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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)