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Thursday 25 February 2021

ZimParks Under Pressure

ZimParks Under Pressure

ZimParks Director General comments on financial pressures and causes confusion over Private Concessions in Zambezi National Park.

By Peter Roberts 

The Director-General of the Zimbabwe National Park and Wildlife Authority, Dr Fulton Mangwanya, has revealed some of the financial pressures facing ZimParks during the ongoing global pandemic and caused confusion in comments on proposals for private tourism concessions in the Zambezi National Park, Victoria Falls.

An interview with Dr Mangwanya, The Green Show).

In an interview with Willson Chimwedzi for 'The Green Show' (Heart and Soul Radio) on 17th February, Dr Mangwanya indicated that apart from annual license fees from private concessions, the Authority's income is currently practically zero.

"Yes, indeed this pandemic has caused quite a lot of problems, like our tourism has been badly affected, if we talk of Zimparks, because 80% of our tourists are regional, and as you are talking right now no-one is coming in. The local ones, who are the domestic tourism, we can't talk of much because there is no industry to travel in - everything is down. International tourists definitely are not coming because of the lockdowns, and with the new strain in South Africa it has actually exacerbated the whole issue. We can safely say we are running at zero right now, except from some lease fees that we are getting, and we don't get any support or funding from the fiscus [state]..."

"Right now we've got [only] 10% of staff at work... So I'm working extra hours to make things work, because if I don't provide salaries for my rangers they will turn into poachers, so the best thing is to make sure I get something to pay them and then the Directors are paid later, even a month or two months later, it's ok, so long as we pay those ones on the ground."

Private concessions have become an increasing feature in the country's National Parks in recent years, with sites licensed to tourism operators to develop exclusive safari lodges and camps catering for international tourists. Whilst providing an important element of the country's tourism industry, and revenue for ZimParks (which is entirely self-funded), the tourism operators also often play an important role in local anti-poaching initiatives and community and conservation support projects.

There are, however, increasing pressures against plans to grant a raft of new concessions, after a proposal to develop a popular public campsite in the Zambezi National Park received much local opposition.

See: Campaign to Save SiansimbaGains Momentum.

Speaking last week Dr Mangwanya appeared to confuse the issue, outlining plans to 'upgrade' four sites in the Park 'so that the public can go and actually enjoy' them. 

"What we are doing in Victoria Falls - I have had some complaints - we have got about twenty-five picnic sites along Zambezi River. I am planning to upgrade four of these sites to start with and these are Siansimba, and Kandahar, site four and site ten, so that the public can go and actually enjoy it, because it's supposed to be like that. You know, according to our constitution the public are supposed to enjoy some of these facilities that we have, so I am going to do that by the end of the year, I'll have renovated some of these places, revamped them so that they come and see."

On first impression Dr Mangwanya appears to be saying that these existing four sites will all be refurbished for public use. It is understood, however, that private lodge concessions are still being considered at Siansimba and Kandahar, and that new, alternative public camping sites will be developed nearby to compensate for their loss. Presumably the same is planned at picnic sites four and ten.

If this is the case the Environmental Impact Assessment currently underway for the Siansimba Tented Camp should clearly include the identification and consideration of this new public site in addition to the private development, and the proposal reviewed as a whole. The developments must also be assessed in relation to each other and existing private concessions, and this can only be done will full public disclosure of the current plans and with the implementation of ongoing monitoring and assessment of the impacts of existing tourism developments.

Image showing location of existing public campsite. The proposed lodge development is believed to be 
on the opposite side of the Siansimba stream (right side of image) which joins the Zambezi at this point.

It remains to be seen if the fragile woodland belt which extends along the riverside can sustain the development of further sites, as well as all the extra impacts that come with the development of private tourism camps, without significant degradation of their natural and wildlife value, or if these new alternative sites will be of equal value in terms of scenic location and visitor experience.

Further Information/Links

Facebook (8th January 2021) EIA Stakeholder Consultation For Siansimba Tented Safari Camp - Zambezi National Park.

The Green Show (17th February 2021) The State of Our National Parks, Heart and Soul Radio (Facebook link to video broadcast of show).

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs (8th February  2021) Zambezi River Scenes Which Inspired Livingstone Under Threat.

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs (17th February  2021) Campaign to Save SiansimbaGains Momentum.

Friday 19 February 2021

Bad roads negatively impact on domestic tourism

 Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter

THE tourism industry has implored the Government to urgently fix the country’s major roads that have been damaged by heavy rains to ensure smooth domestic travel.

A majority of the country’s roads are heavily damaged with motorists incurring huge repair costs due to potholes while some bridges on gravel roads have been washed away, leaving some communities isolated.

The Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road, a key tourism link, is also in a deplorable state — filled with potholes especially on a stretch of 30km either side of Hwange.

The stretch between Gwayi River and Lupane, as well as between St Luke’s and Mbembesi River and around Insuza are also affected.

There have also been calls to rehabilitate Cross Dete-Binga/Mlibizi Road, which also links Victoria Falls with those coming off the houseboats from Kariba. Bulawayo-Tsholotsho Road, which also connects to the Hwange National Park from the northern direction, is equally in a deplorable state.

Some motorists have expressed concern saying the road is now a ‘death trap’ and driving along it is a nightmare.

Government recently declared the country’s roads a state of disaster with efforts being made to mobilise resources to rehabilitate the road network.

Players in the tourism industry say a bad road network negates efforts to revive tourism and have called for urgent rehabilitation of all key roads.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls chapter chair Mr Anald Musonza said trafficable roads are key in the absence of air transport.

“The road network in Zimbabwe is so important given our drive for domestic tourism and the lack of reliable air services to various tourist destinations in Zimbabwe,” he said.

“More and more of our domestic tourists are self-drives and we need a good road network that allows people to move in an accident-free fashion.

“The current state of our roads begs for urgent attention and redress as we have most of our roads being potholed.

The Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road is super-important to this destination Victoria Falls as it links us to the rest of the country where our local tourists come from. Our appeal as an industry is to have all our major road networks fixed including the one linking our Matabeleland North capital Lupane to Midlands as it gives a shorter link to Victoria Falls.”

The Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road leads to the country’ prime tourism destination and connects Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa through Bulawayo. It is widely used by self-drives visiting the destination. Mr Musonza said in the absence of airline services for tourist movement, a good road network becomes a major enabler of free access and movement of tourists.

He said with the current Covids-19 imposed travel restrictions and closed borders, internal human movement should be encouraged by availing a good road network system. — @ncubeleon

Source: Bad roads negatively impact on domestic tourism (19/02/21)

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Campaign to Save Siansimba Gains Momentum

Campaign to Save Siansimba Gains Momentum

Campaign against the development of the Zambezi National Park campsite, Siansimba, as a private tourism concession gains momentum whilst the deadline for public consultation and comment is extended to 28th February.

By Peter Roberts, 17th February 2021

View of the Zambezi River from the Siansimba campsite (Image credit: Save Siansimba Facebook group).

The Magic of the Falls

Part of the magic of Victoria Falls town is that it not only offers access to the natural wonder of the Victoria Falls, enough to take anyone's breath away, but also easy access to wonderful wilderness and wildlife safari experiences for those unable to pay the 'big bucks' to visit luxury high end safari lodges and camps in more famous National Parks.

For local residents and regional travellers, budget backpackers and small independent groups, the town offers a wealth of options to experience a memorable taste of the African safari - including half-day, full-day and multi-day options for game drives, horse rides, and canoe and rafting trips (above and below the falls, with varying degrees of 'fear factor'!). With elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and several antelope species, plus a wealth of birdlife, there is much to explore and discover.

Within half an hour of leaving your town hotel or lodge you can be driving upstream through the protected Zambezi National Park, watching elephants or listening to the grunts of territorial hippopotamus staking their claims in the river.

Until recently the Park boasted few facilities, with a series of riverside picnic spots and campsites, allowing visitors to stop and break their trips under the shade of the riverine forest that fringes the river or set up tented camps and experience the magic of the bush at night at one of seven dedicated campsites.

Overnight facilities for visitors to the park used to include three dedicated Fishing Camps (Kandahar, Siansimba, and Mpala Jena) with flushing toilet, cold shower and sleeping shelter, and four 'minimum development' picnic camps (Chundu 1, Chundu 2, Chomunzi and Siamunungu) with braai stand and bush toilet, all suitable for groups up to twelve people.

After decades of under investment and management, the camps were all in a rather dilapidated state, hardly encouraging visitors to these scenic spots, with one tourism agent describing them as suiting the more 'adventurous traveller.'

Over the last decade, however, there has been a steady trend in the licensing of these public campsites as private concessions, with tourism companies developing exclusive luxury safari lodges. Ten years ago there were no private concessions within the Park. Today there are four riverside lodges - Victoria Falls River Lodge, Mpala Jena Camp, Zambezi Sands River Camp (located at Chomunzi) and the Old Drift Lodge; and three island camps - Victoria Falls Island Treehouse Lodge (located on Kandahar Island), Chundu Island Lodge, and Tsowa Safari Island.

Zambezi National Park. Photo credit: Peter Roberts

Siansimba River Lodge

In January 2021 it was announced that Siansimba, one of only two remaining public fishing camps within the National Park, was to be developed as a private safari concession, together with an associated development at the pristine wilderness site of Siansimba Springs.

"Tusker Investments (Pvt) Ltd t/a Sansimba River Lodge, a duly registered Zimbabwean company, intends to establish a safari camp in the Zambezi National Park. The company has secured a lease from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, to lease a portion of the Zambezi National Park, measuring about 0.5 km2, located at the confluence of Sansimba River and the Zambezi River. The proposed camp will be mainly for photographic safari, picnics, bush dinners & game drives. The camp will result in the construction of semi-permanent tourist accommodation facilities with a capacity to hold not more than 24 beds. It will also see the establishment of supporting infrastructure such as site offices, ablution facilities, a central communal area which will be used as a dining or cooking area and also some staff quarters, accommodating up to 6 staff. All structures at the camp will be semi-permanent in the forms of tents. The camp will use natural sources of power (solar & gas) for lighting & heating. The ultimate benefit of the project is to promote local & international tourism & at the same time, harnessing the much-needed foreign currency as well as creating employment for the local community.(Facebook, 8th January 2021)

It would leave only one remaining pubic fishing camp available within the National Park, Kandahar, although rumours indicate it is also in the process of being allocated as a private concession (Victoria Falls 24, 5th February 2021), and two public picnic camps - Chundu 2 and Siamunungu - both of which are also surrounded by local rumours of having also been licensed as private concessions.

Unsustainable Development?

The Siansimba proposal has received negative criticism from local residents and small independent tourism operators, who yet again face loosing access to a popular camping site, which they can all use for reasonable park entry and camping fees, and further restricting access to the Park for residents and independent travellers. A Save Siansimba Facebook group has been created appealing for the campsite to remain open to the public, available to all, and a Save Siansimba online petition opened for people to register their support against the development.

Campaign spokesperson Chenai Dodzo said the proposal to lease the site as a private concession should be of concern to all Zimbabweans. They argue that affordable access to National Parks for residents is part of the birth-right and heritage of all Zimbabweans, and it is time to speak up “before it’s too late.”

“This is more about public spaces. There are fewer and fewer spots that we can go to. If Siansimba can go, what’s next? All the public campsites in Hwange, Nyanga, Mana Pools? Where does it stop? The Falls themselves? Zimbabweans should be very concerned.”

At a time when the country's tourism sector is trying to re-align itself to local and regional tourism to survive it seams counter-intuitive that these private concessions should be announced - and which will result in some of the prime visitor sites in the Park becoming exclusive safari camps outside of the financial reach of most local and regional tourists.

“Concessions have a place in our parks - we are not anti-development,”  Dodzo added. “We are simply asking that public campsites remain just that, public. Why should I have to pay $200, $300, $400 a night to go and access something that should be my right?"

"How will we attract local and regional visitors to the Park if these sites are all private concessions aimed and priced at international tourists? How will we educate tomorrow's decision makers and defenders of our natural heritage to support their National Parks and respect wildlife if they have never had the opportunity to experience these places?"

A local stakeholder's organisation, Victoria Falls Enviro Watch, has been campaigning for clearer regulation of private concessions in the Park, calling for a comprehensive management and monitoring plan regarding their benefits and impacts.

"Several lodges have been built in the Zambezi National park (ZNP) over the last few years. The building of these new lodges is beneficial to the park in many ways, but most importantly is the fact that they reduce the amount of poaching, due to more presence in the park. However, there is a limit as to how many lodges the Park can handle, before there is an adverse effect, due to over-tourism. VFEW feels that there is a desperate need for a Zambezi Park plan to understand and deal with this issue. To compile such a plan, there needs to be a professional in-depth study done on the ZNP, which analyses the impact on the environment of more lodges" (Victoria Falls Enviro Watch, February 2019)

Victoria Falls Enviro Watch Chairperson Tony Peel said the Siansimba allocation raised serious concerns.

“This sets a dangerous precedent for further unsustainable development within the park. When will these allocation sites end? The need for a comprehensive Zambezi Park Plan is now greater than ever. The site is already allocated as a public campsite and turning it into an exclusive site contravenes the Constitution of Zimbabwe.” (Victoria Falls 24, February 2021).

Local Victoria Falls lawyer, Paul Connolly, is bringing a lawsuit against the company behind the Siansimba development, Tusker Investments. His application states that the allocation of Siansimba contravenes the constitutional rights of the Zimbabwean public.

Zimparks Public Relations Manager Mr Tinashe Farawo has indicated the licensing of private concessions was essential for an Authority suffering significantly decreased tourism revenues due to the global pandemic.

“If we don’t do that, where will we get resources to look after our wildlife? We have no other avenues of making money... we have no tourists coming to do activities with us, so what they are pushing for is not something that we can say is a community uproar but instead saves to benefit some few individuals.” (, February 2021)

Sunrise in the Zambezi National Park. Photo credit: Peter Roberts

Deadline for Comment Extended 

The original deadline for comments on the proposal has been extended to 28th February.

"Please note that those who still wish to participate in the Stakeholder Consultation exercise for the Siansimba Tented Safari Camp Project you can still participate by sending your comments to or via WhatsApp 0772618130. However, due to low response so far, we have extended our deadline for receiving responses to the 28th of February. This is to give all those interested time and chance to participate. NOTE: Those wishing to participate, you can request for a questionnaire form to fill in your comments and details. Requests should be sent to the above details." (Facebook, 11th February)

You can download the Stakeholder Consultation questionnaire here.

References (February 2021) Uproar over privatisation of campsites in Victoria Falls.

Facebook (January 2021) EIA Stakeholder Consultation For Siansimba Tented Safari Camp - Zambezi National Park. 8th January 2021.

Facebook (February 2021) Comment on EIA notice, 11th February 2021. 

Victoria Falls 24 (February 2021) Battle To Save Last Remaining Public Campsites In Zambezi National Park. 5th February.

Victoria Falls Enviro Watch (February 2019) Zambezi Park Plan. 1st February 2019.

Monday 15 February 2021

Battle to save Zimbabwe’s public campsites

 A fight to save one of the last remaining public campsites in the Zambezi National Park could set a precedent over the future allocation of Zimbabwe’s national parks public spaces.

Siansimba campsite, located on the banks of the Zambezi River, is understood to be among at least eight other sites that have been allocated by Zimbabwe National Parks Management Authority to private companies.

Should development go ahead on this allocated site, Zimbabweans will have only one public campsite left in the Zambezi National Park, just upstream from the world-renowned Victoria Falls .

In nearby Chamabondo National Park, more public campsites are understood to have been allocated.

Victoria Falls lawyer Paul Connolly is now heading to court to fight Dustin Harley’s Tusker Investments over the allocation, claiming it impinges on the rights of Zimbabweans to their own backyard.

Save Siansimba campaign spokesperon Chenai Dodzo says the fight for Siansimba is for all Zimbabweans, who want to ensure their rights to campsites in national parks.

“If Siansimba can go, what’s next? Public campsites in Hwange? Nyanga? Mana Pools? Where does it stop?

“Zimbabweans should be very concerned.”

Dodzo said access to national parks was part of the heritage of all Zimbabweans, and it was time to speak up “before it’s too late.”

“Concessions have a place in our parks — we are not anti-development. We are simply asking that public campsites remain just that: public,” she said.

Those interested in adding their voice to the fight for public campsites can sign a petition.

Source: Battle to save Zimbabwe’s public campsites (14/02/21)

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Hwange Villagers, Chinese Investors In Stand-Off Over Coal Project

 VILLAGERS in Dinde area, Hwange are locked in stand-off with Chinese investors over the foreigners’ proposed coal exploration operations.

The villagers want the operation stopped arguing the Chinese investors are in breach of Zimbabwe’s environmental and customary   laws.

Library image of open-cast mining, Hwange District

They also accuse the investors of failing to produce any documents granting them permission to work in the area nor did they engage the local community for social cohesion.

The Chinese investors operating as Beifer Investments, moved to Dinde to start the work last Friday in Ward 13 of Hwange Rural District, Matabeleland North.

However, villagers fear that, should the project continue, they will be forced to relocate while others will     be exposed to air and water pollution of Nyantuwe River which    provides drinking water for humans and livestock.

They also fear loss of livelihoods, grazing land for their livestock, and cultural heritage sites such as graveyards for  the Nekatambe chieftainship as well as contamination of ritual sites.

According to the Dinde Residents Association, from February 2019 to December 2019, a team of Chinese investors toured the village without consulting or engaging locals.

“In December 2019, the same team brought some lightweight machinery and set up a camp behind one Emelia Mukombwe’s homestead within the village where they intended to start drilling,” the Dinde Residents Association said.

“Locals approached the Chinese, who failed   to produce documents authorising them to explore in the area.”

The Chinese intended to drill 13 holes in a straight line of a 1, 9 kilometre stretch without due care of what was in the path.

The locals ordered them to leave and return with documents granting them permission to work in Dinde.

Thereafter, the Chinese investors returned to Dinde with several officers from the Environmental Management Agency, Hwange Rural District Council, traditional leaders, Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe National Army and a local miner, to coerce the villagers.

On 8 January 2020, a delegation of local community members was dispatched to Hwange Rural District office to establish the legality of the Chinese operation.

Hwange RDC chief executive Mr Phindile Ncube told them the Chinese had a special grant for exploration.

On June 2020, the Chinese returned to Dinde  in the company of Chief Charles Nekatambe, a  Mr. Ncube and Chilota Colliery Company proprietor  Lazarus Kwidini.

The chief, Kwidini and Ncube acted as gate- keepers, and barred interaction between the locals and the Chinese nationals. Kwidini told the villagers the Chinese were working on Chilota Colliery’s concession while Chief Nekatambe intimidated the villagers, threatening to get them arrested.

The Chinese returned to Dinde again on 11 November and 15 December 2020 accompanied by traditional leaders, state security agents and EMA officials.

Dinde is home to thousands of Nambyas and Tongas tribes.

The Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) said the local Dinde community had a right to live in their ancestral land and reserve the right to say reject forced evictions.

“Government must respect the rights of the Dinde community as enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe,” the CNRG said.

“The Chinese investor has violated the country’s environmental laws, specifically, section 97 which spells that an environmental impact assessment must be carried out before prospecting.

“The fact that the community of Dinde was not aware that they fall within a special exploration grant concession is testimony that they were never engaged.”

Source: Hwange Villagers, Chinese Investors In Stand-Off Over Coal Project (09/02/21)

Monday 8 February 2021

Zambia bans use of Victoria Falls bridge by haulage trucks

 ZAMBIA has banned the movement of outbound haulage trucks from using Livingstone-Victoria Falls border post saying the move is aimed at preserving the Victoria Falls Bridge and attracting tourists.

Trucks line up to cross the Victoria Falls Bridge. Photo credit: TripAdvisor

In a recent public notice, Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) said the ban, which comes into effect on March 1, will see commercial trucks from Zimbabwe’s neighbouring country using Kazungula Bridge a move that might increase transportation cost for locals and adversely impact revenue collection by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).

“This notice serves to inform all customs clearing agents and exporters wishing to export goods listed in the 7th Schedule to Statutory Instrument No.115 of 2020 that they should effect the exportation of their goods through the customs ports and aerodromes set out in the Eighth Schedule to the attached Statutory Instrument — (SI 115 of 2020).

“Further, note that goods for export through Victoria Falls Border Post shall only be transported by rail only effective 1st March, 2021,” reads part of the public notice.

It said the SI 115 of 2020 came into effect on 1st January this year.

“You are therefore advised to familiarise yourself with SI 115 of 2020 to avoid unnecessary delays at the borders.”

Speaking to ZBC News last week, ZRA corporate communications manager Mr Topsy Sikalinda said an SI and public notice had been issued to all stakeholders including exporters and those in the transport and logistics, and clearing sectors regarding the ban of commercial trucks from using the Livingstone-Victoria Falls route.

“We are doing this in order to preserve the bridge and apart from preserving the bridge, we also want to bring sanity in the city of Livingstone as you know Livingstone is a tourism capital.

“We have a lot of trucks that make a lot of noise and bring disorder, so we certainly need to bring sanity,” he said.

Economic analyst Mr Peter Mhaka said the ban on outbound commercial trucks from using the Livingstone-Victoria Falls border post by Zambia would reduce revenue collection by Zimra on the Zimbabwe side.

“Not only will the move taken by Zambia reduce revenue collection by Zimra, but this will add (the) costs of importing as using Kazungula border is relatively far compared to using Victoria Falls,” he said.

Zimbabwe and Zambia have cordial political and economic ties. Last year, President Mnangagwa toured the Kazungula Bridge, which links Zambia and Botswana to assess progress on the US$253 million infrastructure that is meant to enhance trade among Southern African countries.

Under the new dispensation, Zimbabwe joined the Kazungula Bridge project across the Zambezi River in phase two of works in 2019. The country joined Botswana and Zambia, and the three countries have agreed to set up a one-stop border post with offices in Zambia and Botswana sides. — ZBC News/Business Chronicle.

Source: Zambia bans use of Victoria Falls bridge by haulage trucks (08/02/21)

More: Vic Falls Border Still Open To Importers, Traders – Zambia Authorities (08/02/21)

Zambezi River Scenes Which Inspired Livingstone Under Threat

Zambezi River Scenes Which Inspired Livingstone Under Threat

Increasing pressures to develop private tourism concessions in and around the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site exclude local residents and independent safari operators and anger conservationists, even threatening the UNESCO status of Africa's greatest natural wonder.

Peter Roberts, 8 February 2021

'Scenes So Lovely'

In November 1855, whilst David Livingstone was escorted downstream by his Makalolo guides, he was enchanted by the beauty of the island studded river, its forested fringes and exotic wildlife, later recording:

“No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” (Livingstone, 1857)

This last passage has often been misquoted in reference to the Victoria Falls, but it was the stretches of the river upstream of the Falls which captured Livingstone’s imagination. Of the Falls he would later write it “is a rather hopeless task to endeavour to convey an idea of it in words” (Livingstone and Livingstone, 1865).

Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls. Photo credit: Peter Roberts

Over the generations that have followed, the riverine forest fringes alongside the river above the Falls have been largely protected from development, their value and importance recognised for wildlife and tourism. Despite the huge growth in international tourism, development of hotel complexes and tourist infrastructure, the riverside sections above the Falls have remained largely protected and undeveloped, and tourism is still promoted to this day on the basis of the Falls environment being natural and pristine, untouched and undeveloped by man, and as Livingstone first saw them.

Increasing Pressures

Recent decades, however, have seen increasing development pressures on both sides of the river, with riverside hotel complexes, lodges and camps increasingly infringing the rivers margins, together with the development of exclusive island lodges and private camps.

In October 2006 Zambia announced a major new tourism development, the Mosi-oa-Tunya Hotel and Country Club Estate Project, planned on a 550 acre riverside concession bordering either side of the Maramba River, the boundary of the core area of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site. The plans included two five-star hotels, an 18-hole golf course, conference centre and a marina on the Zambezi, all a short distance above the Falls. The plans were so controversial that UNESCO insisted on the implementation of a moratorium on all tourism developments within and surrounding the site, pending the agreement and implementation of a joint conservation  management plan. The development, on such a sensitive site so close to the Falls, was quite rightly abandoned as being incompatible and unsuitable with the World Heritage Listing (Roberts, 2017).

The Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage Site Joint Integrated Management Plan was signed by Zambian and Zimbabwean counterparts in 2007 (seventeen years after the original designation of the site). The boundary of the site was defined, including the upstream river corridor extending above the Falls up to Kandahar Island, and 500 metre ‘buffer’ zone surrounding the site and covering the riverine forest fringe. The UNESCO imposed moratorium on development was lifted in 2008 in response to the successful adoption of the joint management plan (UNESCO, 2007).

Map showing the World Heritage Site (thicker red line) and highlighting the location of the Maramba River development (yellow line). Note the thick green border around the core of the site - indicating the 500m 'buffer zone.' Also note the river and riverine fringe extending upstream is also included within the World Heritage Site. From p.39 of the Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya 2007-2012 Joint Integrated Management Plan.

In 2018, however, Zambia quietly approved the development of the ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort’ including two three-floor hotel complexes, three swimming pools, a conference centre, 450 chalets, 18-hole golf course, two river jetties and a slipway on the very same Maramba river site. The development, whilst being significantly down-scaled in the initial development phase, started construction on the site in mid-2020 (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, August 2020).

The new development sits alongside a mosaic of tourism hotel and lodge developments along the riverside, blocking elephant movements and access to the river, from the Royal Livingstone Hotel and Zambezi Sun Hotel development (opened in July 2001, now renamed Avani Victoria Falls Resort), immediately above the Falls, the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa (opened in April 2008) and Zambezi Waterfront lodge and campsite (December 1999).

Private Concessions

On the southern Zimbabwean side large sections of the river upstream of the Falls are protected within the Zambezi National Park. In January 2021 it was announced that Siansimba, one of a handful of public campsites within the National Park, popular with local residents and independent wildlife and fishing tours operators, was to be developed as a private safari concession, together with an associated development at a pristine wilderness site known as Siansimba Springs.

"Tusker Investments (Pvt) Ltd t/a Sansimba River Lodge, a duly registered Zimbabwean company, intends to establish a safari camp in the Zambezi National Park. The company has secured a lease from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, to lease a portion of the Zambezi National Park, measuring about 0.5 km2, located at the confluence of Sansimba River and the Zambezi River. The proposed camp will be mainly for photographic safari, picnics, bush dinners & game drives. The camp will result in the construction of semi-permanent tourist accommodation facilities with a capacity to hold not more than 24 beds. It will also see the establishment of supporting infrastructure such as site offices, ablution facilities, a central communal area which will be used as a dining or cooking area and also some staff quarters, accommodating up to 6 staff. All structures at the camp will be semi-permanent in the forms of tents." (Facebook, January 2021)

The lodge is the latest in a number of new riverside safari camps and lodges developed as private safari concessions located within the Zambezi National Park over the last decade, including the Victoria Falls River Lodge (opened in April 2012), Pioneers Camp (opened in July 2013), Zambezi Sands River Camp (opened in October 2014), Chundu Island Lodge (opened in November 2017), Old Drift Lodge (opened in May 2018), Mpala Jena Camp (opened February 2019) and Tsowa Safari Island (opened in August 2019). 

It leaves only one remaining pubic campsite available within the National Park, Kandahar, although rumours indicate it may also have been allocated as a private concession (Victoria Falls 24, February 2021).

In 2016 there was even a proposal to use Cataract Island as a private concession for tourism trips, which was thankfully dropped by the tourism company involved following widespread negative reaction (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, December 2016).

The Siansimba proposal has received similar negative criticism from local residents and small independent tourism operators, who yet again face loosing access to a popular camping site, which they can all use for reasonable park entry and camping fees, and further restricting access to the Park for residents and independent travellers. A Save Siansimba Facebook group has been created appealing for the campsite to remain open to the public, available to all, and an Save Siansimba online petition opened for people to register their support against the development.

View of the Zambezi River from the Siansimba campsite (Image credit: Save Siansimba Facebook group).

The Environmental Impact Assessment public consultation process, by which time people can submit their views on the proposal, closes on the 15th February.

"On behalf of the proponent, the consultant is requesting all those who might be affected by the project or those interested in the project to send through their comments/ suggestions regarding the socio-economic & environmental impacts of the project. Kindly email your comments to or WhatsApp at +263 772 618 130 on or before the 15th of February 2021." (Facebook, January 2021) 

Please also consider signing the online petition against this development.

[Update - Deadline for comments on this proposal has been extended to 28th February]

Yet Another New Development

Of even greater concern, however, is yet another new proposed development, this time much closer to the Falls and located close to the famous 'Big Tree' along a popular public road known as Zambezi Drive. The riverine forest section here is again protected within the National Park, and includes a 500m conservation buffer zone alongside the river for the specific protection of the forested fringes - and a specific requirement of the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.

A post on a local Facebook group, Victoria Falls Enviro Watch, in December 2020 showed photographs of piles of road building materials which had arrived at the location, and to which a Victoria Falls Enviro Watch spokesperson responded:

"I met with the Area manager of national parks Victoria Falls this morning to ask about the development in front of the Golf course. He has confirmed that the development is a 24 bed semi-permanent tented tree lodge. He confirms that thorough EIA's have been done that address the concerns of the animal corridors. The lodge is unfenced and will allow animals to continue to traverse through that area" (Facebook, December 2020)

The plans apparently include the development of a river-side road, connecting Zambezi Driver upstream to the commercial jetty sites and boat club, running through the riverine fringe surrounding the Elephant Hills Golf Course. This riverine section has been largely untouched and undeveloped to date, and is a haven for bird and wildlife, including acting as an important elephant corridor connecting the riverside section along to Zambezi Drive, and where they access the islands above the Falls and also cross the river at low water to Zambia.

It remains unclear how a 'thorough' Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been completed without any public disclosure and consultation process - part of the legal requirement of an EIA.

Threat to World Heritage Status?

In 2016 the two 'State Parties' to the UNESCO Victoria Falls World Heritage Site, Zambia and Zimbabwe, submitted a new five-year Joint Integrated Management Plan for the conservation and management of the site (UNESCO, 2016). The plans included maps re-drawing the boundaries of the World Heritage Site, reducing the area of the river upstream of the Falls included within the core site, as well as reducing the buffer zone surrounding the site from 500m to 50m, along with other changes. It remains the case, however, that the boundaries of the World Heritage Site can only be amended through due and proper UNESCO procedure, and it is unclear therefore if the current management plan for the site has been accepted by UNESCO in its current form.

The amended map of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site submitted as part of the 2016-2021 Join Intergrated Management Plan. Note the significantly reduced stretch of river corridor included within the site, and the two halves of the map do not even match up correctly. From p.15 of the Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya 2016-2021 Joint Integrated Management Plan.

If the aim of the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing and Joint Integrated Management Plan is to conserve and protect the Falls and surrounding environment from overdevelopment then it is clearly failing. Rather than controlling and regulating development, the Plan appears to have been increasingly used by the State Parties to justify and allow developments rather than to protect and conserve them, with conservation measures weakened, protected areas reduced and development pressures rising, the State Parties appear to be on an inevitable collision course with UNESCO over their management of the site and its World Heritage Site status.

Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls. Photo credit: Peter Roberts


Facebook (December 2020) Post on Victoria Falls Enviro Watch, 15th December 2020

Facebook (January 2021) EIA StakeholderConsultation For Siansimba Tented Safari Camp - Zambezi National Park. 8th January 2021

Livingstone, D. (1857) Missionary travels and researches in South Africa. London.

Livingstone, D. and Livingstone, C. (1865) Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its tributaries and of the discovery of the lakes Shirwa and Nyassa, 1858-1864. John Murray, London.

Roberts, P. (2017) Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls. Zambezi Book Company / CreateSpace Independent Publishing.

UNESCO (2007) 2007-2012 VictoriaFalls/Mosi-oa-Tunya Joint Integrated Management Plan. [pdf, opens in a new window]

UNESCO (2016) Zambia/ZimbabweVictoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya 2016 State of Conservation Report to UNESCO (including 2016-2021 Joint Integrated Management Plan) [pdf download]

Victoria Falls 24 (February 2021) Battle To Save Last Remaining Public Campsites In Zambezi National Park. 5th February.

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs (December 2016) Cataract Island threatened by tourism development. 6th December 2016.

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs (August 2020) - New Hotel Development Threatens Livingstone's Elephants. 12th August 2020.