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Saturday 22 April 2023

Masuwe Special Economic Zone project implementation on course

 The implementation of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone is progressing well, with various infrastructure projects expected to kick-off before the end of the year.

Last month, Cabinet approved implementation of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone project (MSEZP) after a feasibility study endorsed the profitability of the plan.

The Special Economic Zone will comprise amenities such as a four-star hotel with a 5 000-seater conference facility, medical tourism facilities, a golf estate and a shopping mall.

Government outlines the timelines of the project.

Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Honourable Mangaliso Ndhlovu stated, “The next steps that follow are town planning and cadastral surveys that have to be done. Zimbabwe National Geo-Spatial Agency whom we are in talks with to be able to most of the services.”

“Our idea is that we should be able to open that area’s infrastructure investment towards the last quarter of the year. Certainly, by the end of the year if we have serious investors we would want to see them on the ground,” he said.

The development has been met with excitement in the resort city where boundless opportunities lie ahead.

City of Victoria Falls, Ward One Councillor Tonderai Mutasa noted, “The economy of the City of Victoria Falls will certainly improve and the city’s GDP will also go up as a result of this improvement which is coming at Masuwe.”

“The issue of employment is something to take note of because it is going to create employment as many people will get employed on that side of the city.”

“This development will also enhance tourism, I have seen that there will be sporting activities happening on that side, meaning sport tourism will also go up. So this project is indeed something to look forward to.”

The project will be implemented within two years in two separate phases at an estimated cost of 205 million United States dollars.

Phase One entails construction of bulk water supply systems for the project and development of internal water, sanitation, roads and storm water drains at an estimated total cost of 120 million United States dollars.

Phase Two will witness the development of the remaining 930 hectares at approximately 85 million United States dollars.

Source: Masuwe Special Economic Zone project implementation on course (20th April 2024)

Friday 7 April 2023

Zanu PF-linked gold baron loses land tussle

 RULING Zanu PF party-linked gold baron Pedzisai “Scott” Sakupwanya has lost a spirited attempt to evict a leading tour operator from prime land in the resort town of Victoria Falls, after the local council this week voted down his controversial bid.

If the gold baron’s proposal had sailed through, it would have resulted in the eviction of giant tour operator Wild Horizons from the land, to which it holds the rights until 2029.

The award-winning tour operator — known for its exciting sunset cruises on the Zambezi River — has operated from the area for three decades, having become one of the country’s most recognised tourism industry players.

In February, Wild Horizons walked away with two important industry trophies at the inaugural Twalumba National Tourism Awards, which were organised by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.

The Zimbabwe Independent understands that BetterBrands, a firm controlled by Sakupwanya, had planned to construct a US$50 million luxury hotel after the eviction of Wild Horizons.

It is not clear how much Sakupwanya had offered for the land.

But land prices in Zimbabwe’s prime resort city have rocketed since it was declared an international financial centre about a decade ago. In December 2020, it was also granted city status.

Sakupwanya, a flamboyant dealer who frequently courts public rebuke for flaunting bullion and wads of United States dollars on social media, has risen to become one of the country’s biggest gold market players.

He was allegedly unprocedurally given exclusive rights to the land, which is quoted in Victoria Falls council minutes as stand number 1392A.

Victoria Falls City Council did not flight a public notice to dispose of the commercial stand when moves to allocate it to the Zanu PF politician were made as required at law.

The Zimbabwe Independent can report that following a full council meeting this week, Victoria Falls town clerk Ronnie Dube was instructed to advise Wild Horizons that its lease would not be cancelled.

The council’s Health, Housing and Community Services committee chairperson Nkanyiso Sibindi told the Independent that councillors unanimously agreed to uphold the lease of Wild Horizons — which employs over 1 000 staff in the resort town.

“Regarding stand 1392A, which is under lease by Wild Horizons, we agreed as a committee chaired by the mayor that the town clerk should revoke the letter he wrote to Wild Horizons on December 30, giving Wild Horizons three months to vacate,” Sibindi told the Independent.

“He should revoke that letter and give them a new letter stating that they will be there until their lease expires. It also means they also have the right of first refusal to buy that piece of land if council decides to sell.”

A councillor who spoke to the Independent on condition of anonymity said the decision was unanimous.

“Council resolved that the town clerk writes a letter to withdraw the letter of relocation that was served to Wild Horizons on December 30. The decision was based on the understanding that the town clerk was not authorised by council to evict Wild Horizons. The essence of that resolution is that BetterBrands Jewellery’s application to buy that same commercial property is no longer valid. BetterBrands Jewellery has been advised that if they are still interested in building a hotel and wellness centre, they should look for another stand,” the source said.

On December 30 last year, Dube unilaterally directed Wild Horizons to vacate the land.

He said council had decided to repurpose the area.

His move subsequently triggered a fierce dispute between the local authority and Wild Horizons, which stood its ground.

Wild Horizons argued that it had the right of first refusal on any sell of the land, according to documents seen by the Independent.

In February, Victoria Falls City Council mayor Somvelo Dhlamini told this publication that the local authority was legally bound to respect its contract with Wild Horizons.

Two months ago, Dhlamini told the Independent that Dube had “acted unilaterally because he should have written the letter after council had met”.

“This is so because council has the final say,” Dhlamini said.

This week, Dhlamini did not respond to questions sent to him on WhatsApp seeking understanding on the impact of council’s resolution over stand number 1392A.

Questions posed to the Dube had also not been responded to at the time of going to print.

His mobile phone was not being answered.

The Independent wanted to understand whether Dube had written to Wild Horizons informing the tour operator that its contract with the city was still in force.

This publication also wanted to understand if the local authority had formally informed BetterBrands that its application had been turned down.

Wild Horizons chief executive officer Gary Archer also turned down a request for comment.

At the time of going to print, BetterBrands had not indicated how it plans to respond to the council decision.

Sakupwanya did not respond to questions on whether BetterBrands would seek an alternative piece of land.

This is not the first time that Dube has been accused of acting unilaterally in important matters relating to public assets.

Last year, he was accused by council of single-handedly giving Jackelberry Investments the green light to buy Chinotimba Brewery, which is owned by the local authority.

In another dispute relating to the disposal of Victoria Falls City Council assets, which is before the courts, the local authority is being sued by various stakeholders for granting permits to Adage Success Private Limited and Scanner Investments Private Limited to set up commercial interests at the heart of the Victoria Falls rain forest.

The property in question sits on over nine hectares and is believed to be worth millions of United States dollars. Wild Horizons operates a lucrative boat landing business known on the site.

Source: Zanu PF-linked gold baron loses land tussle (06/04/23)

Saturday 1 April 2023

Victoria Falls US$5 car park opens

MOTORISTS, tourism players included, will from tomorrow, 1 April, start paying US$5 per vehicle per day to use the car park next to the entrance of the Victoria Falls Rainforest after the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) who own the land, leased the property.

NRZ leased out idle land including the existing car park in Victoria Falls for development into eco-tourism properties and businesses.

This will be the first car park to have pre-paid parking system in Victoria Falls.

The car park is currently used largely by tourism players’ transfer vehicles and buses carrying tourists to the Rainforest and Victoria Falls Bridge, and hundreds of curio and souvenirs vendors, and dance groups also operate within the premises.

NRZ owns significant amounts of land in and around Victoria Falls City and has leased some to hotels, tour operators, property developers and individuals who have ventured into various kinds of businesses.

One of the leases is Across Zimbabwe Private Limited, an indigenous company formed in 2016 with interests in the lower tourism value chain where it is working with curio vendors.

The company was offered a five-year lease to operate the pre-paid car park and a nearby recreational park.

Responding to questions, NRZ spokesperson Mr Andrew Kunambura said the leases are valid for five years.

He could not be drawn into revealing other beneficiaries, but the Chronicle understands two big tour operators and a property developer have been offered land near the gorges.

“As railways the thrust is to grow the real estates’ portfolio and in this regard we have been leasing out land that has been lying idle for a long time. We have seen people applying to lease land and as a result they are developing it into eco-tourism and some are developing tourism tents for their clients,” he said.

He said the leases being issued are five year leases renewable subject to the lessee paying diligently on the agreed rental among other conditions.

Victoria Falls was designated a Special Economic Zone and Government wants to make the city its conference capital with state-of-the-art facilities and products and activities that meet international best tourism standards to make Victoria Falls a destination of choice.

Cabinet recently approved the implementation of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone project following a feasibility study that found the scheme to be highly profitable.

Masuwe is a piece of land 10km outside Victoria Falls city and is earmarked for development into a new satellite city for the Victoria Falls.

“Across Zimbabwe is one of our clients who have applied for land and wants to do eco-tourism at the park. They also want to preserve the park and keep it as natural as possible,” said Mr Kunambura.

In an interview, Across Zimbabwe Pvt Ltd director Mr Mathew Muleya said vendors will not be evicted from the car park.

He said the company’s objective is to empower citizens with income generating projects.

“We have been leased the Victoria Falls Rainforest car park by NRZ and from April 1, 2023 the car park will be a pre-paid parking zone charged US$5 per vehicle for the whole day,” said Mr Muleya.

“People will not be evicted. This is a business and if we remove those operating there how will we make money and how will the people benefit. It’s only in Victoria Falls where we don’t have pre-paid parking and we are just introducing a concept that is inevitable.”

He said part of the money that will be generated from the car park will be ploughed into pristine Victoria Falls activities and community programmes such as taking care of the elderly at the Old People’s Home.

Mr Mulaye said Across Zimbabwe has also started sprucing up the image of the premises which will see new shops being built for convenience of tourists.

He said Across Zimbabwe aims to promote youths and the elderly in the city of Victoria Falls through employment creation.

“That land should benefit ordinary citizens and we look forward to create space for youths at the car park where they can sell their wares. We have 120 curio vendors operating under Across Zimbabwe at the Big Tree where we are working on repairing the shade and we are also engaging the Victoria Falls City Council to allocate alternative land to vendors that operate illegally at Comesa Market as it is our aim to protect their interests.

Mr Muleya said Across Zimbabwe also supports vendors operating at Truck Stop and has helped the local authority clear illegal vendors form the streets.

He said efforts are being made to engage tour operators on implementation of the pre-paid parking systems.

Employers Association for the Tourism and Safari Operators president Mr Clement Mukwasi said the industry is not opposed to the pre-paid parking system as long as there is clarity on operational issues.

He said tour operating companies would be comfortable with paying over a certain period of time such as quarterly or half yearly.

Source: Victoria Falls US$5 car park opens (31/3/23)