funding from World Bank

Source: Financial Gazette (Zimbabwe)
Date: 05/12/13

ZAMBEZI River Authority (ZRA), a company which manages the water resources of the Zambezi River on behalf of Zimbabwe and Zambia, has secured US$6 million from the World Bank for the updating of feasibility studies for the proposed Batoka Gorge Hydro-electric dam.

ZRA’s public relations and communications manager, Elizabeth Karonga said ZRA would next week announce the winning bidder to update the feasibility studies. Work would start in February 2014.

“Yes, the US$6 million funding required for the updating of the feasibility study has been secured from the World Bank,” she said in a telephone interview from her base in Lusaka, Zambia. We will evaluate the bids submitted by the six shortlisted companies and the winning bidder is expected to be announced next week and work will start in February next year.”

ZRA is also evaluating the bids for six shortlisted consultants for the Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). It is also evaluating bids submitted by shortlisted transaction advisors. The company said only after the above processes have been completed would it inform those who expressed interest to develop the Batoka project on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. The companies involved were 26 and have since been ranked but not yet informed about the results.

The US$2.5 billion Batoka project is expected to generate 1,600 megawatts (MW) of electricity to be shared equally between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Should captive animal interactions be allowed in National Parks?

Captive animal interactions aimed at tourists, such as elephant-back safaris and 'lion walks' have been popular tourism activities in Zimbabwe and Zambia in recent years.

Despite obvious concerns over the welfare of animals kept in captivity and exploited for financial gain it appears that tourists leave their moral and ethical compass at home when they travel. Many of these captive animal interactions claim 'conservation value' in their work, however the merit of these projects is highly debatable (see for example the debate on captive lion interactions or 'lion walks') and their methods controversial.

National Parks, on the other hand, are designated to protect and conserve wild animals in their natural habitat. Occasionally, such as the case of the Elephant Orphanage Project in Kafue, Zambia, captive animal facilities may operate within National Parks. The EOP is a legitimate wildlife sanctuary, rescuing injured and orphaned elephants in extreme cases of hardship and rehabilitating wherever possible. It is operated as a charity, and in no way profits financially from the animals.

Against this background, tourism operators in Zimbabwe have in the past even captured baby wild elephants from the wild, removing them from their maternal herds and enslaving them into captive operations. Operators using lions have large-scale breeding programmes to supply a constant production line of young lion cubs suitable for walking with tourists and resulting in large numbers of adult lions being condemned to spending the rest of their lives in captivity.

Do either of these types of captive-animal tourism interactions have a place in National Parks? One would have thought that the answer was an obvious 'no', but two operators in Victoria Falls are currently trying to obtain concessions in the Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe, to operate their captive elephant and lion interactions within the National Park itself. The ALERT Lion Encounter and Shearwater Adventures both have controversial histories (see links below).

There are many and detailed arguments against the operation of captive animal interactions within National Parks, and it remains to be seen if these two operators will be able to bend rules and entice National Parks with their promises of financial returns and other sweeteners in order to achieve their aims. However, the fact that both these operators are pursuing this course of action suggests that they are confident that they have a chance of success.

As increasing pressures drive Africa's prized wildlife resources towards extinction, the value of our National Parks to protect and conserve species diversity for the future increases. National Parks need more legal, financial and human resources to protect increasingly threatened wild animals. The challenge for conservationists is to connect protected areas, not divide them with fences, excluding wildlife from tradition seasonal movements.

The operation of captive animal interactions within National Parks should not be seen as a short-cut to delivering conservation aims or a 'safari experience' to tourists - indeed many tourists can go and see elephants and lions in captive game parks in their home countries - and are certainly not in keeping with the wild Africa which the tourism industry promotes so strongly as a drawcard for tourism to the region. Safari tourists want to see wild animals in the wild - not captive bred or trained animals in a captive environment.

Conservation of Africa's valuable wildlife resources depends on the protection of large, inter-connected natural areas which need to be actively managed to protect and promote wildlife. The establishment of captive animal interactions does nothing to help achieve these aims, and even undermines them. For this writer there is no place for profit-based captive animal interactions in Africa's National Parks, and those who believe there is are promoting a future where Africa's great wildlife treasures will exist only behind fences and in captivity.

Let's hope that Zimbabwe's Park and Wildlife Authority see through the charade and reject these proposals. If not, their reputation, and that of Zimbabwe, for wildlife conservation and as a top African safari destination will surely be negatively affected. As will, of course, the conservation of wild animals in the Parks themselves.

Time for tourists to vote with their feet and stop supporting operators and agents who promote captive animal interactions and instead visit national parks for a true safari experience and witness the majesty of Africa's wildlife in the wild. You'll be doing more to help conserve Africa's wildlife just be being there than these captive animal operations will ever achieve.

Further information:
Keeping lions wild
Wild elephants captured for elephant back safaris

Bear Grylls survival academy to launch in Zimbabwe

Source: Telegraph Travel (UK)
4 December 2013
Bear Grylls, the adventurer and television presenter, will launch a new ‘Survival Academy’ in Africa
The academy will give intrepid travellers the chance to learn the same techniques used by the Briton in shows such as Born Survivor, which was screened for several years by Channel Four, and Get Out Alive, which aired this year on Discovery Channel.
The first academy will take place in January at the Stanley & Livingstone Private Game Reserve near Victoria Falls. Participants will learn survival techniques such as fire lighting, emergency shelter building, knife skills, foraging for grubs and rodents, as well skills including rappelling, river crossings, and white water rafting.
The course has been designed by Bear Grylls, and will be run by a team of highly-trained experts. It follows the launch of a similar academy in the Scottish Highlands last year, and one in the United States in November.
“The greater Victoria Falls area provides the perfect backdrop for Bear Grylls Survival Academy course to launch,” said Scott Heffield, lead instructor. “Topography, the rivers, the incredible Victoria Falls, extreme weather conditions and African wildlife are all important factors to consider when looking to recreate an environment that simulates real life Bear Grylls survival situations.”

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Botswana accused of allowing fracking in national parks

Source: LA Times
Date: 3 Dec 2013

The government of Botswana has quietly allowed international companies to explore for natural gas in some of the country's most sensitive national parks using the controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing, according to a new documentary released in South Africa.

American filmmaker Jeffrey Barbee obtained a government map that appears to show that authorities in Botswana allocated vast exploration concessions in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park and Chobe National Park without a public debate about the possible environmental and health consequences.

After initially denying the claim, Botswana’s government last week admitted that some hydraulic fracturing -- known as fracking -- had taken place during coal-bed methane exploration.

“There are currently no fracking operations going on in the country except exploration drilling by various exploration companies,” the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources said in statement.

Government spokesman Jeff Ramsay said prospecting licenses had been granted in many parts of Botswana, including in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but did not elaborate. He acknowledged that fracking had occurred in some areas in the past, but offered no details about when or where. He said authorities were adhering to environmental regulations.

Botswana runs Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park jointly with South Africa, but a spokesman for that country's environment department had no knowledge of exploration concessions in the park.

Among the companies granted concessions are South African energy giant Sasol, whose spokesman told Barbee that the company was not required by Botswana to produce an environmental management plan, although it considers the practice worthwhile. Other companies include Anglo American, Tlou Energy, Exxaro, Kalahari Energy and Tamboran Resources.

Fracking involves shooting water infused with sand and chemicals at high pressure into coal beds or shale formations to unlock reservoirs of natural gas. The practice is the subject of intense debate in the United States and elsewhere, with activists citing methane leaks from gas well heads and possible contamination of the air and groundwater.

Barbee's film, “The High Cost of Cheap Gas,” contends that natural gas extraction is “dirtier than the industry will admit.”

But for Southern African countries struggling to provide adequate affordable electricity to their populations, promises from energy companies of jobs, hefty returns and reduced dependence on coal-fired electricity are galvanizing. Botswana imports half its energy from neighboring countries.

“This [film] is for the people across the region to know what this industry might entail, so that they can take the best decision,” said Richard Lee, a spokesman for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, a governance group that funded Barbee's project.

Excerpts from the film were screened Sunday night on South Africa's popular investigative news program, Carte Blanche.

Barbee, who now lives in Johannesburg, was exposed to fracking in his home county of Garfield, Colo. He said some of those who once supported fracking there now wish it had never come to Garfield.

When energy companies proposed fracking in Southern Africa, he decided to make a film -- a kind of letter from Garfield, one of America’s most intensively fracked areas, to southern Africans.

“Where I come from in Garfield, Colo., the gas industry came into the area with very little fanfare," Barbee said in an interview Thursday. "Fifteen years later, we are left with an environmental problem in our valley so huge that we don’t yet understand what has been harmed and what has been lost.”

Barbee spoke to activists in Garfield and elsewhere and also interviewed experts from the University of Colorado who cast doubt on assertions of how clean natural gas extraction is, because of emissions and leaks from well heads.

A 2012 Colorado School of Public Health report cited “acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites.” The study focused on toxic emissions in Garfield County from 2008 to 2010. Drilling in Botswana's national parks, where tens of thousands of elephants roam, is causing particular concern.

Barbee interviewed Botswana farmer Ben Moller, who said the elephants depend on clean water from bore holes along their migration route.

“These elephants bank on these bore holes. If it happens that these bore holes get contaminated, it will be a huge disaster for the elephants,” Moller said in the film.

Coal-bed methane extraction requires pumping large amounts of water out of the ground. The water can be clean, but can also be highly saline or radioactive, according to studies cited by the film.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Fundraiser survives white water rafting drowning terror

Fundraiser Stuart Foulstone says he is lucky to be alive after being sucked into a whirlpool, being under water for almost three minutes during a white water raft challenge in Africa.
As time ran out Mr Foulstone, 45, did not think he would surface and in his mind had said goodbye to his wife and three children but, incredibly, he escaped.
Mr Foulstone’s near drowning happened as he and nine other members of the public were coming to the end of a four-day extreme white water rafting challenge on the Zambezi River in Africa.
They were negotiating the final rapid, Ghost Rider, a notorious grade five rapid involving three large waves.
Mr Foulstone, who was taking part in the challenge to raise money for Wiltshire Air Ambulance, and had trained for six months, was in the second raft.
Both rafts were turned upside down by the rapid. Everyone but Mr Foulstone was able to get to safety with the help of the guides accompanying them.
Mr Foulstone, a civil engineering consultant who lives in Roundway Village, said: “We were not quite square on and we were literally flipped over.
“I was under the raft and the water was very fast flowing and powerful. It has sub-currents and there was a whirlpool which sucked me straight down.”
He said: “I held my breath and I was expecting to bob up after 20 seconds but that didn’t happen. The water held me down and I was spinning. The situation became more desperate and I got to the point where my lungs started to become painful. It felt like it was a lifetime. I was thinking ‘don’t breathe in because you will take water into your lungs’.He was wearing buoyancy aids and held on to his wooden paddle hoping he would re-surface.
“My lungs felt like they were on fire and I just had to hold on and forget about the pain and keep that air in my lungs. I stopped trying to get to the surface to try and preserve the oxygen in my body but n From Page 1
it got to the point where I didn’t think I was going to get out and I said goodbye to Sandra and my children in my head.”
Mr Foulstone blacked out and he re-surfaced. The guides saw him lying face down in the water. He was unconscious and wasn’t breathing but his heart was still beating.
He was rescued, still clutching his paddle, and his next memory was being shouted at to open his eyes and to breathe.
He came round after five minutes and was told that he had been under the water for nearly three minutes. He did not need hospital treatment although when he returned to England he felt unwell and was prescribed antibiotics.
Since the incident, at the end of September, it took him several weeks to get his hearing back due to water in his ears and he took a week off work.
Mr Foulstone has nothing but praise for the company, Water By Nature, which ran the white water rafting adventure and said his near-death experience has not put him off white water rafting.
He said: “I couldn’t fault them at all. We were looked after superbly. The whole experience was really quite remarkable. I loved every second of it, regardless of what happened at the end.
“I was very unlucky to get sucked into a whirlpool but I was fortunate that it spat me out and the guides got to me in time. I think my fitness played a part, I trained for six months at St Mary’s sports gym in Calne.”

Chinese tourist rescued after falling into Falls (Zambia)

Chinese tourist rescued after falling into Victoria Falls Gorge from Knife-edge Bridge(Zambia)

On 26 November a team of Livingstone Fire Brigade servicemen, together with Zambia Police Service and staff from the Victoria Falls Bridge Bungee, rescued a 45 year old Chinese national who fell into gorge near the knife-edge bridge as he was taking pictures.

Both Southern Province Commissioner of Police Charity Katanga said Wang ShunXue, a Chinese national aged 45, was retrieved alive after he fell into the Victoria Falls Gorge as he was taking pictures.She said ShunXue, who was lodged at Zambezi Sun Hotel, was retrieved around 09:30 hours with no serious injuries and he was taken to the Hotel’s clinic for medical checkup.

Mr Sikanyika said officers from the Livingstone Fire Brigades officers received a call yesterday (Monday) around 08:23 hours that a Chinese national fell into Victoria Falls and rushed to the scene to rescue him.

“From what they saw, the victim sustained some bruises and he was rushed for medical check-up and treatment. The Chinese national... was rescued at the edges of the Falls cliff,” Mr Sikanyika said.

He urged tourists and other visitors to the Victoria Falls to follow guidelines and markings at the site saying they should not be overexcited when viewing one of the natural wonders of the world.

Source: Lusaka Times (27 Nov 2013)

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Hwange San claim persecution by authorities in seach for poachers

Source: (18 October 2013)
By Zenzele Ndebele
The Hwange National Park cyanide poaching incident has brought international reaction.
But what is even more shocking is how the authorities have reacted - by targeting the San living outside the park, who have accused game-rangers and the police of brutal harassment following the poisoning of the park's waterholes.
And how little local or international attention has been focussed on the plight of the San - as opposed to the fate of the unfortunate elephants.
Take for example Linah Tshuma's son, Dedani. Employed as a domestic worker at the time of the poisoning, he was recently sentenced to 16 years in prison with an additional fine of US$200,000 after being convicted of involvement in the elephant slaughter.
"We are victims of poverty. My son is in jail because we are poor people," said Linah, who is adamant that her son was treated unfairly. "I don't know what happened but he was employed by a businessman, who I believe was the one dealing in ivory because he is on the run."
Linah says what pains her most is that her son was sentenced within a few days of his arrest in a remarkably swift legal process, yet those who were arrested for supplying the cyanide - including the manager of the company that provided the poison, who has been charged with contravening some sections of the Environmental Management Act - were given US$100 bail.
"I don't even have a single cent to go and visit my son in prison and I hear the police beat him and one of his eyes was bleeding," said Linah, with tears welling up in her eyes. "His friends also told me his private parts were burnt."
She accuses law enforcement agents of targeting the San, who are poor, while letting the rich - the real beneficiaries of ivory poaching - go.
And the vast majority of the San living with her in Cawuna village - about 220 km west of Bulawayo near the border of Hwange National Park - are extremely poor, uneducated and excluded from society. Just like the rest of the 1,200 San still living in western Zimbabwe.
For a long time, the San in Zimbabwe have complained that the government marginalises them and has done nothing to improve their lives. And now they are bearing the brunt of the authorities' reaction to the elephant massacre.
Christopher Dube, a vocal member of the San community, says that what is happening now is very sad because it is a clear violation of human rights - and yet no one seems to care.
"We are living in fear because rangers can come here at any time and harass us," he said. "A few days ago they wanted to arrest me because they alleged it was me and my neighbours who went with the poachers to help carry out the operation. They came to me and said my neighbour confessed that we collaborated in the crime but it isn't true."
Dube says two members of the community have fled their homes and are now hiding in the bush, as they fear victimisation by the rangers, who allegedly met them near the park and started assaulted them after accusing them of being involved in poaching.
But this is not an isolated incident. Dube says the oppression of the San people started way back in 1928 when the Hwange National Park was established and they were evicted by Ted Davison, who was the first Warden of Hwange.
"Our grandfathers suffered under Davison," said Dube, adding that "each time our donkeys strayed into the national park, they were taken by the colonial government and were fed to the lions and we were not compensated."
And after independence, the new Zimbabwe government did not make any efforts to help them. Indeed, the introduction of laws banning hunting forced them to abandon their traditional life as hunter-gatherers and take up subsistence farming. But most of them do not have cattle so they use their 'bare hands' to plough and usually they harvest little or nothing.
The San provide also cheap labour for the Ndebele and Kalanga communities in exchange for food. Sometimes they cross the border into Botswana in search of employment.
And it is possible that some of them were involved in the poisoning. "Poverty is the problem here," explains Dube, "Poachers target our people because they know they are poor. We are told that people were promised US$20 per tusk."
But the authorities seem intent on targeting whole communities - aware that they have no money, no voice and little outside support - rather than pinpointing individual suspects.
For example, the government has given the people in the village of Tsholotsho, which is on the border of the Park, until the end of this month to surrender any cyanide to Chief Siphoso or face arrest.
Unsurprisingly, the villagers are fearful about what will happen at the end of October as they all appear to have been declared guilty by the authorities - without any proof whatsoever.
"We were given a month and we do not know what will happen after that. Maybe the police will come and arrest us all or they will come and beat us up," said Sihle Ncube. "We are living in fear and a number of villagers are thinking of crossing into Botswana before the ultimatum is up."
Davy Ndlovu, a human rights activist who advocates for the rights of the San, said that the government has always put elephants before the San. "Every year, at least one person is killed by an elephant here but nothing is done," said Ndlovu. "During the farming season, elephants destroy their crops and the same rangers who are harassing the people now are nowhere to be seen when they are called to drive the elephants away."
And then he asked a question which goes to the heart of the poaching debate in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. "Who benefits from these animals because these villagers are poor although their area is rich in wildlife?"
Surely this is an incentive for the San to poach - to make a profit out of the elephants that live around them? Maybe. But would they really use cyanide to poison waterholes? Would they really use a poison that might well find its way - now that the rainy season is here - into local rivers and into their drinking water?
Indeed, this is a real fear. And villagers are not convinced the government is going to take the necessary measures to clear the cyanide from the National Park and surrounding areas - leaving them in danger in the months ahead. And leaving them feeling traumatised, vulnerable and even more marginalised than they were before.
Source: (18 October 2013)
Read more: Hwange Disaster - What Will It Take to Stop the Poaching? (20 October 2013) Bigwigs Fingered in Hwange Elephant Poisoning (20 October 2013)

International Condemnation of Botswana Over Bushmen

The Botswana government has been subject to fierce criticism over its persecution of the Kalahari Bushmen. The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), the United Nations and British parliamentarians have expressed concern over the Botswana government's moves to deny the Bushmen a fair hearing, and its continuing violation of their rights to live and hunt on their ancestral land.
Most Kalahari Bushmen are currently required to apply for restrictive one-month permits to enter the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), and face being arrested for hunting, their main source of livelihood.
In July, the Bushmen's British lawyer Gordon Bennett was barred from entering Botswana and put on a 'visa list' ahead of an important High Court hearing, where he was due to defend the tribe's right to free access to their land in the CKGR. Mr Bennett had previously fought three court cases on behalf of the Bushmen, all of which were successful. He was given no explanation for his ban from the country and the latest case was dismissed over technicalities.
In a strong letter to Botswana's President Ian Khama, the BHRC expressed 'grave concern' over Botswana's refusal to allow Mr Bennett into the country. British parliamentarians Zac Goldsmith MP and Lord Avebury, and Botswana writer and political commentator Michael Dingake also fiercely condemned the move.
Criticism was also levelled at Botswana at the United Nations earlier this year. During the Universal Periodic Review of Botswana, the United States expressed 'concern at a narrow interpretation by the High Court, which prevented hundreds of [Bushmen] from living and hunting on their ancestral lands', and the United Kingdom called the progress in negotiations between the Botswana government and the Kalahari Bushmen a 'matter of urgency'.
In addition, recommendations regarding Botswana's treatment of the Bushmen were made by Ireland, Norway, Spain, Mexico, Finland and Congo, such as 'fully implementing the 2006 High Court ruling' and to 'guarantee the return of the San [Bushmen] communities to the Kalahari reserve'.
Survival International launched a boycott of Botswana tourism last month over the government's continued attempts to drive the Bushmen off their land in the CKGR while promoting the reserve as a tourist destination. Botswana is using images of the Bushmen to attract visitors to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, while pushing the tribe off their land.
Survival's Director Stephen Corry said today, 'Botswana might be known to some as a showcase for African democracy, but what kind of democracy prevents its citizens from accessing their lawyer? To the Bushmen it is a repressive regime hellbent on their destruction. Thankfully, international observers are waking up to the fact that President Khama is waging a vicious and futile war against his country's last hunter-gatherers.'
- The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales is concerned with maintaining proper access to justice, defending the rule of law and upholding internationally recognized legal standards relating to the right to a fair trial. Download the letter to the Botswana government here (pdf, 144 KB)
Source: (10 October 2013)

Hwange elephant death toll triples

It has been reported in international media that the death toll from the cyanide poaching incident in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe has reached more than 300 elephants and countless other animals.

The full extent of the devastation wreaked in Hwange, the country's largest national park, has been revealed by legitimate hunters who discovered what conservationists say is the worst single massacre in southern Africa for 25 years. Pictures taken by the hunters reveal horrific scenes. Parts of the national park, whose more accessible areas are visited by thousands of tourists each year, can be seen from the air to be littered with the deflated corpses of elephants, often with their young calves dead beside them, as well as those of other animals.

The hunters who captured these photographs say they have conducted a wider aerial survey and counted the corpses of more than 300 elephant.

Source: Zambezi Traveller Blog (21 October 2013)

Friday 11 October 2013

Ancient Rulers Of Victoria Falls

In the beginning, long before Dr Livingstone, the Victoria Falls area was ruled by a girl. A descendant from the Rozwi Empire.
The beauty and wonder of the falls spoke to this 13th Century Toka-Leya high priestess called  Bedyango, who erected shrines around the falls and built her village where Mukuni Village stands today. Perfectly perched on a hill, overlooking the spray from the falls.
Over the next four centuries the Bedyango performed rituals to avert disaster during wars, droughts or epidemics. This strong female reign would continue here until the end of the 17th Century when a man arrived from the Luba- Lunda Empire of Kola in the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mukuni N’gombe was quite a figurehead. A statesman, diplomat, conqueror, pacifier, possessor of supernatural powers and empire builder, he had been forced to escape the turbulence engulfing his father King Mulopwe’s Bayeke Empire. Along the way, he installed his sisters, sons and daughters throughout the Central and Southern Provinces of Zambia. He allowed his sisters to get married to Gawa Undi of the Chewa people in the Eastern Province where Nyanje and Sandwe is now found. He travelled all the way to Zimbabwe but encountering raging battles there he ended up in Victoria Falls.
He too fell in love with the area and maybe even more, with the woman he found ruling there. Bedyango and Mukuni first met at Simukale, a shrine where a podium was erected to ensure that everyone could keep a beady eye on the newcomer. A deal was struck.
A wedding would take place, followed by a dual monarchy that featured a female ruler with exclusive powers over agriculture, land, culture, birth and death rites and a male ruler in charge of all political, economic, defence and judiciary matters. Bedyango would also assume all powers in the absence of the chief and during a transitional period.
She officiated and still does, during births, marriages and deaths. To this day the Bedyango has a final say on the choice of a new chief. Talk of absolute power!
The Simukale shrine still stands.
The Mukuni and Bedyango empires still rule the area together.
Source: Ancient Rulers Of Victoria Falls (10/10/13) 

Changing the nature of the Batoka Gorge

Text and image credit Peter Roberts
From the latest issue of the Zambezi Traveller.

It was confirmed in August that Zimbabwe had paid Zambia US$40million of its debt relating to the construction of the Kariba Dam. The payment, made by the state-owned power utility company ZESA, represents over 50% of the total outstanding amount, with the remainder due to be settled by March 2014.
The debt, dating from the 1960s and the breakup of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (modern day Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi), was a stumbling block to the development of the Batoka Gorge Hydroelectric Scheme (HES) in the 1990s.
Whilst the positive benefits of the project in terms of generating much needed electricity is not in doubt, there is much uncertainty over the possible negative impacts on the environment and on the tourism industry. The dam site, approximately 50km downstream of the Victoria Falls, will create a lake that will flood the gorges back upstream, reaching within a close distance of the outlet for the existing Victoria Falls Hydroelectric Station, at the junction of the second and third gorges.
It is more than likely that the wider environmental impacts of a project like this will only become known after its construction. Scientists are still learning ecological lessons from Kariba, half a century after its construction.
However the project will also create new opportunities which may benefit tourism and wildlife. The lake will provide a new playground for leisure activities, much like the larger Lake Kariba, and will undoubtedly also create new opportunities for wildlife which will have access to perennial water along side gorges and gullies of the lake.
Whilst the full impact of this development project still remains to be seen, one thing is for certain – the nature of the Zambezi and the Batoka Gorge will be significantly changed as we seek to harness the river’s power.
Source and full article: Changing nature (ZT, Sept 2013)

Rediscovering Kafue National Park

From the Times of Zambia (click to read the unedited orginal article)

With the tourism sector ranked only third after mining and agriculture in the importance of country's economy, the Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB) is hopeful that sites like Kafue National Park can change the status quo. "Kafue National Park is one of the forgotten places in Zambian tourism," acknowledges ZTB director for marketing Mato Shimabale.

The Kafue National Park is named after the river that runs through it - dominating everything on its 250-kilometre stretch but the splendour has not been enhanced by water alone.

The wild sanctuary encloses an area of 22,400 square kilometres - the size of Wales in the United Kingdom - and offers a variety of animals and birds that have enriched its status as the biggest wildlife park in Africa.

It was declared a protected area in 1924 when British colonialists decided to reserve it as a park from the Nkoya hunters in the western part before the Kaondes were equally driven out from the Busanga swamps in the north.

However, despite all the rich history and the gorgeous physical outlook, the park lacks the precision to attract a reasonable number of tourists that can reverberate its rich history after visiting it.

"This is the biggest park in Africa and second largest in the world, so we need to continue to tell that story."

Mr Shimabale added: "We believe that with the Kafue National Park, the Victoria Falls, South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks, we have all the ingredients to make Zambia become a tourism destination."

Comparisons with similar big parks on the continent do not make any good reading for Zambia as far as income generation is concerned. For instance, it is estimated that South Africa's Kruger National Park, which is almost as big as the Kafue, attracts a million tourists per year. Kafue only boasts of a paltry 10,000 per annum.

"If you look at South Africa, it earns US$9 billion from tourism alone per annum while Zambia earns US$6 billion per annum from copper exports," Mr Shimabale said. "So this shows that if we put our efforts together on tourism we can actually begin to earn more money from tourism as a country than what we are earning from copper today."

Source and full article: Times of Zambia

Chobe residents give green light to water extraction from Zambezi

From an article by Gill Staden,
Read the full unedited article here: Drawing water from Chobe River, Botswana

Residents of Kasane have agreed to have water drawn from the Chobe River to meet water demands in other parts of Botswana.

Briefing the residents, Minister Mokaila explained that the report on the consultation that was carried out indicated that Kasane community refused to give the project a green light. Mr. Mokaila explained that feasibility studies had been done to establish if water could be drawn from the river to feed the rest of Botswana without depleting it or negatively impacting on the environment.

He said he was satisfied with the findings and with the blessings of the Chobe community, the project would start soon. He explained that the water would be drawn in line with its seasonal flow cycle and its volume in the river.

"Allowing the country to draw water from the Chobe River would also go a long way in boosting and attracting foreign direct investments as investors need the assurance that there is sufficient water available in the country for investments in such areas as mining," he added.

A Kasane resident, Mr. Sangwana, said the people of Chobe had not rejected the idea of extracting water from the river as the minister was made to believe but they wanted reassurance that this would not disturb the flow cycle and volume of the water.

"The consultants sent here were in no position to answer that as they were clueless about everything we asked, hence we requested a one-on-one consultation with you," he said. Mr. Sangwana warned against relying solely on consultants as they could give misleading information without thorough consultation and analysis.

Source: Drawing water from Chobe River, Botswana

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Bridge second most visited attraction in Vic Falls

Patrick Chitumba in Victoria Falls

MORE than 300 000 tourists have done bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls Bridge since the activity started 20 years ago. The bridge according to Victoria Falls Bridge Company marketing manager Mrs Sonja Clay, was now the second most visited attraction in the resort town of Victoria Falls.

The bridge turned 108 years on Sunday last week, the day VFBC was also commemorating its 20th anniversary since it started offering bungee at the bridge.

At the weekend, the two neighbouring countries’ tour and adventure operators came together at the historic bridge to celebrate the historic structure that has been used to catapult economic development between the two countries and the south and north of the Sadc region.

“The Bridge turned 108 years and the VFBC turned 20 years. It is so amazing because it is now 20 years since we started operating bungee at the bridge,” said Mrs Clay.

She said the bridge was becoming popular with local, regional and international tourists.
“Some tourists come for bungee, bridge swing and slide while others are keen on learning how the structure came to being,” said Mrs Clay.

She said there was an upsurge in arrivals at the bridge especially from the Zimbabwean side. Mrs Clay said the bridge was truly a wonder of Victorian engineering and provided striking views of the Falls, Batoka Gorge and Zambezi River.

The bridge took 14 months to build and was completed in 1905 while VFBC started operating its first bridge product, bungee jumping in 1993.

The bridge was built at a cost of GBP72 000 and was the highest amount of that time in the world. Today, the Victoria Falls Bridge is the location for the popular adrenalin – a 111 metre bungee jump, bridge swing and slide and bridge tours.

The bridge crosses the Zambezi River just behind the Victoria Falls and is built over the Second Gorge of the falls.

Source: Bridge second most visited attraction in Vic Falls (07/10/13)

Friday 4 October 2013

Batoka power project on course

THE construction of the US$3 billion Batoka Gorge Hydroelectricity Scheme is set to start by the end of next year after the completion of the US$2,5 million access road linking Victoria Falls and the Batoka Gorge through Chisuma area. However, construction of the access road on the Zambian side is still to be competed with only less than 2km left. The recent completion of the access road to the gorge on the Zimbabwean side would facilitate feasibility studies and designs for the station.
Zimbabwe and Zambia are expected to get 1 600MW from the envisaged project. The scheme would see the construction of a 54-kilometre Batoka Dam upstream of Lake Kariba.
Addressing journalists during a media tour of the Batoka Gorges in Zimbabwe and Zambia recently, Zambezi River Authority spokesperson Ms Elizabeth Karonga said the authority had launched the tendering process for an environmental impact assessment of the project.
“The Zimbabwean and Zambian governments have agreed on the need to set aside their differences emanating from the dispute over payments on the Kariba Dam and we have had a commitment from both President Mugabe and President Sata on the need to expedite the project.”
She said the authority was not expecting challenges from environment and social impediments since the area earmarked for the project was not populated and has minimal animal movement from the site.
“We expect the project to commence at the end of 2014 and the project would take at least seven years to complete.” ZRA hydrology technician Mr Samuel Mwale said the hydroelectricity project would add significant power to alleviate power shortages in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“The dam completion would see the generation of 1 600MW, that is 800MW on the Zimbabwean side and similar amount on the Zambian side.
“This would see both countries receiving quite a significant amount of electricity to alleviate power shortages in both countries,” he said. Mr Mwale said there would be minimum environment and social impact on the communities.
“The dam wall would be about 181 metres in the Batoka Gorges and all the water would be confined in the gorges and this would have minimum impact on the environment and societies,” he said.
ZRA is a corporate body jointly owned by Zimbabwe and Zambia through bilateral agreements to co-manage the shared stretch of the Zambezi River and it has been managing Lake Kariba and its attendant infrastructure to facilitate and support hydropower generation through the country’s power utility companies.
Zambia and Zimbabwe have agreed to expand hydropower infrastructure on the Zambezi River. The process leading to project implementation is organised under five main areas, namely that preparatory works, tendering process, organising project implementation, approval and awarding of contracts and construction and supervision of physical works.
Source: Batoka power project on course - The Herald, Zimbabwe, 01-10-13)

Friday 20 September 2013

Zambia's Mukuni Royal Dynasty celebrates ancient journey of paramount king.

The sun rises on Gundu village, in Mukuni, south-east of Zambia's tourism capital, Livingstone.

Built on a sandy knoll with a population of 10,000 inhabitants, this village is home to the founder of the Royal Mukuni dynasty; Paramount Chief Mukuni Mulopwe, who settled here among the Leya people having travelled from the Congo in the 18th century.

Mukuni village lies just 7 kilometers from the majestic Victoria Falls, known by the indigenous Leya people as Nsyungu Namutitima or Mosi-oa-Tunya - the smoke that thunders.

Every year, members of the Mukuni Dynasty's 33 Mornarchs that stretch across Congo, Central Zambia, Northern Zimbabwe, Eastern Zambia, converge here for a ceremony to remember their past and celebrate their culture.

"Zambia, most of the tribes actually, have arrived in Zambia either from South Africa, or from.... largely from Congo in the last four hundred years, so they've held... they've now been running for something like two or three hundred years," said His Royal Highness, Senior Chief Munokalya Mukuni, a direct descendant of the Mukuni founder.

Known as the Bene Mukuni Ceremony, it also celebrate the converging in Livingstone of the Bene Mukuni Royal Houses and to commemorate the pre-colonial and historic Mukuni Mulopwe's journey.
Each Chief is a descendent from the family of the Paramount Chief Mukuni.

The ceremony is one of the most important for Mukuni followers. Dignitaries come from across Southern Africa.

It begins with the washing of the Chief's feet in the blood of a 'beast', symbolic of when the first chief chose oxen blood to wash mud off his feet.

His brother chose human blood. This was regarded as unwise and he disappeared on their journeys never to be seen again. The lighting of the fire symbolises the light of Mukuni's reign.

The ashes from the fire are then used to honour all the chiefs present, each represented by a young girl from their tribe.

Historically these ceremonies were very private affairs. According to Chief Mukuni it is necessary to make them more public otherwise their culture may not be sustained. It is to remind the youth of where they have come from.

Grand Chief of the Cree Indians, Matthew Caan Comb travelled from Canada to witness the Mukuni ceremony.

Known internationally for his work to protect the traditional way of life of his people, he said the Mukuni people, like his own, were struggling to protect valuable traditions and resources.

"Society are consumers. Hungry for the use of ores, material things. Very materialistic. They've lost their way. Where now they focused on development. Where man thinks now it's my creation. He walks on cement, he makes big buildings. Then he forgets the creator. He forgets to protect the land," he said.

"In the USA, I visited a lot of Red Indian tribes and so on and, very strange, although we are separated by oceans and so on, I found that in essentials we are completely the same people. It was so amazing for me," said chief Mukuni. The journey of Mulopwe Mukuni from the Congo was guided by his sister Kaseba who rode an elephant and was known as Kaseba-Mashila 'clearer of paths'.

Chief Mukuni owns a wildlife adventure business called Mukuni Big 5, that offers elephant rides, close up encounters with cheetahs and walks with Lions.

Source: Zambia's Mukuni Royal Dynasty celebrates ancient journey of paramount king. (19/09/13)

Monday 16 September 2013

Botswana to Extract Water from Victoria Falls to Meet Growing Demand

The attractiveness of the Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, is under threat if Botswana goes ahead with its planned extraction of large volumes of water from Chobe River for local consumption.

According to media reports from Zimbabwe, Botswana, a neighbour to both Zambia and Zimbabwe wants to use huge volumes of water to meet the growing demand for the essential commodity in that country.

This would affect foreign currency inflows for both Zimbabwe and Zambia which come from tourists who flock to the falls annually to witness the “smoke that thunders” on both sides.

According to eTurboNews, a global travel industry news source, Botswana has notified other southern African countries of its intentions to abstract some 30 cubic metres from the Chobe River.
The water would be abstracted where Chobe River meets the Zambezi River for a planned irrigation scheme in the Pandamatenga area and for domestic water supply.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Water Resources Development and Management, Samuel Sipepa-Nkomo recently told Parliament in that country that Zimbabwe was considering Botswana’s submission.
He, however, noted the project might have serious repercussions on Victoria Falls, the largest curtain of water in the world, which is 1,708 metres wide.

“They have notified us because the Zamcom (Zambezi Watercourse Commission) agreement requires them to do that and we are now considering their submissions.

Source: Botswana to Extract Water from Victoria Falls to Meet Growing Demand (14 Sept 2013)

Thursday 12 September 2013

Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe threatened by planned Botswana project

The attractiveness for locals and tourism of the mighty Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe and one of the natural wonders of the world, is under threat if Botswana goes ahead with its planned extraction of large volumes of water from Chobe River for use in its interior, a cabinet minister has said. This would affect foreign currency inflows for both Zimbabwe and Zambia pumped in by tourists who throng the falls annually to witness the "smoke that thunders."

Botswana has notified other southern African countries of its intentions to abstract some 30 cubic metres from the Chobe River where it meets the Zambezi River for a planned irrigation scheme in the Pandamatenga area and for domestic water supply.

The Minister of Water Resources Development and Management, Samuel Sipepa-Nkomo recently told parliament that Zimbabwe was considering Botswana's submission.

He, however, noted the project might have serious repercussions on Victoria Falls, the largest curtain of water in the world, which is 1,708 metres wide.

"They have notified us because the Zamcom (Zambezi Watercourse Commission) agreement requires them to do that and we are now considering their submissions," said Sipepa-Nkomo.

"Though more studies may be necessary, it looks like 30 cubic metres is a lot of water which might deprive the attractiveness of the Victoria Falls."Remarkably preserved in its natural state, Victoria Falls inspires visitors as much today as it did to David Livingstone in the 1860s.

Source: Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe threatened by planned Botswana project (10/09/13)

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Zim tourist arrivals up 12pc

Zimbabwe recorded a 12 percent increase in tourist arrivals in the first half of 2013, registering 859 995 compared to 767 393 visitors during the same period last year, according to statistics released by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. The first half of 2013 marked the build-up to the harmonised elections which were resoundingly won by President Mugabe and Zanu-PF. Tourist arrivals usually tend to decline towards, during and after an election.

“Surprisingly, the elections had little effect on tourist arrivals with a few exceptions such as Botswana, Argentina, USA, Singapore, Germany, Italy and Israel whose arrivals rose in the first quarter, but, suddenly declined in the second quarter,” said the tourism body.

The ever increasing regional trade and commerce also contributed immensely to this growth in arrivals, through the activities of business tourists, cross-border traders and transiting tourists, mostly drawn from the DRC, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

Asia exhibited an outstanding performance, recording a 60 percent growth in arrivals into Zimbabwe. In Asia, China is rapidly becoming the major engine driving global tourism, having generated 83 million trips to all parts of the world in 2012 and continues to grow.

Arrivals from China grew by about three times as much in 2013 as in 2012, recording a whopping 310 percent growth. Regionally, Africa had an 11 percent increase to 749 301 in the first half in arrivals rising from 675 727 in the same period last year.

South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia shared over 70 percent of the arrivals from the Sadc region. Europe recorded a 26 percent growth in arrivals with the United Kingdom (72 percent) and France (76 percent) being the star performers from this region.

However, the major markets of Germany and Italy registered a decline, which could have otherwise fuelled further growth of European arrivals to Zimbabwe.

Tourist arrivals from the Americas declined by 3 percent, having falling from 24 462 in 2012 to 23 764 on the background of a 6 percent decline in United States of America’s arrivals.

Middle East arrivals also declined by 7 percent, with the major market of Israel tumbling by 9 percent during the period under review.

Australia boosted the tourist arrivals of Oceania by 8 percent which was the only market with positive results from this region, while New Zealand registered a 37 percent decline.

Source: Zim tourist arrivals up 12pc (06/09/13)

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Zimbabwe To Convert Victoria Falls Into Garden of Eden

ZIMBABWE is planning a low-budget entertainment park in the resort town of Victoria Falls to boost local tourism, a cabinet minister said Friday.
“We want to bring the Garden of Eden to Victoria Falls, where flora and fauna can co-exist,” Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi told AFP at the end of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly co-hosted by Zimbabwe and neighbour Zambia.
“We don’t know how big the Garden of Eden was but it will be our model. It’s still a vision. We are at the conceptual stage. What’s in place is the land.”
Some have dubbed the project “a Disneyland for Africa.”
“The main aim is provide a facility in Victoria Falls where locals who cannot afford the high cost of booking in major hotels in the resort can come for holiday.
“Victoria Falls should cease to be the preserve of the rich and foreign visitors,” Mzembi said.
The government has allocated 1,200 hectares (almost 3,000 acres) of land for the project to be built by local and foreign private investors, he added.
“The Government’s only contribution is the land. We will invite investors to come in and build.”
Among the planned facilities will be a zoo, hotels, a skating rink and a garden with a replica of the Victoria Falls waterfall.
Victoria Falls, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, is a popular destination for foreign holidaymakers.
But high travel and accommodation costs put it beyond the means of the majority of the population.
Along with Livingstone town in Zambia, Victoria Falls hosted the UNWTO general assembly despite objections from some Western countries to Zimbabwe hosting the event.
Zimbabwe has been roundly condemned in the West for the poor human rights record of President Robert Mugabe’s security forces.
But UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said the decision to allow Zimbabwe and Zambia to co-host the event was “the correct and right decision”.
Around 1,200 delegates from UNWTO member states discussed ways to promote tourism. 

Sunday 1 September 2013

Livingstone is in my chiefdom, says Chief Sekute

A wrangle is looming between Chief Sekute of Kazungula District and Senior Chief Mukuni over whose chiefdom between the two the city of Livingstone is located.

This is after Chief Sekute declared that Livingstone City is part of Sekute chiefdom.

Livingstone, which is known to be a city without any attachment to any chiefdom, is largely viewed as an area within Chief Mukuni’s area. This is because his chiefdom is located a few kilometres from the Livingstone town centre although it is in Kazungula District. Chief Sekute staked his claim on Livingstone on Monday when Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkandu Luo commissioned a number of infrastructure projects around Victoria Falls world heritage site.

The facilities, which included a steel fence as well as a new ablution block and a curio market, were constructed by the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NCC) in readiness for the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly. Chief Sekute said he was very grateful to see wonderful infrastructure being constructed in his chiefdom in Livingstone.

“Livingstone is in my chiefdom and I am happy that my town has been developed within a few months. I wish to sincerely thank Government and the Ministry of Tourism and Arts for wonderful things done to my town,” he said.

In apparent reference to Mukuni Park in Livingstone town centre, Chief Sekute said the right name for the place should have been Barotse Centre and not what it was currently called.

This was after a representative of Senior Chief Mupotola Siloka spoke at the same function to thank the Government for the infrastructure in the city.

Mr Siloka also thanked Government for upgrading Mukuni Road to bituminous standard.

He said tourists would be able to visit the Mukuni chiefdom easily following the upgrading of the road.

But Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkando Luo observed that chiefdom wrangles were not peculiar in the country. She urged the two chiefdoms to realise that Zambians were one and hence they should put the interest of citizens first.

“What you witnessed here is not peculiar to chiefdoms and what we are trying to do now is to deal with chiefdom boundaries. We will first of all allow chiefdoms to demarcate their own boundaries and where this will fail, we as Government will come in and regulate, then everybody will know how far they can go. Where the elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers,” Prof Luo said.

Source: Times of Zambia (30 August 2013)

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Zimbabwe's 'Disneyland' plans 'inappropriate'

The idea for the development was announced by Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s tourism and hospitality minister, on the sidelines of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly, which Zimbabwe is co-hosting with the town of Livingstone in neighbouring Zambia.

Mr Mzembi told New Ziana, the official news agency, that the government was planning to spend $300m (£193m) on the theme park, a venture which he described as a “Disneyland in Africa”.
The scheme was met with sceptism by Africa tourism specialists.

“Zimbabwe is a country that often struggles to do the basic things it needs to do and this cannot be a sensible suggestion,” said Chris McIntyre, managing director of Expert Africa, a UK-based specialist tour operator.

“People go to Zimbabwe because it actually offers something that is authentically African: they are not going to want to go there for a Mickey Mouse experience. It would be completely inappropriate."
His views were shared by Lisa Grainger, an Africa specialist and a regular contributor to Telegraph Travel, who earlier this year wrote about the very special allure of the Victoria Falls.

“It sounds like a crazy idea to put a money-making theme park beside one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World," she said. "It would be like building a casino beside the pyramids. The reason people visit the falls is because it's unspoilt and natural: it's a glorious part of the Earth. Not because they want to buy candy-floss and be immersed in an American-style theme park."

Mr Mzembi suggested that in addition to the theme park the project would entail shopping malls, banks and exhibition and entertainment facilities such as casinos.

“We have reserved 1,200 hectares of land near Victoria Falls international airport for hotels and convention centres,” he said. “We want to create a free zone with a banking centre where even people who do not necessarily live in Zimbabwe can open bank accounts.”

In addition to the United States, countries which have also opened Disney theme parks include France, Japan and China.

Tourism used to be one of Zimbabwe’s main revenue earners and officials in the country hope that it will be again. However its attempts to assure people that the country is now safe and desirable to visit have been hampered by continuing controversy over the human rights record of President Robert Mugabe, whose re-election last month is contested.

The decision to allow Zimbabwe to co-host the UNWTO conference was condemned by UN Watch, an independent human rights group, as a “disgraceful show of support – and a terribly timed award of false legitimacy – for a brutal, corrupt and authoritarian regime”.

Hillel Neuer, head of the Geneva-based group, said: “Amid reports of election rigging and continuing human rights abuses, Zimbabwe is the last country that should be legitimised by a UN summit of any kind. The notion that the UN should spin this country as a lovely tourist destination is, frankly, sickening.”

President Robert Mugabe’s status as UN “leader for tourism” has also been widely condemned.

Source: Zimbabwe's 'Disneyland' plans 'inappropriate' (27/8/13)

   Zimbabwe To Convert Victoria Falls Into Garden of Eden (3/9/13)
   Zimbabwe's 'Disneyland' plans 'inappropriate' (28/8/13)
   Victoria Falls 'Disneyland' on the cards (22/6/13)

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Mugabe Officially Opens UNWTO Tourism Session At Victoria Falls

President Mugabe has officially opened the 20th Session of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly.
Mugabe addressed a record number of delegates from 124 countries that attended the opening Sunday night at the legendary Victoria Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
The event is co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia. Welcoming delegates from a number of countries Mugabe said, “Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the Victoria Falls and wish you the best in your deliberation and resolution. Please do enjoy our truly African hospitality. Here you will every morning wake up to the chirping of our birds and the aura of the African sun, and at the end of each day go to sleep under the star-filled African sky.
“With these remarks I declare the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly officially opened.”
Full Speech
His Excellency Mr. Chilufya Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia,
The Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Mr. Taleb Rifai, Members of the diplomatic community,
Our host Ministers of Tourism here present and other Ministers from the Republics of Zimbabwe and Zambia,
Delegations and our distinguished guests from the UNWTO family,
Our traditional leaders, Chief Mvuto and Chief Mukuni, who share the iconic Victoria Falls,
Captains of the tourism industry,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Comrades and friends,
It is my pleasure, indeed an honor for my country, Zimbabwe, to host the UNWTO family tonight and during the next five days.
The hosting of this United Nations Specialized Agency’s General Assembly constitutes for us an important milestone in the economic history of our two countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. We expect to leave an indelible mark on our memories, and that it be part of our generational legacy, marking a clear turning point in the tourism fortunes of our two countries, our regions and indeed our continent.
Mr. Secretary General, your decision to hold this important global event at this destination inspires us in our ongoing and continuous efforts, since the coming into being of the state of Zimbabwe, to maintain friendly relations with the whole international community, even with those countries with which we may not agree on all matters.
The selection of this venue from a number of competing candidates will doubtlessly strengthen our determination to leverage tourism for the economic well-being and advancement of our people in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the whole of Africa. We are enthused by the endorsement of our two countries as worthy hosts of such a meeting, and the recognition of this destination as one that is safe and secure for the world’s tourists.
Following the independence in 1980, Zimbabwe, and as early as 1981, recognized the efficacy of the UNWTO social and economic development strategy, with its emphasis on long-term sustainable growth in less developed economies, aimed, in part at achieving at least three of the Millennium Development Goals.
We remained an active member of the organization until 1999. Unfortunately during the period 2000 to 2008 we faced immense challenges occasioned, in large part, by illegal debilitating sanctions imposed upon us by some sections of the west. These sanctions sadly came hard on the heels of IMF/World Bank’s ill-conceived Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) that, amongst other negatives, disabled our active participation in bodies like the UNWTO.
Happily in 2009, with the facilitation of SADC and the AU, we formed a government of national unity, the GNU, which led to the somewhat softening of the stances against us on the part of our political and economic detractors.
I am very satisfied that the then newly set up Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry swiftly reactivated our membership of the UNWTO and, with your active support, Secretary General Rifai, proceed to become a very active member of the organization, acquiring a seat on the organization’s Executive Council in the same year.
Since then we have not looked back and, following our successful two-nation bid with Zambia to co-host this session, we find ourselves here tonight. President Sata and I have since signed the Golden Book of tourism, this becoming ambassadors for global tourism – never mind the chagrin of some of our detractors over this matter.
Please let all of you know, that the signing of the golden book of tourism was not a matter of mere ceremony for us, for through that act we recognized the important political and economic role that tourism can play in our two countries and on our continent. We are committed to leveraging this sector as a key driver of our economic growth.
Let me take this opportunity to reiterate Zimbabwe’s commitment to the founding values and principles of the United Nations, notwithstanding our adversity to the hegemonic tendencies of some of the world’s economic and military super-powers who dominate the organization.
We are very satisfied that the United Nations is a vital body for all humanity. We are particularly happy that its specialized agency like UNICEF and the UNWTO have an increasingly important impact on the welfare of mankind.
Mr. Rifai, ladies and gentlemen your organization’s emphasis on sustainable tourism has great resonance with the importance Zimbabwe places on the principles of development with equity and empowerment of the masses.
It is on that basis, that I, without reservation, have my full support to the Zambia-Zimbabwe bid to host this General Assembly. I am very glad that the organization decided to hold the General Assembly here. That gesture attests to the organizations commitment to the development of tourism in Africa.
This indeed, is as it should be. The current situation where Africa only has a four percent share of global tourism revenue, in spite of its massive natural and cultural tourism resources is a matter of great concern to us.
This is especially so when seen in the light in which Secretary General, you highlighted some points in your White Paper of the year 2010. In that paper, you underlined the tourism sector’s resilience during economic hard times, even during global economic distress, and its capacity to alleviate poverty by its inherent positive disposition to community projects that can be led by women and youths. These are of great importance to us.
In this regard, I must conclude by putting on record our appreciation for the assistance that the UNWTO has extended to us this far as a region. This of late included technical support extended to SADC, through RETOSA, whereby the latter has received assistance towards the establishment of a Tourism Satellite Accounting System (TSAS). The TSAS will help us to fully account for the full contribution by tourism to our national and regional GDP.
I also note with great satisfaction that the UNWTO has approved community based initiatives for Zimbabwe, and their Sustainable Tourism for the reduction of poverty (STEP) program will run under the theme “Enhance the participation of youth and women in the tourism sector.”
This is an effective empowering tool which will promote equity and access to tourism revenue. It also resonates resoundingly with the people empowering initiatives that my government is pursuing.
The thematic thrusts you intend to pursue in this conference are summarized by the catch phrases “Open borders and open skies, removing hurdles to the growth of tourism in Africa.” are very apt in our times.
There is no way Africa can increase its portion of the global tourism cake without first promoting intra- African travel. Indeed connectivity of African cities, regions and attraction augurs well for growing Africa’s share, as it serves, ultimately, to integrate the African tourism product and its marketing and promotion, which in turn makes it more attractive to the long haul traveler than is the case now.
The need for open borders, through regional block visa regimes, which we are trying to implement at UNIVISA through RETOSA, will not only allow easier travel amongst SADC citizens, it will make it easier for the long haul intercontinental visitor and investor.
IT is very critical that Africa evolves strategies that effectively lure tourists to the continent. This assumes even greater importance in view of Europe’s effort to keep the tourism dollars within the Euro Zones, by imposing punitive airport departure taxes for its intercontinental travelers.
The type of seamless border between Livingstone town and Victoria Falls town that has been put in place for purpose of this conference should become the rule rather than the exception, for all adjacent touristic border communities throughout SADC, and ultimately throughout Africa. Africa can only benefit from increasingly behaving like a single common market.
Comrade President Sata, it is my fervent hope that the dream and vision of the founders of independent Africa, of a United States of Africa will become a reality one day sooner rather than later.
Events like this one, Secretary General, which you have constructed and positioned as “A uniquely African General Assembly,” may be small, but critical in the realization of an integrated economic-political entity called Africa.
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the Victoria Falls and wish you the best in your deliberation and resolution. Please do enjoy our truly African hospitality. Here you will every morning wake up to the chirping of our birds and the aura of the African sun, and at the end of each day go to sleep under the star-filled African sky.
With these remarks I declare the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly officially opened.