KEEP VICTORIA FALLS WILD

KEEP VICTORIA FALLS WILD
Save Victoria Falls from over-development - click to visit site - www.keepvictoriafallswild.com

Tuesday 28 June 2022

New US$50m riverside hotel development for Victoria Falls

 A MASSIVE US$50 million hotel project is on the cards in Victoria Falls, as the transformation of the prime tourism destination into a world-class city and resort gains momentum.





Victoria Falls council has partnered with a private company to set up the hotel.

Since the coming in of the Second Republic, massive developments have taken place in Victoria Falls despite the dampening impact of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

President Mnangagwa last year commissioned Palm River Hotel, Zambezi Boutique Hotel and Nkosi Guest Lodge, adding to several other new facilities that have been built or extension of existing hoteliers.

Victoria Falls is a strategic destination whose operations have a huge bearing towards the attainment of the Government's US$5 billion tourism economy target by 2025, and Vision 2030 of achieving an upper middle-income society.

Chronicle understands that the new hotel which will have more than 100 rooms and with a US$50 million investment, will soon be constructed on the Zambezi River banks between A'Zambezi River Hotel and Palm River Lodge.

The project is a partnership between the Victoria Falls City Council and project promoter Lamcent Capital, a Harare equity investment company.

A multinational hospitality company that manages and franchises a broad portfolio of hotels and resorts is understood to be part of the deal to manage the facility on a build-operate and transfer arrangement.

Victoria Falls City Council Town Clerk Mr Ronnie Dube confirmed the partnership with Lamcent Capital which won the tender flighted by the local authority to set up the hotel.

He said council is working on a local development plan which should be completed within the next 12 months.

"This is a legitimate arrangement which has Cabinet approval.

From last year to date we have been doing paperwork and agreements in liaison with the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority and signing of official documents will be done soon.

"This is a good thing to happen especially now that we have signed performance contracts. I signed a performance contract to bring investment and the number of projects that are coming through are a key performance indicator," said Mr Dube.

He said the project will create employment for a lot of people and have a spillover effect on council through improved revenue collection.

Mr Lameck Tarupuwa of Lamcent Capital could not be reached for comment.

Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe president Mr Wengayi Nhau said the project is a positive development.

"This is a positive development as it adds to accommodation in Victoria Falls but we are still yet to utilise our room potential.

So, we need to come up with a masterplan so that we address issues of environmental speculation," he said.

There are about 2 000 hotel rooms in Victoria Falls and between 5 000 and 6 000 nationally, according to figures from hotel industry players.

Once implemented, this will arguably become one of the major hotel projects with a complement of more than 100 rooms to be done in Victoria Falls in the last decade, as many of those done are expansion of existing facilities.

Victoria Falls was designated a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and work is underway to operationalise the concept through the Integrated Development Programme/Conceptual Development Framework for the Victoria Falls-Hwange—Binga SEZ whose idea is to integrate economic activities, catapult growth and improve livelihoods in the province.

Government plans to build Masue and Batoka satellite towns as part of the Victoria Falls Development Plan whose corridor comprises Masue Stateland, Batoka City, Mlibizi, Binga Centre, Sijalila, Hwange Hinterland and Gwayi-Shangani resort.

Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister said better days are beckoning for Matabeleland North and the country as a whole.

"We are grateful if we are getting people wanting to invest in our province and doing such projects which develop the province.

"We thank President Mnangagwa and his Second Republic for the Zimbabwe is open for business policy," he said.

There are a number of other multi-million tourism projects that are being worked on in Victoria Falls, with proprietors of Glow Petroleum one of those planning two five-star hotels.


Friday 17 June 2022

Vendors find home at Vic Falls’ Big Tree curio market

 By Tichaona Kurewa

A Big Tree Curio Market concept in Victoria Falls is bearing results after rehabilitating vendors and touts that were allegedly disrupting movement of tourists in the city.

Located in the Victoria Falls National Park near the Big Tree, The Big Tree Curio Market was opened in 2017 with 30 members.




It then grew to over 70 members before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like any other sector, the market was equally battered by the COVID-19 outbreak and is now left with about 30 members as some of them reportedly relocated to their rural homes.

“Business is not the same every day. It keeps changing, but we are surviving. Here and there we have challenges with parks officials, but engagements are underway to find lasting solutions. We get our wares from local artists as well as from the surrounding villages,” said a member of the market.

“I love this market. It has sustained me and my family for some time,” another said.

The Big Tree Curio Market vice chairperson, Trevor Sibanda narrated the benefits of the market to the society.

“We have about six years operating here. We start work at about six o’clock in the morning and finish at about six o’clock in the evening. Sometimes wild animals such as elephants and baboons scatter around our wares during the night and early morning before we arrive. Business is on the upward trend these days and we are managing to put food on our tables, send our children to school and meet other expenses at home. Since we are operating from the bush we co-existing with wildlife. We also wish a shed was erected here to save us from adverse weather,” said Mr Sibanda.

The Big Tree Curio Market chairperson, Precious Goboza described the market as key in sustaining livelihoods.

“Here in the bush we are alone and there is not much competition. We sell among animals and we are able to fend for our families. We are all family members with children to take café of. We started off as individuals and later formed an association,” said Goboza.

Interestingly, the market is also visited by tourists from the bush as witnessed by the ZBC News crew which had to temporarily stop the interview and run away from an approaching elephant.

The arts and culture industry has symbolic value which gives travelers a glimpse of what to expect in any destination living an indelible memory in their minds.

Source: Vendors find home at Vic Falls’ Big Tree curio market (12/06/22)

Read More: Keep Victoria Falls Wild -  Big Tree Curio Market (Zimbabwe)

Thursday 16 June 2022

Vic Falls requires US$14m for water, sewer upgrade

 BY PATRICIA SIBANDA

THE Victoria Falls municipality has proposed a US$14 million budget to upgrade its water and sewer reticulation systems.

Mayor Somvelo Dlamini told Southern Eye that council had already met government officials to discuss the proposed water and sewer reticulation project.

“Earlier on we set out a budget estimate of about US$14 million for replacement of the water and sewer system, which was commissioned way back in 1972. Currently we are working on funds to kick-start the water and sanitation project,” Dlamini said.

A piece of land has been set aside for the project as council sources for funds to kickstart the project before year end.

“We have invited bids and the tender process is still ongoing. But as soon as we get the funds before the end of year, we will begin the project,” he said.

A few weeks ago, Dlamini said  Victoria Falls water infrastructure needed a complete overhaul.

Dlamini said the city had grown over the years and many new developments were taking place resulting in water and sewer infrastructure failing to cope.

Source: Vic Falls requires US$14m for water, sewer upgrade (15/06/22)


Wednesday 8 June 2022

Cataract Island Tours Threaten Victoria Falls World Heritage Status

Researched and written by Peter Roberts

Despite all the focus on increasing tourism pressures surrounding the Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage Site (WHS) following a recent UNESCO monitoring visit to the site (and pending report), the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority have apparently authorised a local tourism operator in Zimbabwe to launch exclusive tours to the previously protected wildlife refuge of Cataract Island, including swimming in a natural pool on the edge of the Falls.

Victoria Falls Cataract Island

Ariel view of Victoria Falls
showing Cataract (left) and Livingstone Islands (centre).

Together with the launch of a new website, www.cataractpool.com and Facebook group, a promotional launch email was sent in mid-April 2022 to tourism agents by Zambezi Crescent (external link, opens in a new window), 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 publicity information)

Sreenshot from Cataract Pool website.

Cataract Island, located at the western end of the Falls, was the last area of the Falls 'rainforest' untouched by tourism footfall and development. This fragile environment, the rich vegetation zone immediately surrounding the Falls and supported by the never ending spray, nourishes a diverse flora of rare 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.

Tours to Livingstone Island became popular in the early days of tourism to the Falls, after the arrival of the railway and construction of the Bridge across the gorge, opened in 1905. Organised tours to the island appear to have ended in the 1960s, before being re-launched by a Zambian operator in the mid-1990s, including swimming in the now famous 'Devil's Pool' on the edge of the Falls.

In contrast Cataract Island has been largely protected as a pristine nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary as part of the surrounding Victoria Falls National Park, with no tourist access allowed - until now.

No Disclosure, No Consultation

The new activity was launched without public or local stakeholder disclosure and consultation, with no Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process (specifically requested by UNESCO in 2017), and it would appear, without duly notifying UNESCO or waiting the Committee's comments on the proposals - despite committing to do so in 2018.

The UNESCO reporting system also provides a platform for the joint management of the WHS by the two State Parties, Zambia and Zimbabwe. By ignoring these reporting requirements Zimbabwean Authorities are also failing to disclose or discuss these new developments with their Zambian partners.

At a recent National Park planning meeting, held with local stakeholders at the Victoria Falls on 9th May 2022, Park representatives declined the opportunity to present further information on the wave of new tourism development proposals currently threatening the Falls and surrounding areas, indicating that "lease allocations will be discussed at a different forum" (ZPWMA, May 2022). This was in the face of widespread criticism from stakeholders on lack of transparency in the allocation of concessions, substandard ESIA reports and limited public disclosure and stakeholder consultation.

It also appears that work has also started on preparing sites for associated developments along Zambezi Drive, immediately upstream of the Falls, before full disclosure or consultation. Scrub and trees have been cleared in preparation for a proposed riverside restaurant development.

An additional proposal for a Riverside Tree Lodge development along the riverine fringe surrounding the Elephant Hills Golf Course also appears to have started work before any public disclosure or stakeholder consultation with the creation of an access road running through this area in 2021.

Read more (external link, opens in a new window): Fears Grow Over Victoria Falls World Heritage Status (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 20th April 2022)

Victoria Falls viewed from western end.


Déjà vu?

During 2011 tourism operator Wild Horizons proposed operating tours to Cataract Island from the south bank, having received permission to use the island for tourism purposes.

"After engagement with various stakeholders by the operator there was a general consensus that this area is part of a World Heritage Site and it was felt that it should be left in it’s pristine state. Wild Horizons then stepped back from the proposed development on the proviso that the island would remain in it’s natural state." (FoVF, minutes of meeting, Nov 2016)

In 2016 Zambezi Crescent first attempted to launch the activity, again without due disclosure or consultation, resulting in widespread negative reaction and an online petition protesting against the development, signed by over 17,750 people.

It also resulted in a letter to the State Parties requesting further details of the proposal:

“The World Heritage Centre sent two letters (dated 23 November 2016 and 25 January 2017) to the States Parties to request information on the proposed hotel and recreational facilities in Livingstone, [and] use of the Cataract Island for tourism.” (World Heritage Committee, 2017)

This was followed by a specific request from the World Heritage Committee for details for the Cataract Island proposal, specifically requesting an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the proposal.

“Also noting with concern the State Party of Zambia’s intention to partner with private investors to construct a hotel and recreational facilities inside the property, further requests the States Parties to clarify the exact locations of all developments and the plans to utilize Cataract Island for tourism, and to submit to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN, an ESIA for each of these projects, including a specific assessment of the impacts on OUV.” (World Heritage Committee, 2017)

In reply, in their 2018 'State of Conservation Report,' the State Parties confirmed that there had been no developments on the ground and specifically committed to duly update the Committee on all future developments involving Cataract Island.

“The States Parties took note of the concern raised relating to the construction of a hotel, recreational facilities inside the property and utilisation of the Cataract Island for tourism. The States Parties therefore, would like to report that there are no developments on the ground and will update the committee in line with the operational guidelines." (State Parties, 2018)

Yet this activity is now being advertised and bookings presumably taken, whilst the promised prior UNESCO notification and ESIA reports do not appear to have been completed, as there has been no public disclosure or stakeholder consultation, required elements of any Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.

This is after Zambia also proceeded with the development of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort without full disclosure to UNESCO or awaiting their comments on the revised development proposals.

Read more (external link, opens in a new window): Cataract Island threatened by tourism development (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 6th December 2016).


Victoria Falls viewed from above Devil's Cataract.


Cultural Significance

The Falls, gorges and even the spray itself are all part of a sacred cultural landscape for the local Leya under Chief Mukini and Chief Sekute, a ‘place of power’ in the landscape. Many of these traditions have undergone a recent resurgence, represented for tourism, although the most significant aspects of these spiritual beliefs, including the use of the two islands along the line of the Falls, appear to be today largely forgotten.

The river is associated with powers of healing, with sacred natural swimming pools on the very lip of the Falls used for cleansing rituals. Water, collected from sacred sites on the river, is used is rain-making and other traditional ceremonies.

At the heart of this belief system was that the eternal spray and ephemeral rainbows of the Falls were the home of ancestral spirits - the ‘mists of the dead.’ David Livingstone and other early visitors recorded that the both of the two islands on the edge of the Falls were used for traditional ceremonies and as a place to make offerings and pay respects to the ancestors.

“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.” (Livingstone and Livingstone, 1865)

Today this deeper spiritual significance of the Falls and islands appears to be largely forgotten. Cultural history and traditions, suppressed for almost a century have received a resurgence of interest. But recent site management reports appear to overlook the cultural significance of these islands. The 2021-30 Strategic Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (State Parties, 2021), prepared 'in-house' by the State Parties, makes no specific mention of their traditional sacred significance - despite extensive sections on the cultural traditions relating to the Falls. The recent 2016-2021 Joint Integrated Management Plan for the site vaguely records:

"On the Zimbabwean side, according to Chiefs Mvutu, Shana and Hwange, there ritual sites mainly on islands along the Zambezi River... Kazeruka (now Garden Island) and the Boaruka Island." (State Parties, 2016)

There are concerns that by preparing their own SESIA report, and by not insisting on comprehensive and independent Environmental and Social Impact Assessments for each development proposal affecting the site, that the State Parties are not assessing the full impacts of these developments on its Outstanding Universal Value, or respecting their obligations under the World Heritage Listing.

Read more (external link, opens in a new window): Legends of the Falls - Spirits of the Falls (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 8th February 2021).

'Keep Victoria Falls Wild' 

Local residents and stakeholders have voiced their opposition to the proposal and an online petition was established at the beginning of May - a month later the petition has received over 10,000 signatories.

A 'Keep Victoria Falls Wild' campaign website (and supporting Facebook Page) has also recently been launched, with background on this and a wave of further tourism development proposals which threaten the wildlife and scenic value of the Victoria Falls and surrounding area.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Zambezi Crescent have declined to reply to repeated requests for comment.

Read More: Keep Victoria Falls Wild

References

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 (p.258). PDF download (external link, opens in a new window)

State Parties (2016) 2016-2021 Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya Joint Integrated Management Plan (external download, opens in a new window).

State Parties (2018) 2018 Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya State of Conservation Report (external download, opens in a new window).

State Parties (2021) 2021-30 Strategic Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report, Victoria Falls World Heritage Property (pdf download [9mb], opens in a new window)

World Heritage Committee (2017) Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2017 (external site, opens in a new window).

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (May 2022) ZPWMA VF-ZNP Planning Meeting May 2022 (pdf download [8mb], opens in a new window)

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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].