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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Tourists Are Back As Record Numbers Flock To Victoria Falls

Visitors are flocking to Victoria Falls in record numbers in a sure sign that Zimbabwe tourism is turning a corner, an industry leader says.

Latest figures reveal hotel occupancy rates at Victoria Falls are  hitting an all time high, sitting at 77.6 per cent last month, compared to 62.6 per cent during August last year.
Ross Kennedy said the boom in tourists had impacted across all sectors, from 2 star to 5 star accommodation, and big hotels to exclusive boutique properties.
Most performance benchmarks, including revenue earned and visitor numbers, had been smashed during the month of August, Mr Kennedy said.
 “This is a sure sign that Zimbabwe tourism, and the destination are rapidly turning a corner, after three years of positive growth,” Mr Kennedy said.
Nearly 13,000 more rooms have been sold so far this year, compared to the same period last year, an increase of 11.7 per cent, Mr Kennedy said.
And last month alone close to 5000 extra - or 25 per cent more – hotel rooms were sold than during August last 2013.
The figures are based on industry data across ten Victoria Falls hotels, including the Elephant Hills Hotel, Kingdom Hotel, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Hotel and the A’Zambezi.
Mr Kennedy, also chief executive of Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), said the surge in arrivals this year had culminated in August where all monthly records for flagship property, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, had been broken since it opened in 1994.
Occupancy at all four AAT properties – others are Lokuthula Lodges, Victoria Falls Safari Club and Victoria Falls Safari Suites – had been at over 80 per cent in August, Mr Kennedy said.
The Boma Restaurant, one of the region’s busiest and a Victoria Falls “must do” for visitors, served more than 7,500 guests dinner in August, a new record of 830 more than any previous month, he said.
Bookings for the remainder of 2014 and 2015  were very healthy and the number of different countries where visitors are coming from is steadily growing, further enhancing demand and reputation, he said.
The data showed most visitors to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge were from the United States, followed by Australia, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.
 “It all adds up to a bright picture ahead,” Mr Kennedy said.
“August results confirmed what we have believed for the last three years, that Victoria Falls is once again firmly establishing itself as an iconic tourism destination,” Mr Kennedy said.
“These powerful statistics, all add up to enhancing the growing status of Victoria Falls, as a regional hub,” Mr Kennedy said.
 “A status that surely will be endorsed and sealed when the new Victoria Falls International Airport opens in mid 2015.
“In comparison to current world tourism trends, these statistics are simply staggering, and a powerful reminder of the positive impact that a strong tourism industry can have on an economy.”

Monday 29 September 2014

Oil reserves 'discovered' in Zimbabwe

The state media reports that Zimbabwe could become an oil and gas producer following strong indications of significant reserves of the resources in northern parts of the country.
According to Sunday Mail, government has already commissioned mining research experts to determine the extent of the potential reserves in the Zambezi Valley.
Earlier exploration by hydrocarbons giant Mobil Oil in the 1990s concluded there was nearly "100 percent potential of gas" and a high possibility of oil occurrence in the region.
However, authorities did not prioritise further exploratory work then due to various competing national issues such as the military intervention in the DRC and the fast-track land reform programme.
But with several African countries recently announcing oil and gas finds, such as in Mozambique and Namibia, interest has been rekindled and authorities have revisited the matter.
Mines and Mining Development Secretary Professor Francis Gudyanga told The Sunday Mail: "We are working on that, but I think it is too early to make it public."
This paper has gathered that Government mandated a team of experts to confirm the existence of the oil and gas reserves. Geo Associates and Invictus Energy Resources are assisting the Mines Ministry and the Geological Survey Department in the project.
Research shows that hydrocarbon deposits occur in sedimentary geological features less than 300 million years old. Zimbabwe has three areas holding sedimentary geological features that fit the profile – Karoo (150-300 million years), Cretaceous (50-140 million years), and Kalahari (four-50 million years). Of these, the Zambezi Valley — which sits on Karoo sediments in the Cabora Bassa Basin — holds the most potential for gas and possibly oil.
Between 1989 and 1993, Mobil Oil explored a part of the Zambezi Valley in the Cabora Bassa Basin spanning 30 120 square kilometres.
The company concluded the area was likely to have gas, a finding corroborated by German Geological Survey BGR. BGR analysed the data and carried out extensive fieldwork and indicated the area potentially held high volumes of recoverable gas.
However, no actual drilling took place.
Sedimentologist and geological consultant Dr Dennis Shoko, who worked with Mobil on the initial exploration, said: "The work carried out by Mobil was very extensive and the results they produced were very positive. Their surveys included airborne geo-physical work. They worked on the structure of our basin in areas such as the Mana Pools, the Cabora Basin and Zambezi Basin.
"Their conclusion was that there was an almost 100 percent potential of gas, which then makes having oil a possibility. They then proposed to have a joint venture with Government to begin work that included drilling and setting up a 4km-deep borehole. But at that time, Government said it was not a priority and turned down the joint venture."
He added: "In recent years, an oil leak was discovered in Lupane, meaning there is high chance that there is oil in the Cabora Basin, which covers the north part of the country and the area between the escarpment and the Zambezi River. Remember we also share this basin with Mozambique, which has also discovered oil."
Investec Energy Resources' Mr Scott Macmillan said the oil reserves — if confirmed — could turn around Zimbabwe's economy. He said the subject would feature prominently at the Mining Indaba scheduled for Harare next week.
"The resources could potentially provide the country with a significant new revenue base and create thousands of direct and indirect jobs, be utilised as feedstock for gas-fired power turbines and bring about a solution to the perennial power shortages as well as provide energy security for the country.
Source: Oil reserves 'discovered' in Zimbabwe - Bulawayo News 23 (28/09/14)

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Mystery of the Namib Fairy Circles continues

Viewed from the skies, the Namibian desert looks like the surface of a wild and desolate planet. There are no obvious plants, and thousands of tiny craters dot the red barren earth. But zoom in a little closer and a different picture emerges: patches of green appear, along with the occasional tree, and, eventually, perfect rings of tall, sometimes lush, grass come into focus, each one enclosing a plate of bare-hollowed out earth.

These grass-ringed patches are the fairy circles of Namibia. For centuries they’ve entranced the local bushmen, the Himba. One oral myth says the circles are the footprints of the gods; another that a dragon living beneath the earth’s crust breathes fiery bubbles which, when they hit the surface, burn the vegetation into the near-perfect circles.

But the circles haven’t just confused the Himba. Despite decades of investigation, and a multitude of theories, scientists still haven’t come up with a definitive explanation for their existence. To this day, the circles remain one of nature’s greatest mysteries.

A thousand unblinking eyes

Perhaps the fairy circles wouldn’t have been able to guard their secrets so successfully if they hadn’t been so concentrated in a region referred to as “The land God made in anger.” The circles occur in millions in a band where the arid grasslands transition to desert, a 1,800km-long strip extending southward from Angola to the Northwestern Cape province of South Africa. Most of them, however, flank the red sands of the Namib desert, a remote and harsh environment.
Scattered across the landscape, never overlapping, the circles gaze silently up at the sun like a thousand unblinking eyes, oblivious to the harshness of their surroundings. A tall ring of grass surrounds the barren centres, which can measure between two and 20 metres in diameter. The lush periphery of each dish stands at knee height, dwarfing the scrubby grasses between the circles, seemingly standing guard to protect them from incoming vegetation.

“There are a few key things that any science theory has to explain about fairy circles,” says Michael Cramer, a plant physiologist at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. “Why are they circular and barren and why are they regularly spaced from each other?”

But since the 1970s, when researchers first started investigating the phenomenon, no single theory has yet managed to do that. At least not to the satisfaction of the scientific community.

But this failure is not for want of trying, or desire.

“There is a tremendous sense of excitement that there is something really interesting going on and we want to know what that is,” says Professor Don Cowan, director of the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. “It is a desire to understand the system. What is going there? What is happening?”

Fairies run rings around scientists

“They are really neat places, these little clean patches,” says Walter Tschinkel, a biologist at Florida State University. “They are like little satellite dishes.” When Tschinkel, the biologist from Florida, first saw the fairy circles on a visit to the NamibRand Nature Reserve in southwestern Namibia, he knew right away what was causing them. "I looked at them and thought ‘this has to be termites,’” Tschinkel says. “It is the sort of things termites do.”

Tschinkel dug for termites in one or two circles and returned in 2007 to investigate, and hopefully prove, his hypothesis. “It took us about three days to establish, without a doubt, that termites were absolutely nothing to do with this,” Tschinkel says.

Tschinkel’s theory proved to be just one of the many to hit the Namibian dust. Scientists have ruled out poisoning from toxic indigenous plants, milk bushes that produce toxic latex, and also contamination from radioactive materials. They have also rejected the idea that the ostriches created the circles by bathing in the dust.
Some theories are still holding strong though, and Cowan jokes that each scientist sees the solution in terms of their own particular area of expertise: the insect biologists think the circles are created by ants or termites, the plant physiologists think it’s grasses, and the chemists think it’s gases. Cowan, a microbial ecologist, proves no exception.

“Once we saw them, we immediately thought, ‘it has got to be microbial ecology,’” Cowan says, meaning, in layman’s terms, that means he believes that microorganisms have been killing the plants inside the circle.

The fact that the circles are round, start off small and grow large is entirely compatible with the presence of a pathogenic organism, such as a fungus, Cowan says. Fungal strands, or mycelium, would spread outward radially, infecting the roots of plants and causing them to die. Once the fungus establishes itself in the circle it infects new grass seeds preventing them from growing, creating the barren interior.

“It is just a hypothesis,” Cowan says. But it’s more compatible with the evidence than many other theories, he adds.

It is like panning for gold. Once in a while you find a little flake or a nugget and sometimes it is fool's gold.

Another theory is closer to the folklore; a team of chemists from the University of Pretoria propose that gas released from underground may be killing off the plants in the circular patches. They just don’t suggest this gas comes from the mouth of an underground dragon.
The scientists worked out this theory when they collected soil samples from inside the fairy circles and planted seeds inside them. The seeds didn’t last for long, and neither did seeds planted directly in the centres themselves. The bare soil, the scientists concluded, provides the real clues. Chemical analysis revealed that natural gas seeping to the surface could be killing the plants. Once the gas finds an outlet it spreads radially outward in a spherical shape destroying grasses in a near perfect circle.

However, yet another recent theory proposes that grasses competing for water and nutrients - limited resources in the Namib desert - create the circles, explaining why they never overlap. When Cramer examined precipitation levels and seasonal temperatures, he found that the occurrence of fairy circles appears to be restricted to particularly arid zones right at the transition from grassland to desert regions.
Go west into more arid regions and the circles disappear, go east into the wetter mountains and they vanish. “So it is a very narrow band in Namibia where the conditions are just right,” Cramer says.
In these regions, where both rainfall and nutrient levels are low, grasses have to compete for resources. Hardier grasses suck up all the water and nutrients leaving the neighbouring vegetation to die. The gap between vegetation gets larger until eventually water and nutrients pool and collect in the centre like an oasis. Then, larger grasses grow around the pool, sucking out the water and creating a fairy circle.

Tschinkel believes that this theory accounts for all the characteristics of fairy circles, but since his first visit he has been busy testing out theories. He’s added zinc to the fairy circles and replaced the soil with other fertile soil only to find the same results as the Pretoria chemists: nothing grows in the circles.

If there were an award for the time spent examining fairy circles, the prize would surely go to Norbert Jürgens, an ecologist at the University of Hamburg in Germany. By 2013, Jürgens had completed 40 field trips and sampled about 1200 fairy circles, testing the soil and noting the vegetation and organisms present.
Jürgens found only one organism lay within the circle boundaries, in nearly all the circles. And it was the type of animal originally suspected by Tschinkel; a termite, specifically the sand termite Psammotermes allocerus.

“So the answer to the criminal question: Who did it?” Jürgens says. “There was only one suspect at each crime site. That was the sand termite.”

The soil-living termites feed on the roots of plants killing them, and then, because no vegetation sucks up the rainwater, water pools below the sandy soil, Jürgens says. This soil water supply allowed the termites to survive during the dry season and also helped the grasses on the periphery of the circle to thrive.

Jürgens published his findings and theory in the prestigious journal Science in 2013 and the ensuing media fanfare dubbed the mystery as “solved.”

But other scientists aren’t so sure. “It is the classic mistake of confusing correlation with causation,” Tschinkel says. “There was a high correlation of sand termites in fairy circles but that is not evidence that they are causal.”

The termite theory cannot explain many of the traits of fairy circles, Tschinkel says, including that the circles have a perimeter of tall grass and reside only on sandy soils in a certain range of rainfall.
Other researchers question the theory on different grounds, many unable to find termites consistently in the circles. "The termites are just not there," Cramer says.

The circles compete with one another and space themselves apart from the circles around them.

Among the skeptics is Stephan Getzin, an ecologist from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, in Leipzig, Germany. As an undergraduate in the 1990s, Getzin had investigated the termite theory but he’d convinced himself that, not only were termites not the cause, but that scientists needed to take a different approach to the problem.

“We’ve had analysis of the soil in labs and we’ve had people digging in the soil but neither has solved the mystery so far,” Getzin says. “Field studies seem unable to solve the problem at this moment.”

And the approach that Getzin took cast a whole new perspective on the puzzle.

Fairies dancing in formation

Scientists had looked underground for gas and dug in the soil for termites and microbes but Getzin wanted a bird’s eye view of the challenge. For that he looked at multiple Near InfraRed orthophotos - aerial images that provide an exact geometrical perspective, similar to a map.

In these images Getzin closely inspected not the circles themselves, but the way they lay across the landscape. And he stumbled across a hitherto unknown feature of fairy circles: they dance in formation.

Are scientists any closer to solving the enigma?

Instead of being simply scattered like a collection of dropped coins, the circles lie regularly spaced from one another. Moreover, this patterning remains the same across the landscape.

“It’s a very consistent regular pattern,” Getzin says, “and it is very homogenous at large spatial scales.”

This regular spacing isn’t so unusual in nature. In other regions of Africa, tiger bush - alternating bands of shrubs and bare earth - run parallel to the contour lines of hillsides, in a marked striped pattern. In Australia, burette-like clumps of spinifex grass dot the desert - like fatter, less elegant cousins of fairy circles.

They almost function like an organism

Both these phenomena are caused by arid conditions. When water and nutrients are scarce, plants compete and “organise” themselves sufficiently far from other plants in an arrangement that best conserves resources.

Drawing from these examples, Getzin proposes a similar mechanism lies behind the shape and regularity of the fairy circles. It’s an answer that agrees with Cramer’s competing grass theory.

“The circles compete with one another and space themselves apart from the circles around them,” Cramer says. “They almost function like an organism.”

Creating these patterns over such large scales requires very consistent conditions - like those in the Namib desert, Cramer says. “The park I work in is a sand plain of about 25km across and I think you'd be hard pressed to find any variation across that at all,” Cramer says. “Nutritionally, hydrologically, topologically it is very uniform. “

The finding also calls into question other theories. “Based on all the knowledge that is currently existing those patterns cannot be caused by social insects or gas leakage,” Getzin says.
So is this finally the end of the mystery?

Getzin is cautious. “What we have done is reopened the whole discussion because we can say with confidence that the termite hypothesis is very unlikely,” he says.

Getzin plans to get funding to have an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fly over the circles in the NamibRand reserve every month. Swooping low, the UAV could record the landscape in greater detail than previously possible.

Such a perspective could reveal other, previously unknown secrets of the circles.

“I’m sure this is not the end of the story,” Getzin says.

Monday 15 September 2014

OKACOM – Celebrates 20 Years

Today marks the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM).

OKACOM is a trans-boundary river basin organisation established in 1994 in Windhoek by the riparian states of Angola, Botswana and Namibia.

The OKACOM Agreement commits the member states to promoting coordinated and environmentally sustainable regional water resource development, while addressing the legitimate social and economic needs of each of the riparian states.

Joseph Iita, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry said on the occasion that over the past 20 years,the three riparian countries of the basin have been investigating various solutions to address its mandate both nationally and collectively. This has led to putting in place policies and mechanisms aimed at protecting the sensitive eco-systems, while also exploring options for uplifting the livelihood conditions of the basin population.

This includes the joint development of a trans-boundary diagnostic analysis (TDA) completed in 2011; the formulation of an OKACOM hydrological data sharing protocol and the adoption of a strategic action programme (SAP) and for the basin and the subsequent country specific national action plans (NAPs).

Source: OKACOM – Celebrates 20 Years, Travel News Namibia (15/09/14)

Saturday 13 September 2014

Zambia's VP calls to expedite bridge construction

Zambian Vice-President Guy Scott has directed the contractor working on the US$259.3 Kazungula Bridge to expedite the process since the projecthas been on the drawing board for more than 10 years.
Dr Scott appealed to the contractor, Daewoo Engineering and Construction, including the supervising engineers, to ensure that the project was delivered within the planned timeframe and cost.
Dr Scott was speaking yesterday during the ground-breaking ceremony of the bridge where he, flanked by his Botswana counterpart Ponatshego Kedikilwe, officiated at the ceremony on the Botswana side of the Kazungula border.
The project will be undertaken by the governments of Zambia and Botswana with financial assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Dr Scott said the project would create jobs, facilitate movement of products within the region, including agricultural inputs and mining equipment, and increase opportunities for intra and regional trade activities.
He also said the project would reduce the transit time from 36 hours to two hours and reduce transportation costs and the cost of doing business in general and, ultimately, increase revenue for the two countries. “The two peoples of Botswana and Zambia have waited for this project for this long and some imagined that this day would come in their life-time. The two governments are equally delighted that the long-awaited project is finally taking off today,” Dr Scott said.
He said the Kazungula route had become increasingly popular to transporters shipping freight between the major ports of South Africa to and from Lusaka, the mining towns of northern Zambia and the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Dr Scott said the current border facilities on both sides of Botswana and Zambia were inadequate as only 30 trucks could be ferried in each direction in a day.
Dr Kedikilwe urged the ministries of Transport in the two countries to remain diligent in their work and guard against unnecessary cost escalations during construction.
He also urged the two ministries to exercise professionalism to avoid delays and unnecessary litigations, saying people’s expectations on the project were very high.
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) resident representative Atsushi Nakagawa congratulated the governments of Zambia and Botswana for implementing the Kazungula Bridge project.
Africa, Development Bank (AfDB) resident representative for Malawi Andrew Mwaba said the project was a major milestone in addressing trade bottlenecks between the two countries. Dr Mwaba said his bank, which is celebrating 50 years this year, was repositioning itself to respond to the needs and transformation of the continent.
Botswana Transport and Communications Minister Nonofo Molefhi said the bridge would join Zambia and Botswana in facilitating the movement of goods and people of the SADC region.
Zambia’s Transport, Works, Supply and Communications Minister Yamfwa Mukanga said Kazungula Bridge was one of the major projects to be undertaken in Zambia under the Patriotic front Government.
Souce: Finish Kazungula Bridge - Scott. The Times, Zambia , (13/09/14)

Friday 12 September 2014

Zambia faces Kazungula bridge funding gap

The Zambian Government will be compelled to spend about K275 million on the construction of the Kazungula Bridge across the Zambezi River unless a donor is found.

Minister of Works, Transport, Supply and Communications Yamfwa Mukanga said in Lusaka recently that Government would have to budget for about K55 million (US$9.2 million) annually over a four-year period to build the Kazungula Bridge if a financier is not found.

The decision by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to pull out from co-financing the project due to a tender dispute has left Zambia and Botswana with a funding gap for the project whose ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for Friday.

Zambia and Botswana have since awarded the contract to South Korea’s Daewoo Engineering and Construction at a cost of US$160,622,718.

Other short-listed companies were China Major Bridge Engineering Corporation which offered to build the bridge at a bid price of US$129,981,888 and Japan’s Shimizu and South African’s Stefanutti, which submitted a joint venture bid of US$246,973,570.

Some experts, who preferred to remain anonymous have, however, questioned the decision to award the contract to Daewoo at the expense of China Major which offered the lowest bid price and met all technical requirements.

“China Major has experience in Africa and they are the ones behind the Mongu-Kalabo bridge and they met all specification only to be told that ‘your bid was unreasonably low.” Mr Mukanga, however, said the decision to award Daewoo the tender was carefully considered. “What transpired was that after we short-listed three firms, we carried out an engineer’s assessment and the closest was Daewoo and they got the bid and the contract was signed last Friday and ground-breaking [ceremony] will be done on September 12, 2014,” he said.

He explained that JICA has pulled out completely in terms of financing the bridge component of the project. “The pull-out by JICA gives us two options, either we share the ratio and include it in our budget to result in spending K55 million (US$ 9.2 million) every year over the next four years and Botswana will also spend US$7.8 million over the same period or we convince the AfDB to take up the funding gap since they are funding other components of the project such as building of two-one stop border posts, staff houses, approach roads, among other items,” Mr Mukanga said.

He said AfDB president Donald Kaberuka had shown interest in the project when he visited Kazungula last July. “Dr Kaberuka was here and we presented our part. I am sure they will come back and finalise with our Ministry of Finance to provide extra funds. The bridge will bring economic benefits to not only Zambia and Botswana but the entire region because we all trade and it will change the way we do business,” Mr Mukanga said.

It is anticipated that construction of the rail bridge at Kazungula will reduce the huge economic cost incurred by the Southern African Development Community region due to delays in crossing the river, which is currently serviced by the ferry system to move goods and vehicles. On average, 70 trucks cross the pontoon every day.

Source: State to finance Kazungula bridge project unless… Zambia Daily Mail, (11/09/14)

Man-eating lions destroyed - Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority says its rangers have shot dead two of three lions that killed a safari company worker in Matusadona National Park, on the shores of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe.
The deceased, an employee with Somabula Safaris, was killed by three lionesses on the 4th of September while docking the company house boat, Somabula Houseboat) on the shores of Matusadona National Park on the southern edge of the lake.
He was attacked and killed by three lionesses, including one wearing a transmitting collar.
In a press releasse posted on the (assumed to be from the ALERT Matusadona Lion Project but notspecified on the site, or dated), the following has been clarfied:
"On the 4th of September ALERT’s Principle Researcher for the Matusadona Lion Project was tracking lionesses from the Eastern Pride in the Mucheni area. A visual was obtained at 5pm and they were followed as they headed South West to the other side of the peninsula they were on. After losing visual the researcher anticipated their movements and waited at a look-out point some distance way.
At this time a houseboat was arriving into the nearby bay. At 6:30pm shouting was heard from the houseboat and our researcher arrived at the scene within 10 mins to find an employee had been attacked by the lions. Using the research vehicle the lions were driven off the victim but first aid unfortunately could not be given as the lions remained within too close proximity. The man sadly passed away at the scene.
Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority scouts arrived shortly after, and with their help, as well as that of a paramedic on the houseboat, the victim’s body was safely retrieved. Two lionesses, known within the Matusadona Lion Project study as F106, “Gogo”, and F114, “Ngoda”, were destroyed by Park’s staff following this incident. There was no evidence to suggest either of these lions was injured or ill that would cause them to attack a person. It is believed because the victim was moving alone at night in the bushes he approached the lions unknowingly.
This has been a huge blow for the Park, the lion population and the study, however the real tragedy is in the loss of the victim. Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with his family left behind."
Source: Man-eating lions killed in Zim, EyeWitness News, (09/09/14)
Press Release on Lion Attack, (10/09/14)

Victoria Falls to pilot SADC univisa

Zimbabwe's Tourism deputy minister Retired Brigadier-General Walter Kanhanga has said the country is working on plans to introduce a single visa system at all its borders to allow easy access that will promote tourism in the region,

Kanhanga said government was working on a uni-visa pilot programme in Victoria Falls which is set to be adopted at all border posts to allow easy movement by tourists and enhance trade within Southern Africa.

"We are working on a pilot project of a single visa system at Victoria Falls. We are at an advanced stage of adopting the single visa system and should we succeed, it will be the model that will be used at all our borders," Kanhanga said.

The single visa system will ensure one visa will allow entry in all Sadc countries and will therefore reduce the hassles for tourists traveling in the region, who had blamed the cumbersome processes of obtaining visas.

Source: Zimbabwe to adopt single Sadc visa, Bulawayo24 (11/09/14)

Thursday 11 September 2014

Construction of P1.4 billion Kazungula Bridge to start next year

ruction of the much anticipated P1.4 billion Kazungula Bridge is expected to start early next year, after the two hosting countries, Botswana and Zambia, last week signed a contract agreement with the contractor, Daewoo Engineering and Construction.

The Korean multinational last week announced that it had been awarded the tender to construct the bridge, connecting Zambia and Botswana, at a price of US$161, 961 million (P1.4 billion).

The bridge project is expected to boost Daewoo E&C’s forays into Southern Africa, as the company endeavors to expand its influence in the region and exploit the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s ambitious infrastructure development projects. The project will also facilitate trade between Botswana, Zambia and the SADC region by reducing the number of days taken by truckers at the Kazungula border from six days to six hours, improving border management operations and reducing time-based trade and transport costs. Statistics show that the project will reduce vehicle operating costs by US$ 3,756,367 for passenger vehicles and US$ 2,350,100 for trucks per year by the year 2020. The multi-million dollar project will connect the North-South corridor through a 923m long by 18.5m wide rail/road bridge on the border between Botswana and Zambia, which lies at the confluence of the Chobe and the Zambezi Rivers, as well as two one stop border facilities, access roads and ramps.

The project will also ease the flow of business in the Southern Africa region. Botswana and Zambia have been using a ferry to move goods, people and other services to and from either sides of the Chobe river, known on the Zambian side as the Zambezi. The ferry service posed a serious bottleneck to smooth flow of traffic and hampered full development of trade between the two nations and the SADC region. The two nations last week signed a Contract Agreement for the bride project, which is expected to commence next year and take four years to complete.

Daewoo E&C Vice-President, Kim Hong Gou, was quoted in the Sunday Post, a Zambian publication, saying the company will do its best to complete the bridge within the projected four-year period and ensure that environmental and safety measures are taken into consideration. Gou was briefing the media after the construction contract signing ceremony that was held at Protea Hotel in Livingstone, Zambia.

“Currently, we are here to make preparations for the project. After signing, part of the delegation will be here to prepare. We should be able to start next year. From now up to end of this year, we will be mobilizing for construction of the project,” he said.

Daewoo E&C has undertaken hydro-power projects, housing projects and harbor construction projects in North America, Libya, Algeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Botswana and Sudan. Goitsemang Morekisi, Transport Hub Coordinator in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, represented Botswana at the signing. She revealed that the project was made up of four components and what was being signed for was the actual bridge construction while the other three components, which she could not give their actual figures, were still under tender.

“This is the time when a lot of work is really beginning. We are going to be working with the consultants and the contractor on a daily basis to deliver the bridge,” she said.

The publication also quoted the Director of the Zambia Road Development Agency, Bernard Chiwala saying that with the signing ceremony confirmed, Zambia was truly being transformed into a land-linked country. The bridge construction component is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the governments of Botswana and Zambia. Vice President Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe and his Zambian counter-part, Vice-President Dr Guy Scott, will perform the groundbreaking ceremony next week. The expected time-savings from the project amount to US$ 1.4 per vehicle/hour for private cars and US$ 11.1 per vehicle/hour for buses and another US$ 2.45 per vehicle/hour for trucks. The project will also benefit SADC and harness trade by improving regional connectivity of the North South Transport Corridor, complementing regional integration, improving the region’s trade competitiveness and creating employment opportunities. The Kazungula Bridge project is expected to employ up to 500 people during construction and another 100 people to operate and manage the bridge after completion. In addition to the loan, JICA has pledged to provide to Botswana with technical assistance worth US$ 6 million, which will cover capacity building in the form of project management, and operations of the one-stop border post.

Source: Construction of P1.4 billion Kazungula Bridge to start next year, The Botswana Gazette, (11/09/14)

Monday 8 September 2014

$500M Kariba expansion commissioned

$533M Kariba project begins •Station to generate 300MW more by 2017

President Mugabe yesterday commissioned the construction of the US$533 million Kariba South Power Extension Project expected to generate an additional 300MW by 2017. The project had been on the cards for years with its implementation hampered by the shortage of foreign currency among other obstacles.

Over the years, the power sector has experienced challenges largely due to dilapidated and obsolete generation equipment and infrastructure as well as inadequate financing and capitalisation and other structural bottlenecks.

The US$320 million loan extended by the Chinese government has, however, made the project a reality with the Zimbabwe Power Company weighing in with US$213 million borrowed from Development Finance Institutions.

Speaking soon after the groundbreaking ceremony, President Mugabe said he was happy that finally the project was taking shape. “The Kariba Extension project has been on Zesa’s drawing board for a very long time. It’s coming to fruition has been hampered by many challenges which include shortage of foreign currency during the hyperinflation era. The feasibility studies for the project were eventually updated, paving the way for its completion and implementation,” President Mugabe said.

“The successful completion and commissioning of this project, Kariba South Power Station Extension, will add 300 megawatts of power to the national grid. Indeed, the project is a vital component of the Government’s strategy to meet the country’s electricity demands. It is part of our major plan to guarantee the constant and consistent supply of energy for our country.”

President Mugabe said the project entailed construction of an additional two 150MW power generating units to complement the current six 125MW generating units.

“This will increase the total capacity at the Kariba Hydro Power Station from 750MW to 1050MW. This additional capacity will serve the peak demand, significantly reducing the load shedding that we are currently experiencing,” he said.

Added President Mugabe: “Projects such as this one, do not merely bring power into our homes and workplaces, but they also empower the people of Zimbabwe. I am informed that over the four years that the project will be implemented, it will employ a total of 700 workers with the majority of the general workers drawn from local communities. To date, about 200 workers have been engaged.”

He said power projects like the Kariba Power Station Extension were an important part of Government’s goal towards an empowered society and a growing economy.

“Adequate power supply infrastructure, not only helps attract investors to our country but in bringing electricity to rural areas, which improves the quality of life to our rural people,” President Mugabe said.

He said hydro-power projects were costly to undertake and thanked the Chinese government for funding the extension of Kariba South through a loan facility.

“The implementation of this project is expected to cost a total of $533 million. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Chinese government for extending a loan of $320 million for the implementation of this project. The balance, $213 million, is provided for by Zimbabwe Power Company borrowing from Development Finance Institutions,” President Mugabe said.

“We also need hydro projects such as Batoka and Devils Gorge on the Zambezi River, Gairezi, Tokwe Mukosi, Kondo, as well as other small hydros, on both existing and proposed national dams. I understand that through such small hydro projects, we can generate a total of 5000MW nationwide. Such a development would provide the nation with additional and cheaper electricity for both industry and commerce, and as a result, attract investment to Zimbabwe. We certainly should actively pursue this line of action.”

President Mugabe said Government recognised the key role the energy sector plays as an economic enabler. “For this reason, we have taken great steps to create an environment where participation in the power sector and state owned companies, such as the Zimbabwe Power Company. The regulatory framework, and the requisite statutes, are in place. This has seen development of power generation projects by Independent Power Producers (IPPs), who, I am advised, are already providing power from small hydro power station generation plants,” he said.

President Mugabe warned that delays in the implementation of public projects as has been the case in the past would not be tolerated. “I, however, would like to observe that implementation of public projects has, in the past, been characterised by inefficiency, delays, and lack of commitment, which, cumulatively, have often compromised the cost-effectiveness of the projects. This cannot be allowed to continue. Zimbabwe values the dependable supply of electricity from Kariba Power Station, which has supported the nation’s economy over the past five decades,” he said.

President Mugabe urged the Ministry of Energy and Power Development to ensure the Kariba South Extension project is well executed and applauded the Zambezi River Authority for the rehabilitation of flood gates and the remodeling of the plunge pool to ensure it does not become a threat to the integrity of the dam wall.

He bemoaned the theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure saying it was a blow to efforts by Government to provide uninterrupted power.

“We are, however, concerned that of late, theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure has been escalated. Thus, as we try to increase power generation and extend the national grid, some elements in our society are hell bent on taking us back. The most effective way of combating this scourge is social policing. Communities must report the perpetrators of such crimes to the police and other security agents, and the courts must take a dim view of such crimes as provided for in our existing law. Deterrent sentences must be handed down,” he said.

Source: $533m Kariba project begins, The Herald, Zimbabwe (05/09/14)

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Developments planned at The Lookout

Wild Horizons have announced that they planning to expand their Gorge Lookout facilities with the addition of a new restuartant building.

The Wild Horizon Gorge Lookout is part of their Gorge Swing and high-wire activity development and overlooks the second section of gorge downstream from the Victoria Falls, between the Victoria Falls Bridge and Victoria Falls Hotel on the Zimbabwe side. Last year they expanded this operation to include a 'canopy' zip line trail through the gorge.

In their August Newsletter, Wild Horizons show an artists impression of the new 'extension' (which appears to dwarf the existing buildings) - a 40 seater restaurant and cocktail bar perched on the edge of the Batoka Gorge. The '360° Lookout - Bistro on the edge' will offer "a simplistic but totally unique menu, and in addition to serving imported wines and spirits, there will be a lively cocktail menu."

Artist's Impression Courtesy of Larry Norton.

Clive Bradford, Wild Horizons operations director, has commented that there will be no interruption to gorge-side activities during the construction process, which is expected to be complete in early 2015.

The development is within the sensitive local environment of the Falls - within the National Park and UNESCO World Heritage areas and an Internationally Important Bird Area. We hope that a leading operator such as Wild Horizons will aim to make tihs developnent as eco-friendly as possible, minimising the environmental impact of the build and ongoing operation of this development. Already this operation has grown significantly since it was first established on this site - and one would expect this to be an essential and key part of any such development.

Source: Wild Horizons Newseltter, August 2014

Monday 1 September 2014

South Korean company Daewoo wins controversial contract to build bridge over Zambezi River

South Korea’s Daewoo Engineering & Construction said yesterday that it had won a $161m contract to build the first-ever bridge over the Zambezi River connecting Zambia and Botswana.

Daewoo said the project would bring economic advantages to both countries and that the idea had been “cherished” by them for 40 years.

But the contract has been hit with controversy after a major funder, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), withdrew its loan for the project over a reported tender valuation dispute.

And another of the bidders, China Major Engineering, has written to the local authorities asking why its bid, said to be the lowest, was rejected.

The two countries agreed to build the Kazungula Bridge in 2007, according to local media. Currently only a ferry at the border town of Kazungula, Zambia can cross the 400m stretch of river.

In October 2012, JICA announced that it would lend Botswana $84.2m and Zambia $27.7m to build the bridge. JICA said it would help the two landlocked countries remove transport bottlenecks and develop their economies.

JICA was joined by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in promising funds, and both the governments of Zambia and Botswana would contribute.
But earlier this month JICA surprised all parties by withdrawing from the scheme.

According to the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper, a dispute arose over the technical evaluation of bids from three shortlisted firms before a tender could be awarded.

Those firms were Daewoo, a joint venture between Japan’s Shimizu and South Africa’s Stefanutti, and China Major Bridge Engineering Corporation.

“They [JICA] have pulled out and we shall try to engage the African Development Bank (AfDB) to put in more resources,” Zambia’s transport minister, Yamfwa Mukanga, told the newspaper, adding: “then we shall set the new date for ground-breaking which was supposed to have taken place last month.”

The newspaper reported that China Major Engineering chairman, Liu Ziming, has written to Zambia’s Road Development Agency questioning the decision to award Daewoo the tender when his company offered the lowest price.

The two countries appear to have decided to proceed without JICA, and Daewoo has been selected on the basis of a $161m contract, not $260m, which was the original reported cost.

Groundbreaking starts next month and construction is scheduled to be finished in four years, Daewoo said.

Daewoo said it was its first project in the region in 23 years, and that it hoped it would be a stepping stone for expansion in South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Daewoo recently won six other major contracts amounting to $3.39bn, including Kuwait’s Clean Fuels project, the new Orbital Highway Project in Qatar, and the Singapore’s Thomson-East Coast Line Project.

Source: Daewoo wins controversial contract to build historic bridge over the Zambezi River, GCR News (28/08/14)

Helicopter crash-lands in Victoria Falls

SIX Americans cheated death yesterday after a helicopter that was supposed to fly them above the Victoria Falls had a false start and crash-landed barely thirty metres from where it had taken off.

Janice Mitchel, Elizabeth Hamilton, William Leur, Elizabeth Benevides, Debbie Lonechamps and Stephanie Black all walked from the crash site unaided while first aiders and medical personnel fell over each other in an attempt to help them.

Of the six, four were whisked away to their hotels soon after receiving first aid, while two others had to be taken to a private hospital where they were checked and discharged.

According to a Press statement released by Zambezi Helicopter Company public relations manager Mr Clement Mukwasi, the helicopter performed a hard-landing immediately after take-off and the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe is investigating the cause of the accident. 

"At approximately 11.30am this morning, one of the helicopters operated by the Zambezi Helicopter Company REG: ZSCA performed a hard-landing.

"All six passengers and the pilot walked safely away from the landing unaided. Two have gone to Medicare Private Clinic for further assessment.

"The helicopter has sustained some damage, and all relevant authorities are currently investigating the cause of the accident. Flight operations will commence on 31 August," the statement reads.

The Flight of Angels is the most popular activity in Victoria Falls and enables tourists to view the falls from above in the special rules aviation area which is shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has two companies that offer the activity while Zambia has three. 

Source: Helicopter crash-lands in Victoria Falls (31/08/15