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Saturday 30 April 2022

Legends of the Victoria Falls (Part 1): Spirits of the Falls

Legends of the Victoria Falls (Part 1): Spirits of the Falls

By Peter Roberts

This short feature looks at the local cultural traditions and beliefs recorded by Dr David Livingstone and other early travellers to the Victoria Falls - although the records of outsiders to the region, they are the earliest written records which we have of these 'Spirits of the Falls' and important insights into the sacred island shrines on the lip of the Falls - cultural sites which are today largely forgotten.

Part Two now online: 

Legends of the Victoria Falls (Part 2): Place of the Rainbow.

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A Journey Downstream

On 16th November 1855 David Livingstone was being escorted down the Zambezi River by Chief Sekeletu, accompanied by some 200 Makalolo assistants, on his way to the east coast of Africa and the completion of his epic transverse of the continent from west to east coast.

Travelling downstream, Livingstone was told of local belief in a river spirit-serpent (widespread across central Africa):

“The Barotse believe that at a certain part of the river a tremendous monster lies hid, that will catch a canoe and hold it motionless in spite of the efforts of the paddlers. They believe that some of them possess the knowledge of the proper prayer to lay the monster.” (Livingstone, 1857, p.517)

Livingstone described the journey in detail, made both by boat and also walking along the north bank in sections to avoid the rapids, downstream to Kalai Island, about 10 kilometres above the Falls.

“Having descended about ten miles [16 km], we came to the island of Nampene, at the beginning of the [Katambora] rapids, where we were obliged to leave the canoes and proceed along the banks on foot. The next evening we slept opposite the island of Chondo, and... early the following morning were at the island of Sekote, called Kalai. This Sekote was the last of the Batoka chiefs whom Sebituane rooted out... Most of his people were slain or taken captive, and the island has ever since been under the Makololo. It is large enough to contain a considerable town.

“On the northern side I found the kotla [fortress/palace] of the elder Sekote, garnished with numbers of human skulls mounted on poles: a large heap of the crania of hippopotami, the tusks untouched except by time, stood on one side. At a short distance, under some trees, we saw the grave of Sekote, ornamented with seventy large elephants’ tusks planted round it with the points turned inward, and there were thirty more placed over the resting-places of his relatives.” (Livingstone, 1857, p.517-8)


Livingstone had little idea of what lay ahead, other than a note on a rough map he had prepared on his first visit to the Zambezi in 1851: “Waterfall of Sikota - called Mosi-ia-thunya or smoke sounds (spray can be seen 10 miles distance).”

In mid-1851 Livingstone and his travelling companion William Oswell had explored north into the unmapped interior, eventually reaching a large river which Livingstone correctly identified as the Zambezi, and previously known only to Europeans by its lower stretches and great delta on the east coast.

Befriending the Makalolo Chief, Sebetwane, who held power in the region, they were told of a great waterfall some distance downstream, although they did not travel to visit them on this occasion. Livingstone later recorded:

“Of these we had often heard since we came into the country; indeed, one of the questions asked by Sebituane [in 1851] was, ‘Have you smoke that sounds in your country?’ They [the Makalolo] did not go near enough to examine them, but, viewing them with awe at a distance, said, in reference to the vapour and noise, ‘Mosi oa Tunya’ (smoke does sound there). It was previously called Shongwe, the meaning of which I could not ascertain. The word for a 'pot' resembles this, and it may mean a seething caldron; but I am not certain of it.” (Livingstone, 1857, p.518)

In fact Livingstone had spent the following years exploring in every other direction, before eventually, in late 1855 he set off downstream with Sekeletu (Sebetwane's successor) and his Makalolo companions for the east coast.

The rising spray at dawn (Photo Credit: Peter Roberts)

Scenes so Lovely

Guided to the Falls by a local Leya boatman, Livingstone was enchanted by the beauty of the wide, island studded Zambezi River, its forested fringes and exotic wildlife

"After twenty minutes' sail from Kalai we came in sight, for the first time, of the columns of vapor appropriately called 'smoke,' rising at a distance of five or six miles, exactly as when large tracts of grass are burned in Africa. Five columns now arose, and, bending in the direction of the wind, they seemed placed against a low ridge covered with trees; the tops of the columns at this distance appeared to mingle with the clouds. They were white below, and higher up became dark, so as to simulate smoke very closely. The whole scene was extremely beautiful. The banks and islands dotted over the river are adorned with sylvan vegetation of great variety of color and form. At the period of our visit several trees were spangled over with blossoms. Trees have each their own physiognomy. There, towering over all, stands the great burly baobab, each of whose enormous arms would form the trunk of a large tree, besides groups of graceful palms, which, with their feathery-shaped leaves depicted on the sky, lend their beauty to the scene...; but no one can imagine the beauty of the view from any thing 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, p.519)

This last passage has often been misquoted in reference to the  Falls themselves, but it was the stretches of the river upstream which first captured Livingstone’s imagination.

Livingstone was guided to a small island on the very lip of the Falls. Scrambling through vegetation to the sudden edge Livingstone struggled to understand the scene which lay before him:

“I did not comprehend it until, creeping with awe to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambesi, and saw that a stream of a thousand yards [915 m] broad leaped down a hundred feet [30.5 m], and then became suddenly compressed into a space of fifteen or twenty yards. The entire Falls are simply a crack made in a hard basaltic rock from the right to the left bank of the Zambesi, and then prolonged from the left bank away through thirty or forty miles of hills... the most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa.” (Livingstone, 1857, p.520)

Livingstone was perhaps deliberately cautious in his estimates, adding: “Whoever may come after me will not, I trust, have reason to say I have indulged in exaggeration.” He seriously underestimated the scale of the Falls, which span 1,708 metres (5,604 feet or 1,868 yards) and drop up to 108 metres (355 feet).

Of the Falls he would later write that it “is a rather hopeless task to endeavour to convey an idea of it in words” (Livingstone and Livingstone, 1865, p.252).

Above the Falls, seen from Livingstone Island (Photo Credit: Peter Roberts)

Sacred Island Shrines

On this first visit Livingstone recorded that three sites at the Falls were used by the three local Leya chiefs for offerings to the ‘Barimo,’ but identifies only one of these sites - now known as Livingstone Island, recording the following in his 'Missionary Travels' on his first arrival and sight of the Falls from this island on its very edge.

“At three spots near these Falls, one of them the island in the middle, on which we were, three Batoka chiefs offered up prayers and sacrifices to the Barimo. They chose their places of prayer within the sound of the roar of the cataract, and in sight of the bright bows in the cloud.

“They must have looked upon the scene with awe. Fear may have induced the selection. The river itself is to them mysterious.

“The words of the canoe-song are,

    "The Leeambye! Nobody knows

    Whence it comes and whither it goes..."

“The play of colors of the double iris on the cloud, seen by them elsewhere only as the rainbow, may have led them to the idea that this was the abode of Deity. Some of the Makololo... looked upon the same sign with awe. When seen in the heavens it is named 'motse oa barimo' - the pestle of the gods.

“Here they could approach the emblem, and see it stand steadily above the blustering uproar below - a type of Him who sits supreme - alone unchangeable, though ruling over all changing things. But, not aware of His true character, they had no admiration of the beautiful and good in their bosoms. They did not imitate His benevolence, for they were a bloody, imperious crew, and Sebituane performed a noble service in the expulsion from their fastnesses of these cruel 'Lords of the Isles' [Sekute and the other Leya chiefs]

“Having feasted my eyes long on the beautiful sight, I returned to my friends at Kalai, and saying to Sekeletu that he had nothing else worth showing in his country, his curiosity was excited to visit it the next day.(Livingstone, 1857, p.523-4)

To the local Leya this island was known as Kazeruka, whilst the first Conservator of the Falls, F W Sykes, later recorded that it was also known as Kempongo, meaning 'Goat' Island (Sykes, 1905).

View from the Western or Devil's Cataract (Photo Credit: Peter Roberts)

Guiding Spirits

Livingstone had earlier expanded on the concept of the Barimo, which he interpreted as the 'gods or departed spirits' and its relationship to the rainbow, as recorded when witnessing a solar halo.

“Another incident, which occurred at the confluence of the Leeba and Leeambye, may be mentioned here, as showing a more vivid perception of the existence of spiritual beings, and greater proneness to worship, than among the Bechuanas. Having taken lunar observations in the morning, I was waiting for a meridian altitude of the sun for the latitude; my chief boatman was sitting by, in order to pack up the instruments as soon as I had finished; there was a large halo, about 20° in diameter, round the sun; thinking that the humidity of the atmosphere, which this indicated, might betoken rain, I asked him if his experience did not lead him to the same view. ‘Oh, no,’ replied he; ‘it is the Barimo (gods or departed spirits), who have called a picho [meeting]; don’t you see they have the Lord (sun) in the centre?’” (Livingstone, 1857, p.121)

Livingstone documented many references to the Barimo during his travels, identifying a common tradition widespread across the regions north of the Zambezi.

“The same superstitious ideas being prevalent through the whole of the country north of the Zambesi, seems to indicate that the people must originally have been one. All believe that the souls of the departed still mingle among the living, and partake in some way of the food they consume. In sickness, sacrifices of fowls and goats are made to appease the spirits. It is imagined that they wish to take the living away from earth and all its enjoyments. When one man has killed another, a sacrifice is made, as if to lay the spirit of the victim. A sect is reported to exist, who kill men in order to take their hearts and offer them to the Barimo." (Livingstone, 1857, p.434)

When he finally reached the east coast in April 1856, Livingstone met a Portuguese official who appears to expand on various native names for Livingstone's Barimo and the traditional beliefs of the Zambezi Valley - but reminding us of several centuries of Christian Portuguese influence from both east and west coasts of the continent.

“As Senhor Candido holds the office of judge in all the disputes of the natives and knows their language perfectly, his statement may be relied on that all the natives of this region have a clear idea of a Supreme Being, the maker and governor of all things. He is named 'Morimo,' 'Molungo,' 'Keza,' 'Mpambe,' in the different dialects spoken. The Barotse name him 'Nyampi,' and the Balonda 'Zambi.' All promptly acknowledge him as the ruler over all. They also fully believe in the soul's continued existence apart from the body, and visit the graves of relatives, making offerings of food, beer, &c When undergoing the ordeal, they hold up their hands to the Ruler of Heaven, as if appealing to him to assert their innocence. When they escape, or recover from sickness, or are delivered from any danger, they offer a sacrifice of a fowl or a sheep, pouring out the blood as a libation to the soul of some departed relative. They believe in the transmigration of souls; and also that while persons are still living they may enter into lions and alligators, and then return again to their own bodies." (Livingstone, 1857, p.641-2)

Nature's Nursery

Livingstone returned to the island the following day in the company of Sekeletu and several Makalolo.

"Sekeletu acknowledged to feeling a little nervous at the probability of being sucked into the gulf before reaching the island. His companions amused themselves by throwing stones down, and wondered to see them diminishing in size, and even disappearing, before they reached the water at the bottom." (Livingstone, 1857, p.524)

Livingstone spent most of this second day planting and garden of coffee and fruit trees which he hoped would grow under the spray of the Falls.

"I had another object in view in my return to the island. I observed that it was covered with trees, the seeds of which had probably come down with the stream from the distant north, and several of which I had seen nowhere else, and every now and then the wind wafted a little of the condensed vapor over it, and kept the soil in a state of moisture, which caused a sward of grass, growing as green as on an English lawn. I selected a spot - not too near the chasm... but somewhat back, and made a little garden. I there planted about a hundred peach and apricot stones, and a quantity of coffee-seeds. I had attempted fruit-trees before, but... they were always allowed, to wither, after having vegetated, by being forgotten. I bargained for a hedge with one of the Makololo, and if he is faithful, I have great hopes of Mosi-oa-tunya’s abilities as a nurseryman. My only source of fear is the hippopotami. When the garden was prepared, I cut my initials on a tree, and the date 1855. This was the only instance in which I indulged in this piece of vanity. The garden stands in front, and were there no hippopotami, I have no doubt but this will be the parent of all the gardens, which may yet be in this new country.” (Livingstone, 1857, p.524-5)

Fortunately Livingstone's garden of non-native trees did not grow, the hippopotami doing their job as nature's caretakers made sure of that - although one can only wonder what the Leya thought of his 'cultivation' of their sacred island shrine. It is interesting to note that Livingstone specifically mentions hiring a Makalolo 'gardener' to tend the island, rather than one of the local Leya - his Leya boatmen presumably having nothing to do with this enterprise.

Today conservationists and ecologists would also frown at the thought of planting non native species in such a pristine natural wilderness (and indeed great amounts of effort every year go into controlling 'alien' invasive species such as Lantana) - and ugly the carving of initials into the bark of trees is also rightly to be discouraged.

View from Western End showing glimpse of Main Falls (Photo Credit: Peter Roberts)

Return to the Falls

Livingstone returned to the Falls in 1860, revising his translation of the traditional name:

"Mosi-oa-tunya is the Makololo name, and means smoke sounding; Seongo or Chongwe, meaning the Rainbow, or the place of the Rainbow, was the more ancient term they bore." (Livingstone and Livingstone, 1865, p.250)

On this visit he recorded that both the islands along the edge of the Falls were used for traditional ceremonies and as a place of spiritual offering and respect. Cataract Island, also known by its traditional name of Boaruka (or Boruka) Island, signifying 'divider of the waters,' is the second and larger of the two islands which line the Falls, and is located at the western end of the Falls, dividing the Devil's Cataract from the Main Falls.

"The sunshine, elsewhere in this land so overpowering, never penetrates the deep gloom of that shade [in the rainforest].  In the presence of the strange Mosi-oa-tunya, we can sympathize with those who, when the world was young, peopled earth, air, and river, with beings not of mortal form. Sacred to what deity would be this awful chasm and that dark grove, over which hovers an ever-abiding 'pillar of cloud'?

“The ancient Batoka chieftains used Kazeruka, now Garden Island, and Boaruka, the island further west, also on the lip of the Falls, as sacred spots for worshipping the Deity. It is no wonder that under the cloudy columns, and near the brilliant rainbows, with the ceaseless roar of the cataract, with the perpetual flow, as if pouring forth from the hand of the Almighty, their souls should be filled with reverential awe. It inspired wonder in the native mind throughout the interior.” (Livingstone and Livingstone, 1865, p.258)

Livingstone again planted out a garden on the island, noting that the care of trees was a 'civilizing influence.'

“The hippopotami had destroyed the trees which were then planted; and, though a strong stockaded hedge was made again, and living orange-trees, cashew-nuts, and coffee seeds put in afresh, we fear that the perseverance of the hippopotami will overcome the obstacle of the hedge.  It would require a resident missionary to rear European fruit-trees.  The period at which the peach and apricot come into blossom is about the end of the dry season, and artificial irrigation is necessary... When a tribe takes an interest in trees, it becomes more attached to the spot on which they are planted, and they prove one of the civilizing influences.” (Livingstone and Livingstone, 1865. p.259-60)

Despite the failure of these attempts, the island became widely known as Garden Island and a popular destination for early European visitors to the Falls, with several of those that followed in Livingstone's footsteps visiting the island and adding their initials to the 'Livingstone Tree.'

Livingstone again later repeated the cultural association between the rainbow and departed spirits.

“The rainbow, in some parts, is called the 'pestle of the Barimo.'” (Livingstone and Livingstone, 1865, p.542)

It is clear Livingstone identified a widespread cultural belief across the region associating the rainbow with the spirits of the departed ancestors (a variation of a common theme in many cultures), and no doubt the Falls, where the rainbows daily play across the mists of the spray, thus held special significance for the local Leya. It is also evident, from the writings of Livingstone and others, that the islands along the line of the Falls, played a central role in this cultural reverence.

The French Christian missionary Fran├žois Coillard, who visited the Falls in 1878, recorded:

“One can scarcely gaze into these depths for a moment, or follow for an instant the tortuous and restricted current of this river, without turning giddy. The beholder's first impression is one of terror. The natives believe it is haunted by a malevolent and cruel divinity, and they make it offerings to conciliate its favour, a bead necklace, a bracelet, or some other object, which they fling into the abyss, bursting into lugubrious incantations, quite in harmony with their dread and horror.” (Coillard, 1897 p.55)

Catherine Winkworth Mackintosh, Coillard's niece, travelled to the Falls in late August 1903 and recorded:

“At the edge of the cliff... the long grass was knotted into bunches, an act of prayer or thanksgiving for a safe journey on the part of numerous natives towards the Spirit of the Falls.” (Mackintosh, 1922, p.71)


Coillard, F. (1897) On the threshold of Africa - A Record of Twenty Years Pioneering among the Barotse of the Upper Zambezi. Hodder and Stoughton, London Download pdf (opens in new window)

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

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. Download pdf.

Mackintosh, C. W. (1922) The New Zambesi Trail ; a record of two journeys to North-Western Rhodesia (1903 and 1920). Unwin, London. Download pdf.

Sykes, F. W. (1905) Official Guide to the Victoria Falls. Argus Co., Bulawayo.

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Peter Roberts is an ecologist, conservationist and freelance researcher and writer with a special focus on the Victoria Falls region. He is author of several books on the history of the Falls, including 'Footsteps Through Time - a history of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls' [First published in July 2017, revised third edition April 2021]. See the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.

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Cataract Island Under Threat of Tourism Development

The sacred island sanctuary and protected wildlife refuge of Cataract Island is threatened by the recent launch of tourism tours and activities to the island, endangering not only its fragile ecology but also the wider status of the Falls as a World Heritage Site.

Read more: Fears Grow Over Falls World Heritage Status

UPDATE: Online petition launchedKeep Victoria Falls Wild - Stop commercialization of Cataract Island and Surrounding majestic wild areas (Victoria FallsZimbabwe). Please sign and share... 

Friday 29 April 2022

Happy Easter for Vic Falls hotels

Business Reporter

OCCUPANCY levels for Victoria Falls Hotels averaged 50 percent over this year’s Easter Holiday period, the highest in four years, underpinned by local visitors, industry players said.

Domestic tourism is oriented towards a range of local experiences, especially day trips and weekend retreats, as well as business travel to critical customers and suppliers.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Matabeleland chair Anald Musonza said the just-ended Easter Holiday was much busier than last year as movement was not restricted.

“Victoria Falls Hotels averaged around 50 percent occupancy during the Easter period, this huge growth from last year,” he said.

Mr Musonza said this year’s Easter holidays were the best in terms of occupancy levels compared to the past four years, owing to better state of the economy and reduced Covid-19 infections.

“This year was the best year in terms of occupancy for the last four years as the previous years were affected by change of currency coupled with inflation and Covid-19 in the past two years,” he said.

The association had projected that Victoria Falls hotels would record occupancy levels significantly above 50 percent capacity.

“This year’s Easter coincided with Independence holiday and more locals visited Victoria Falls,” Mr Musonza said.

While domestic tourism alone is inadequate to cover the vacuum created by loss of lost international business, more Zimbabweans travelling domestically have the potential to drive the much-needed revenue growth in the sector.

“We still see more domestic tourists as the major anchor of our industry at the moment, with regional and international markets starting to open up and as well as international travel picking up .”

Mr Musonza, on the effect of eased lockdowns said: “Obviously, with the reopening of the border, we also saw quite a lot of self-drive traffic coming in, across the country. We can see the occupancies ranging within 50 percent compared to the prior year during the same period when occupancy was around 20 percent.”

Tourism contributes to poverty alleviation through job creation, encourages entrepreneurship and promotes social cohesion.

The 10th Victoria Falls Carnival slated for April 29 to May 1 2022 is poised to boost occupancies.

With tourism being a key economic driver in the country, experts say it is imperative for policymakers to be informed about the sector’s year-on-year performance, in order to maximise its potential. Whereas the average employment potential of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was 7,1 percent in 2012, Zimbabwe had been employing 8,7 percent of its workers in this sector, reflecting the importance of the industry to national development.

Regardless the impressive employment record, the country still has underutilised capacity in the industry, hence the drive to develop the industry to a US$2 billion industry by 2024. The coming in of the New Dispensation in 2017, resulted in a record US$1,4 billion earnings from tourism in 2018, showing the global goodwill the new Government towed, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.

However, the huge drop to $359 million in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic on travel and tourism.

Under the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy — Vision 2025, the government targets to increase tourist arrivals to over 5,5 million by 2023, as well as growing tourism receipts from US$1 billion in 2017 to US$3,5 billion by 2023.

Source:  Happy Easter for Vic Falls hotels (28/04/22)

Tuesday 26 April 2022

Newly expanded Tsowa Safari Island welcomes back guests

 Following two years of closure and with COVID-19 regulations finally relaxing and flights and tourists returning to Zimbabwe, Isibindi Africa's newest lodge, Tsowa Safari Island, near Victoria Falls in the Zambezi National Park, is not only open for business but has been expanded and given a make-over during the lockdown period. 

"Expansion plans for the lodge were already afoot as covid struck,” says Isibindi Africa Lodges CEO, Brett Gehren, “but we are very excited with the results – an increased living area and four more luxury tents, to offer an idyllic 16-bed Zambezi island escape. The lodge is only 50 minutes from Victoria Falls, but far enough to be out of the noise and hustle around the popular tourist mecca. 

“The mighty Zambezi River has always captured the hearts and minds of explorers, now modern-day explorers can experience the area’s many wonders for themselves. Located next to Matetsi, the lodge has its own access road through the Park and offers guests the chance to immerse themselves in one of the world’s last great wilderness areas.

“As with all our lodges, every consideration has been taken to ensure that all our eco-sensitive structures have minimal environmental impact and blend into the stunning natural surroundings. I feel that if David Livingstone had to walk through Tsowa Safari Island today he would feel right at home,” adds Gehren.

Whether relaxing at one of the two swimming pools watching abundant wildlife pass by, exploring the private island on foot with a guide, bird-watching or embracing the amazing water-based activities such as fishing, canoeing and sunset river cruises, every experience at Tsowa is an exceptional one. It’s also an ideal spot from which to explore the area’s other attractions – game drives and guided walks in the Zambezi National Park, a visit to the magnificent Victoria Falls, as well as day trips to Chobe. 

Almost equi-distant from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Livingstone in Zambia, Kasane in Botswana and the Namibian border, Tsowa is also easily accessible from all South Africa’s major airports.

With four lodges located in some of Southern Africa’s most pristine settings, Isibindi Africa Lodges prides itself on partnering with the communities in which they work. Through the Isibindi Foundation, the group is involved in several community and conservation projects, ensuring that visitors who stay at any of the lodges, are making a contribution to Isibindi’s work and indeed ‘journeying with purpose’. 

Source: Newly expanded Tsowa Safari Island welcomes back guests (26 April 2022)

Saturday 23 April 2022

UAE tycoon to invest US$1billion in Zim

 PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has approved the setup of US$1 billion worth projects by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) headquartered conglomerate, MULK Holdings F.Z.C in a development signifying a huge score following years of consistent reengagement efforts.

Details of the lucrative deals are contained in a letter addressed to Mnangagwa dated April 19, 2022 written by the company’s chairperson, Shaji  Mulk.

Mulk was brought into the country by Dubai-based Zimbabwean businessman Tempter Tungwarara.

“We sincerely thank you for the wonderful support accorded by you during my current visit to Zimbabwe and all the projects awarded by you to Mulk Holdings international FZC,” the letter reads.

“We list below the brief project details for your perusal and would be grateful if you can issue a formal letter of confirmation so that we can move forward towards execution,” the letter said.

The company intends to launch a project which will run T10 and T20 Cricket Leagues under which the company will enjoy rights to own and execute various formats of cricket leagues in Zimbabwe.

The project will be closely implemented in partnership with the Sports Ministry and is expected to kick off in October 2022.

The second  project dubbed  MULK E HEALTH – E HOSPITAL SERVICES  will provide  world class health services from the comfort of citizens homes and reach every corner of Zimbabwe with the  launch expected for September 2022.

Project three  will see the establishment of Harare’s  first BlockChain City which will attract thousands of companies in the space of Block Chain in the land allotted next to the Parliament.

“As this can be a fast track project which can start within three to four months and building the city would take time, we request your excellency to allot any unused existing Government building which can be used temporarily until the new city is built,” said Mulk.

The fourth project tabled for Victoria Falls proposes to set up a dedicated company named ZIM MULK SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY in Victoria Falls will build on the land allotted by Mnangagwa where a state of the art cricket stadium with focus on high end real estate and on ground casino and sports betting.

Mulk said the company will also invest in other areas close to the Victoria Falls and focus on increasing tourism in Victoria Falls by upgrading and turning the existing government land and buildings using Alubond technologies to re-build as the nightlife destination for tourists.

Some ideas all within  Victoria Falls five kilometres radius will include  Victoria Falls Viewing Gallery Platforms  for tourists to experience the thrill of the falls much closer with restaurants, night clubs, casino, world class spas, health retreats, new attractions like Dubai’s Global Village, Exhibition Centers, Water Park, Kids Play Zones, World attractions and Online sports betting.

Under the fifth project the Home Affairs Ministry has designed and approved digital integration of various services like the traffic control Systems, Smart Gates at Airports and various other services in Zimbabwe.

Mulk Holdings and its associates expressed willingness to invest on a BOT basis for these projects if the rights are granted for 25 years.

“The company has appointed  Paul Tempter Tungwarara of Prevail International (Prevail Group) as the representative of Mulk Holdings in Zimbabwe.

“The total investments into Zimbabwe for the above-mentioned projects spearheaded by Mulk Holdings International along with the other investors would be over one Billion US Dollars.

“We look forward to receiving the confirmation on above projects and an exciting start to a new business relation,” said Mulk in the letter.

The deal comes shortly after Mnangagwa’s visit to the UAE in March this year and comes in the midst of broad economic reforms which have seen the decline of both monthly and yearly inflationary levels.

Source: UAE tycoon to invest US$1billion in Zim (22/04/22)

Wednesday 20 April 2022

Fears Grow Over Falls World Heritage Status

(20th April 2022)

There are increasing fears that the Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage Site (WHS) could be close to being placed on UNESCO's 'List of World Heritage Sites in Danger' following increasing tourism development pressure surrounding the natural wonder - leading to a fact finding visit from a UNESCO monitoring mission early this year - and the recent launch of tours to a previously pristine protected area, Cataract Island.

The core area of the Victoria Falls, covering some 6,860 hectares and including the river corridor upstream and downstream of the waterfall on both sides of the river, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1989. The Victoria Falls majority of the area of the WHS is protected under National Park designation on both sides of the river and managed by the respective national park authorities of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Victoria Falls, viewed from the western (Zimbabwe) end, showing 
Devil's Cataract in foreground (lower left), Cataract Island (centre left) 
and the Main Falls (centre right) [image credit: Peter Roberts]

Monitoring Mission

The joint UNESCO/IUCN monitoring mission, which visited in February this year, follows the recent development of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort on the Zambian side of the river, a short distance upstream of the Falls. A proposed development on the same sensitive site in 2006 also resulted in a monitoring mission and the subsequent implementation of a moratorium on all development within the WHS and surrounding areas until appropriate management plans and procedures were in place to adequately administer the site.

The planned development received widespread negative publicity before being ultimately rejected by authorities as being unsuitable and dropped by the developers. The new project appears to have gone ahead without UNESCO being fully informed or aware of the scale of the development on the ground, which commenced in mid-2020.

The World Heritage Committee, in its July 2021 Decision Report (44 COM 7B.177) concluded:

"[The Committee] Notes its utmost concern over the increasing tourism infrastructure development pressure within and around the property, including the start of the construction of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort Hotel within the buffer zone of the property, contrary to its request to abandon the proposal, [and] urges the States Parties to halt further activities until further consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN has taken place, all relevant Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) have been submitted to the World Heritage Centre and reviewed by IUCN, and the potential impacts of the infrastructure developments on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property have been adequately assessed."

Development of the new Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort has continued apace and is due to open by the end of 2022.

Over 12,500 people signed an online petition voicing opposition to the development.

Read More: New Hotel Development Threatens Livingstone's Elephants (12/08/20)

Another key aspect of the mission was to clarify the borders of the WHS, after the State Parties (Zambia and Zimbabwe) presented a significantly revised map of the site in their 2016-2021 Joint Management Plan, attempting to remove a significant section of the upstream river corridor.

In a recent media interview Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo, confirmed the remit for the visit:

"The main reasons which triggered the... visit and which were subsequently adopted as Terms of Reference for the same Mission were:

(i) To assess the tourism developments in the core zone, buffer zone as well as surrounding areas - of particular concern being the Mosi Resort Hotel in Zambia,

(ii) To assess the potential impacts of the Batoka Gorge Hydro Power Scheme..,

(iii) To ascertain and verify the World Heritage Property boundaries,

(iv) To discuss the policy, legal frameworks that govern developments in the core zone, buffer zone as well as surrounding areas among other issues."

Danger to World Heritage Status?

Mr Farawo also attempted to down-play fears expressed in media news reports following the mission visit that the site may be 'delisted,' claiming them as baseless.

"The assertion that there are fears that Vic Falls could be delisted as a World Heritage site is baseless and marred by gross speculation."

Strictly speaking, of course, he is correct - there is no immediate threat of the Falls being 'delisted' as a World Heritage Site. What he doesn't acknowledge, however, is that there is a very real threat of the Victoria Falls being imminently placed on UNESCO's 'List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.'

Mr Farawo declined to expand on his comments for this article and when specifically asked if he felt there was a risk of the Falls being placed on this list.

Concerns remain that the 'State Parties,' Zambia and Zimbabwe, are continuing to fail in their commitments to inform UNESCO of new developments before they happen (for example, the newly launched Cataract Island activity, see below); that tourism pressures are negatively impacting on the scenic value and ecological fabric of the Falls and surrounding areas; and that if developments continue to be approved without due process, UNESCO will be left with no option other than to add the Falls to their 'Danger List.'

In his media interview Mr Farawo referred to two other recently proposed developments on the Zambian side of the river as evidence of the effectiveness of the management of the site, indicating that they had been rejected by authorities:

"Some cases of interest that show that State Parties are truly preserving the... [site] include the turning down of the glass bridge across the falls, [and] the erection of the ferries wheel in the core zone." 

The fact remains, however, that these and other unsuitable proposals continue to be regularly presented, and even represented, by the State Parties to UNESCO when plainly not appropriate to the site.

A New Threat

Despite all the focus on increasing tourism pressures and pending UNESCO mission report, a local tourism operator in Zimbabwe chose this month to launch a new activity, presumably authorised under agreement with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, promoting exclusive tours to Cataract Island and swimming in a natural pool on the edge of the Falls, similar to the tours offered to Livingstone Island from the Zambian side of the river.

Together with the launch of a new website,, a promotional launch email was sent to tourism agents by Zambezi Crescent, operators of the Victoria Falls River Lodge:

"A fully guided experience including a short boat trip across the calm waters of the channel to Cataract Island. Once disembarked, a guided tour of the Island follows, including time to explore the new section of Victoria Falls that is busy forming. Enjoy plenty of free time for optional swimming in the warm, clear pools on the face of the falls, or to explore some of the most spectacular scenery that nature has to offer." 

Cataract Pools, on the lip of the Falls [image credit:]

Cataract Island, a the western end of the Falls, is, or should we say was, the last area of the 'rainforest,' the rich vegetation zone immediately surrounding the Falls and supported by the never ending spray, untouched by tourism. This fragile environment nourishes a diverse flora of ground plants and shrubs, highly vulnerable to trampling and disturbance. It is also, significantly, the point where the erosion of a new gorge and waterfall is beginning to form in the ongoing geological evolution of the Falls. It is not only, therefore, of key ecological importance to the Falls as we see them today, but also in the ongoing process of the development of a future rainforest zone alongside a new waterfall - an island Ark containing the species diversity to propagate the future Falls. 

There are also concerns that the activity will add to the numbers of tourists visible on the edge of the Falls from the main view points in the Falls 'rainforest,' as is already the case with tours to Livingstone Island and the 'Devil's Pool,' negatively impacting on the visitor experience to the Falls for tens of thousands of visitors every year.

In 2011 another well established local tourism operator considered launching the same tour and activity, but after strong opposition wisely decided that the island was too ecologically sensitive to sustain tourism activities and should remain a pristine reserve. In 2016 the company currently attempting to launch the Cataract Pools activity had their proposal rejected over concerns on the sensitivity of the site (including another online petition, signed by over 17,750 people). 

Read More: Cataract Island threatened by tourism development (06/12/16)

The Victoria Falls - showing Cataract Island (lower left)

The new proposal, which is rumoured to include the development of a restaurant facility mid-way along Zambezi Drive, at the point from where boats will take tourists to the island, was launched without public or local stakeholder consultation, with no public Environmental Impact Assessment disclosure, or it would appear, without duly notifying UNESCO - for if they had they would surely have been informed that it was an unsuitable proposal for such a critical area of the World Heritage Site.

Zambezi Crescent have been asked to clarify the status of their cataract pools activity, but at the time of publishing this article have yet to reply.

It remains to be seen if the activity and associated developments will be allowed to continue - if they do there must be serious concerns over not only the future of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Listing, but also the ability and effectiveness of UNESCO to protect and preserve our World Heritage Sites.

The mission will present its final report to the 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, scheduled to be held in Kazan, Russia in June 2022.

Weblinks / Further Information

Cataract Pools 

Zambezi Crescent 

UNESCO World Heritage Site Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls 

Cataract Island threatened by tourism development (06/12/16)

New Hotel Development Threatens Livingstone's Elephants (12/08/20)

Radisson Hotel Group announces its arrival at Victoria Falls, an UNESCO world heritage site (20/04/21)

Peter Roberts is a freelance researcher and writer with a special focus on natural and human history of the Victoria Falls. He is author of serval books on the history and human development of the region, including 'Footsteps Through Time - a history of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls,' [].

UPDATE: Online petition launched: Keep Victoria Falls Wild - Stop commercialization of Cataract Island and Surrounding majestic wild areas (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe). Please sign and share...

Read More: Keep Victoria Falls Wild


Tuesday 19 April 2022

Biogas digesters reduce deforestation in villages around Victoria Falls

 When Chumani Sibanda-Ncube was a little girl, she was told it was the woman’s job to cook, clean, collect firewood and lug water back from the borehole — in short, to keep the house running.

In the village of Ntabayengwe, seven kilometres from Victoria Falls, this rigid division of gender roles is slowly changing.

“I’ve never imagined myself cooking,” says Sibanda-Ncube’s husband, Lovemore Ncube, grinning.

In Ntabayengwe, home to just over 1,000 people and where Ncube has lived all his life, men build and maintain the thatched huts in which families live, put up residential boundaries and work as herders.

Residents considered the kitchen — and all the responsibilities that come with it, including collecting firewood — to be the woman’s domain.

But with the installation in 2017 of a biogas digester, which uses cow dung to produce energy, Ncube no longer waits for his wife to return home from work.

He also prepares food for the children in the morning.

“When I get hungry, I can easily cook some food for myself — and sometimes for the family,” he says.

The contraption quietly driving this change — and simultaneously helping reduce deforestation in the area — is a dome-shaped device affixed to the ground just outside the house.

A pipe snakes in through the kitchen window, connecting the device to the family’s two-plate stove.

Biogas — the mixture of gases produced through the breakdown of organic matter such as agricultural and municipal waste — is a renewable energy source.

Over the past decade, a number of initiatives — some led by the government in partnership with international development organizations and others by local nongovernmental organisations such as the Jafuta Foundation — have introduced biogas digesters in rural Zimbabwe.

In the rural parts of Victoria Falls, biogas also is encouraged as a means of reducing deforestation near one of the country’s biggest tourist towns.

The biogas digester costs US$1,000, but Ncube says they didn’t have to pay for it.

The Jafuta Foundation, a local nonprofit that works with rural communities on issues of education and conservation, installed it free of charge.

When revved up the first time, the digester requires 400 kilogrammes of cow dung to begin working.

After that, however, dung from a single cow can keep it running for years.

Ncube says he shovels dung into the digester about once a month.

A family uses four trees’ worth of firewood a month on average, according to the Jafuta Foundation.

Those who use biogas have reported an 85 percent reduction in wood consumption, says Sipho Moyo, a project manager at the organisation.

Biogas has numerous uses.

Johannes Nyamayedenga, a spokesperson for the Rural Electrification Agency, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, says the agency has no data on how many rural households are currently electrified, but in 2012 the percentage stood at 13 percent.

“Biogas is one of the ways in which the country can use alternative sources of renewable energy because it uses easily accessible products such as organic matter,” he says.

In 2019, about 65 percent of rural households relied on firewood to run their homes — one reason for the country’s steep deforestation rate of about 262,000 hectares a year, says Violet Makoto, spokesperson for the Forestry Commission.

“The use of biogas, especially in rural areas in the country, has greatly reduced the amount of deforestation,” she says.

Makoto didn’t comment on deforestation rates in specific areas of the country.

Dry dung has long been used as a fuel in other parts of the world.

In Zimbabwe, prior to the introduction of biogas digesters, it was primarily used to layer the floors of huts.

This would keep homes warm in winter and cool in summer.

As of 2017, according to research by the Bindura University of Science Education, 711 digesters were installed across Zimbabwe, with 91 percent of them installed in households, where biogas is primarily used for cooking.

One reason for the slow rollout of the technology, the research notes, is the high cost of installation.

Nyamayedenga, the electrification agency spokesperson, didn’t provide more recent figures or comment on costs because the agency installs digesters only for institutions such as boarding schools and mission hospitals, not for individuals.

The agency has installed digesters at 11 institutions across Zimbabwe.

Households that wish to install digesters have to pay market price, says Nyamayedenga, adding that the government doesn’t regulate private providers.

As a result, most families making use of biogas digesters received them free of cost from nongovernmental organizations such as the Jafuta Foundation.

Of Ntabayengwe’s 132 households, 20 use biogas digesters.

“There was some resistance in the beginning as some villagers did not understand the concept,” Ncube says.

“Some would say they cannot eat food from cow dung. But they have since embraced the concept.”

As the smoke from wood fires has abated, respiratory problems in the village have also decreased, Ncube says

Biogas helps overall health, says Fungai Mvura, district medical officer, even if the decrease in firewood doesn’t have a noticeable impact on the number of respiratory illnesses.

“The biogas concept is good for the health of the community because it is considered clean energy compared to firewood, which produces smoke that is harmful.”

Women’s work, in particular, has become easier.

Sharon Tshabalala, who installed a biogas digester in 2020, says she no longer has to haul home firewood during the rainy season.

“It has become easier to prepare breakfast for the family in the morning, especially for my grandchildren who go to school,” she says.

Dorcas Mabhena, Ntabayengwe’s village head, agrees that the division of labor in some homes has shifted — but only a little.

“Gender roles are almost engraved in one from childhood,” she says. “It could take years for one to shift from that.”

Moyo points to another reason biogas digesters haven’t been fully embraced.

“It is difficult to totally convince the older generation to do away with making a fire in the home due to cultural belief,” he says.

In sub-Saharan African tradition, a hearth represents life.

Along with the kraal, where a family’s cattle are kept, and the silo, where harvested maize is stored, it’s one of the pillars of the homestead, says Ncube.

In addition to the biogas digester powering his kitchen, he has a small fire crackling in his home. – Global Press Journal

Source: Biogas digesters reduce deforestation in villages around Victoria Falls (19/04/22)