KEEP VICTORIA FALLS WILD

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

Friday 12 July 2024

New Report raises questions over management of Victoria Falls World Heritage Site

A new independent report calls for strict action on illegitimate tourism developments within the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site and highlights serious questions over the wider management of Site in advance of the 46th Session of the World Heritage Committee, to be held in New Delhi, India over 21-31 July 2024.

The 2024 Victoria Falls State of Development Report (3.8mb), produced by Keep Victoria Falls Wild, calls for action on tourism developments which have been constructed in the 'no new development zone' (known as the 'High Ecologically Sensitive Zone' or HESZ) of the World Heritage Site in recent years and raises serious concerns over the management of the Site. 

"We recommend strong and specific action on recent developments in the HESZ, including the cancellation of approvals, removal of infrastructure and return of sites to their natural state (Baines Restaurant and Rock Pool); the cancellation of agreements relating to yet to be developed projects in the HESZ (Kandahar Camp and ‘Tree Lodges’ proposals); full review of existing developments within HESZ and cancellation of lease agreements if found to be in breach of Park or other regulations (Victoria Falls River Lodge, Old Drift Lodge, Zambezi Camp 'redevelopmets' and the Lookout Cafe). We also highlight what be believe are to be serious and significant shortcomings in the management and protection of the WHS HESZ relating to the River Jetty Site Section, Transport Corridor and Buffer Zone which we believe need to be addressed in the new Joint Integrated Management Plan process."

KVFW 2024 State of Development Report 


Read More

Download the Keep Victoria Falls Wild 2024 State of Development Report (3.8mb) 

Read more on all these issues and developments on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website.

Follow our Facebook page Keep Victoria Falls Wild for latest news and updates.



Victoria Falls

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Zimbabwe Park Authority release new Zambezi/Victoria Falls National Park General Management Plan

Keep Victoria Falls Wild, 6th July 2024. 

For immediate Release. No Embargo.

A new ten-year Zambezi/Victoria Falls National Park General Management Plan (2024-2034) was approved in April 2024 (ZPWMA, 2024). The Plan is publicly available on the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority website (or direct download here [4.8mb]).

The Plan presents a new map showing a proposed revised WHS boundary and management zonation, due to be presented in the new Joint Integrated Management Plan (JIMP) for the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site (and which was due for submission to UNESCO by the end of June 2024).

Map showing proposed (amended) boundary and management zones for the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site

Map showing proposed (amended) boundary and management zones for the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site. From 2024 Victoria Falls/Zambezi National Park Management Plan, p.22. (click image for larger view).

The map confirms upstream riverside fringe as being in the red zone Highly Ecologically Sensitive Zone (HESZ) which prevents all new development. This is a major win for our campaign against recent developments in this zone. For the last few years Park Authorities, and the Director-General himself, have been claiming this area was part of the Medium ESZ (MESZ) and which therefore allowed suitable tourism development - as evidenced in the Director General's letter of approval for the Baines Riverside Restaurant development (ZPWMA, June 2021a, download here) which states:

"The construction of a semi-permanent restaurant is provided for in the Joint Integrated Management Plan since the proposed development area is under the Medium Ecologically Sensitive Zone." (ZPWMA, June 2021)

Dr F U Mangwanya’s letter refers to the 2016 JIMP document in support of this claim. The 2016 JIMP map and text is highly ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so) but, on close inspection, both show the area of the riverine fringe above the Falls as within the red/HESZ zone (KVFW, 2023a; 2023b). The letter also refers to an internally produced supporting document (ZPWMA, June 2021b, download here) which also incorrectly assumes the area to be within the MESZ, as does the supporting EIA document for the development.

There needs to be a thorough investigation into how such a misinterpretation can have been made without being recognised and prevented by other parties (they appear to have all accepted the developers claim that the site is within the MESZ). Steps need to be taken to ensure that such errors of judgement cannot be made again and that ‘no development zones’ remain exactly that, permanently, and not just for the duration of short or medium term management plans or until someone in a position of authority changes their mind (or makes a mistake).

Now that all parties agree that the area is in fact within the HESZ 'no new development' zone it leaves the obvious question as to what is to be done about the recent construction of the Baines Riverside Restaurant (opened in mid-2023) and Zambezi Drive 'Rock Pool' bar (also established during 2023) developments along the riverine fringe immediately upstream the Falls, and the proposed Riverside Tree Lodge and Kandahar Camp developments where concession agreements have been again been approved by Parks in areas supposedly protected under the HESZ and where development has yet to begin on the ground.

The area of all these developments is identified in the 2007 and 2016 JIMP documents as being within the HESZ. According to the new map, and presumably new JIMP, the area remains in the HESZ. As these development concessions have been awarded in contravention of the agreed protections for the Site we believe the lease agreements made by the Park Authority with the relevent third parties must be immediately terminated, all trace of recent developments, where present, removed and the areas returned to their previous natural state. Anything short of this will be a mockery of National Park regulations, legal protections and World Heritage Site status.

It also raises question marks over longer standing developments such as the Victoria Falls River Lodge and Old Drift Lodge, both of which were constructed within the Zambezi National Park since this area was first identified as being within the WHS HESZ in the 2007 JIMP (opened in 2012 and 2018 respectively). The Victoria Falls River Lodge in particular has seen extensive subsequent expansion. These developments need to be reviewed against their original EIA approvals and concession agreements and current lease periods must not renewed if they are found to have exceeded or breeched these terms. No further expansion or development should be allowed. If leases are suspended sites must be returned to previous natural state.

There is also the issue of the recent redevelopment of the Zambezi National Park Zambezi Camp Lodges, recently undertaken in partnership with the operators of the Victoria Falls River Lodge, Zambezi Crescent. The redevelopment has seen the construction of new infrastructure along the riverbank, again in contravention of the HESZ protected status of this area. Full disclosure of these developments are needed and impacts reviewed. If the developments are found to be breech of Park or other regulations approval should be withdrawn and action taken to remove offending structures.

And downstream from the Falls there is the Wild Horizons Lookout Cafe, again within what is now confirmed as the HESZ and which has seen significant expansion of its development footprint in recent years. Elements of this development appear to also infringe National Park regulations on permitted development and use of permanent materials. Again consideration should be given to terminating lease concession at end of current period if this is found to be the case and the site returned to its natural state.

Dr F U Mangwanya, the Director-General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, needs to explain how such a fundamental and significant mistake as mis-identifying part of the HESZ could be made and take immediate action to rectify the impacts of this error. Dr Mangwanya, who describes himself on his Linkedin profile as a 'passionate conservationist,' has overseen more damage to the natural environment of the immediate Falls environment than has been witnessed in the last fifty, if not hundred, years. His name will now be recorded as the man who approved tourism developments within the Falls highly protected 'no new development' area. And once he has rectified the damage done during his tenure his should reconsider his position.

References

State Parties (2007) 2007-2012 Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya Joint Integrated Management Plan (external download, opens in a new window).

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

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (June 2021a) Application (former Railway Water-Pump Station, Victoria Falls Long Term Lease. Letter from Dr F U Mangwanya, Director-General, ZPWMA, 22 June 2021 (jpg download [312 kb], opens in a new window).

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (June 2021b) Guidelines for the Establishment of New Semi-Permanent Structures in the Mosi-os-Tunya/Victoria Falls World Heritage Property (pdf download [2.88 mb], opens in a new window).

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (2024) Zambezi/Victoria Falls National Park General Management Plan (2024-2034). April 2024. (pdf download [8mb], opens in a new window)

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Focus On Victoria Falls As Unrealistic Government Target Drives Unsuitable Development Rush

4th June 2023

Keep Victoria Falls Wild

Just over a week after President Mnangagwa suddenly and very publicly unveiled to the world the foundation stone for a 10,000-steat international cricket stadium at Victoria Falls, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority has quietly published their Annual Tourism Trends and Statistics Report for 2023 (available online here). The report shows that while the country's tourism sector is well on the way to recovery after the lows of the last few years and continuing impacts from the global pandemic, ambitious government plans to develop of US$5 billion tourism economy by 2025, a core part of the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy, are looking increasingly unrealistic. Meanwhile the Victoria Falls, the country's primary tourism destination, faces unprecedented development pressures which threaten their status as a World Heritage Site.

Zimbabwe's Tourism Sector on Road to Recovery

National tourist arrivals for Zimbabwe rose by 54% in 2023 compared to 2022, with a total of 1,602,781 reported arrivals. Immigration data, however, recorded just 114,725 actual tourist visitors (with 445,573 identified as 'in transit,' 650,109 visiting friends and relatives and 282,681 on business). 


Visitors from overseas markets recovered to pre-pandemic levels with 469,240 overseas arrivals, although visitors from African countries reached 1,133,541, significantly down on pre-pandemic highs of around 2,000,000 visitors. Arrivals from European countries reached 208,710, while arrivals from North America reached new highs of 121,953 and arrivals from Asian markets rose to 99,638.

The Report indicates that Zimbabwe's tourism sector is on course to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, levels which saw over 2,000,000 national arrivals annually between 2015 and 2019 with highs of over 2,500,000 in 2018. 

Government Target of US$5 Billion Tourism Economy by 2025 increasingly unrealistic

The tourism sector was reported to have generated US$1.16 billion to the national economy, against US$0.91 billion in 2022. Investments in the tourism sector decreased to US$172.2 million from US$312.5 million recorded in 2022. The country's increasingly unobtainable ambitions for a US$5 billion tourism economy by 2025 would mean a doubling of the sector in 2024 and again in 2025, and only then reaching US$4.64 billion.


The drive towards the ambitious US$5 billion target has seen increasing tourism development pressures threaten the fragile natural environment if the Victoria Falls, the country's prime tourism destination, while nationwide the country's once thriving tourism sector suffers from poor transport infrastructure and lack of investment.

Victoria Falls development threatens World Heritage Status

The race to develop increased tourism capacity has seen the approval of numerous new hotel developments, including the planned Victoria Falls Resort, with 160-rooms, including six river-facing chalets, with seven specialty restaurants, leisure facilities and high-end shops all squeezed into a 3.2 hectare riverside site sandwiched between the A'Zambezi and Palm River Hotels. 

The river-frontage along this section is part of the Victoria Falls National Park, and Victoria Falls World Heritage Site, and the site itself is subject to restrictions on development as part of the surrounding 'Buffer Zone.' The proposals are therefore totally out of scale and inappropriate to the sensitivity of the site and will no doubt add to concerns over the future of the Falls' World Heritage Site status.


Along with several other unsuitable and unwelcome tourism developments in the Victoria Falls National Park (most notably the Baines Restaurant) this proposal should have been notified to UNESCO as part of the State of Conservation reporting process. However the joint State authorities of Zambia and Zimbabwe decided in their latest report to claim that there are currently no new or proposed developments in the World Heritage Site or Surrounding Buffer Zone (Authorities fail to notify UNESCO of new developments at Victoria Falls, 13th May 2024).

Missing Master Plan Opens up Opportunistic Wave of Development

Meanwhile work is still in progress on a new development 'Master Plan' for the City which is supposed to sensitively guide and shape development, replacing the previous document which has been in place since the mid-1970s. It appears to all extents and purposes that the City Council have thrown the old plan in the bin before approval of the new plan and opened up an opportunistic wave of  inappropriate and unsuitable developments. 

The new Master Plan was primarily commissioned to review and incorporate government plans for the development of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) on a 1,200 hectare site 10km south of the City. Developments announced so far include a four-star hotel with 5,000 seat conference facility, medical facilities, a golf estate and a shopping mall (to be developed by Old Mutual Assurance on 55 hectare plot) and an international cricket stadium (to be developed by Zimbabwe Cricket on a 10 hectare plot).


Controversial Plans for Cricket Stadium latest in wave of unsuitable developments

Which brings us back to the ground-breaking event hosted by President Mnangagwa on 23rd May 2024 on a wide open expanse of land, freshly removed of all vegetation with not a tree or leaf left. Yet with the EIA stakeholder consultation process still ongoing - the first that many local stakeholders heard of the plans was shortly before of the ground-breaking - the development cannot have received final EIA approval (unless it has been approved before the EIA has been finalised). 

There has also been no details on the total cost of the development, or clarification of where the funding is coming from, with Zimbabwe Cricket claiming that it will be funded with grants of US$5-10 million from the International Cricket Council (Concerns grow over costs and impacts of controversial Victoria Falls Cricket Stadium proposal, 24th May 2024).


The site of the MSEZ in part borders the southern section of the Victoria Falls National Park, designated part of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site (separated by the main Victoria Falls-Bulawayo transport corridor) and again should have been notified to UNESCO in the recent State of Conservation report (Zimbabwe Government plans to develop Victoria Falls ignore impacts on World Heritage Site, 22nd May 2024). 

All of which makes the ground-breaking event look like a rather premature attempt to lure vital foreign investment which will undoubtedly be needed to develop the wider project and vast sums which will be required to bring essential utilities and services to the site - most notably water.

Meanwhile the City Council struggles to deliver basic utilities and services to a growing residential population - estimated at over 35,000 in the 2022 national population census but widely believed to be significantly higher with an estimate of 100,000 indicated in the 2021 Strategic Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report (State Parties, 2021) - and limited space for expansion. It looks like Zimbabwe's development dream is fast turning into a development delusion.

Read more on the wave of tourism developments which threaten the Victoria falls World Heritage Site on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website.

Saturday 25 May 2024

Multi-million-dollar hotel set for Vic Falls

 A NEW hospitality real estate investment trust (REIT) is scheduled to be listed on the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange (VFEX) after Zesa Pension Fund and Cresta Hotels partnered to build a 4-star hotel in Victoria Falls, businessdigest can report.

The project, which is expected to cost US$49 million in total, will be developed under the Mosi-oa-Tunya Real Estate Investment Trust (Mosi REIT), with 24 million units available for private placement at a price of US$1.

The hotel, which will have 180 rooms, conference facilities and other entertainment activities, will be operated by Cresta Hotels on a lease basis.

The project was unveiled on the side-lines of the Zimbabwe Association of Pension Funds 49th annual conference in Victoria Falls last week.

The project's financial advisor, Intellego Investment Consultancy head for corporate advisory services, Owen Namusi said the units will be listed on the VFEX with the sponsor putting in about US$7 million.

"We are offering 24 million units at a unit price of US$1 in this particular price-based exercise. We are targeting to reach US$24 million. We are open to receiving investment subscriptions in ZiG (Zimbabwe Gold)," he said.

"This is, after all, a hospitality tourism-themed real estate investment trust, unlike, other REITs that you may know that may focus on commercial real estate, some that may focus on a mixture of industrial and office space. This REIT's primary target is to really establish a portfolio of hospitality-focused assets.

“So, we are looking at hotels. We are looking at related sort of infrastructure, so you can also potentially have something like a theme park that is set up in a tourist destination, which can also then be part of this REIT going  forward.”

According to Namusi, they intend to expand their portfolio of hospitality assets under the Mosi REIT's umbrella in the future.

The owners of Mosi REIT anticipate receiving rental income as soon as the assets are operationalised.

Under the terms of the REIT model, sponsors and investors will pool their resources to purchase the facility's assets, and Cresta will run it to generate income.

Namusi stated that they expected to have at least seven case players over the next five to 10 years, and they looked forward to having multiple assets come on board on a regular basis.

"We are in the second quarter of 2024. Private placement is opening for commitments and subscription flows. So, probably in the next month or so we will commence actual construction activities on this particular site,” he noted.

“Then we do expect the private placement window to close by the fourth quarter of 2024, and by then, we expect investors who are interested to make their commitments. I think from a logistical point of view, we can do this."

The project is expected to be completed in 2027.

It will draw income from the tourism sector, greatly boosting the investment return and preserve the retirement benefits for members and pensioners.

Cresta Hotels is one of Southern Africa’s leading hotel management groups, operating businesses and resort hotels in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

Celebrated leisure hotels in the Group are the Mowana Safari Resort & Spa and Cresta Sprayview in Victoria Falls.

Cresta Marakanelo is the operating company for the 11 Cresta Hotels in Botswana.

Cresta started hotel operations in 1958, when it began running the Jameson Hotel in Harare. Cresta Holdings is a hotel management company registered in Botswana.

Source: Multi-million-dollar hotel set for Vic Falls (24th May 2024)

Friday 24 May 2024

Concerns grow over costs and impacts of controversial Victoria Falls Cricket Stadium proposal

(24th May 2024)

Keep Victoria Falls Wild

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: President Mnangagwa yesterday (23rd May 2024) laid the foundation stone to mark the beginning of work on the construction of the controversial Mosi-oa-Tunya International Cricket Stadium in Victoria Falls, part of an ambitious government drive to develop a US$5 billion national tourism economy by 2025 (The Chronicle, May 2024).

The 10,000 seater stadium is to be developed by Zimbabwe Cricket in preparation for the 2027 World Cup which will be jointly hosted by South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The construction of the stadium will apparently be funded with a grant of "between US$5 million and US$10 million" from the International Cricket Council, although no final estimate of the total cost of the development has been announced, and no developer has yet been identified to undertake the construction, which is proposed to include the construction of a playing field, practice nets, scoreboards, broadcast and media centre, changing rooms, hospitality facilities, grandstand and other spectator areas"

Victoria Falls proposed Masuwe SEZ development

Concept design for the proposed Victoria Falls Cricket Stadium

The stadium is part of the Government initiative to lure investment in the development of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone, a 1,200 site within virgin woodland and part of the Jafuta-Masuwe Estate located about 10 kilometres south of Victoria Falls.

To facilitate the development of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone the Government established the Mosi-oa-Tunya Development Company (Pvt) Ltd (MoTDC Ltd), a State enterprise company, as an investment vehicle for the development and transferring ownership of 274 hectares to the company for the first phase of the project. 

Its nine-member board, chaired by Mrs Shiela Sidambe, was appointed in 2021 and was given the mandate "to deliver infrastructure development in Victoria Falls by expediting feasibility studies for bulk infrastructure and appropriate diligence to register the company’s presence with a solid brick and mortar project" (dailynews.co.zw, August 2021). The government expects that the company to deliver on its mandate in the lifespan of the National Development Strategy (NDS1, 2021 to 2025).

Without the necessary funds to develop the ambitious project the MoTDC Ltd offered Old Mutual Life Assurance, Zimbabwe, the exclusive lease of over 55 hectares within the development, with Old Mutual Life Assurance in return agreeing to undertake a financial feasibility study for the wider project, calculated to cost a precise US$430,948.29 (yes, that's 29 cents). Their report conveniently concluded that the project would generate an "acceptable profit margin of US$57,696,447 which is 15.5 percent and 18.2 percent of gross development value and development cost, respectively" (The Sunday News, March 2023). Old Mutual first announced plans for the development of a four-star hotel, with 5,000-seater conference centre, medical facilities, a golf course and shopping mall in June 2021 (The Zimbabwe Mail, June 2021).

Victoria Falls proposed Masuwe SEZ development

Map showing area of the Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls World Heritage Site and location of the proposed Masuwe Special Economic Zone development (click image for larger view).

In addition Zimbabwe Cricket were allocated 10 hectares of land for the construction of the international cricket stadium and supporting facilities on a 25-year lease basis.

Zimbabwe Cricket chairperson Tavengwa Mukhulani previously commented:

“We have somehow found favour with the Victoria Falls Town Council who have given us a piece of land which we think is ideal to develop a stadium. Our focus is to decentralise cricket and to make it available and accessible to the fans. We don’t want a Midlands fan to travel to Harare to watch a player from Midlands. You want them to watch that player in their backyard; it stimulates interest and just helps grow the game.” (iharare.com, May 2024)

The comments appear to ignore that Victoria Falls is isolated from the major urban areas and rest of Zimbabwe due to poor maintenance of the country's transport infrastructure - with no public services by rail and the main transport road in urgent need of upgrade.

The proposals follow failed attempts by the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) to raise investors to build a rugby stadium at Victoria Falls in 2018 and similarly unrealised plans for a F1 Grand Prix circuit (The Chronicle, July 2021).


Foundation stone for the unrealised Grand prix circuit development

Foundation stone for the unrealised Grand prix circuit development
(click image for larger view).

A Hard Sell

Barbara Rwodzi, the Tourism minister, was recently in South Africa trying to tempt further investors.

"Since she was appointed, Rwodzi said she had been running around to make use of the allocated land. 'I have 261 hectares now. Ten hectares have gone to Cricket Zimbabwe to build this stadium with its amenities, a three-star hotel and others,” the Tourism minister said.

“We are here, your government, with terms and conditions, which are quite flexible. My boss (Mnangagwa) told me it ‘is a special economic zone for lease for 25 years. But listen to the investor, talk to the investor and always come to us and discuss if there are any adjustments that need to be made’.

“We have vast land in Victoria Falls, 1,200 hectares in an area called Masuwe that is for Special Economic Zones for tourism only. Two hundred and seventy-one hectares is under the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry. It has a title deed. The 1,200 hectares used to belong to our ministry,” she added.

“It is ready land,” Rwodzi told the conference. No stories, no back and forth, I have the titled deed. The conversation starts and ends here.” (The Independent, May 2024)

Yet despite her best efforts, it appears that the Masuwe development project has so far failed to attract additional investors, with no further developments yet announced within the Masuwe development zone.

Development Costs

The development of the first phase of the Masuwe project, covering a total of 274 hectares and including the stadium and hotel facilities, will necessitate a significant expansion in the City's utilities infrastructure, with the construction of bulk water supply systems and the development of internal water, sanitation, roads and storm-water drains estimated to cost of US$120 million (The Sunday Mail, March 2023). There has yet to be any announcement on the funding or timescale for these works leaving residents wondering who will be picking up the bill. It is estimated that to maintain the cricket field alone will require 2,500 to 3,000 litres of water every day.

There are also transport infrastructure implications, with no train service to the Falls and the main road dangerous and in urgent need of repair. 

A second phase will see the development of services to the remaining 930 hectares at an estimated cost of approximately US$85 million.

The site of the proposed development - already cleared of trees and stripped of all biodiversity

Environmental Concerns

The proposed construction of the cricket stadium has come under criticism, with Joanah Mamombe, chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Environment, Wildlife, Tourism and Hospitality raising questions in the National Assembly over potential negative impacts on tourism and the Falls' World Heritage Status.

"Victoria Falls is renowned for its natural environment and wildlife. Our tourism industry is heavily reliant on nature-based attractions... There are many other cities in Zimbabwe that could host the stadium that has been proposed thereby distributing the economic benefits without sacrificing the environmental integrity... UNESCO heritage status is also at risk as we note that Victoria Falls was previously facing serious risks of losing the UNESCO world heritage due to the developments that threaten its natural state... Instead, we should explore alternative locations that do not compromise our valuable natural resources and conservation efforts" (NewZimbabwe.com, May 2024).

At the ground-break ceremony the President attempted to dismiss these concerns, making the extraordinary claim that the development would somehow 'enhance the natural heritage' of the Falls.

“This project, here in Victoria Falls, is most welcome as it will enhance the rich natural heritage associated with our premier resort city” (The Chronicle, May 2024).

The President also commented, rather ambiguously:

“Architectural designs and the built environment within the Masuwe Special Economic Zone and across the City of Victoria Falls should seamlessly blend with the natural environment, towards promoting sustainable tourism and socio-economic development” (The Chronicle, May 2024).

In promoting the development Zimbabwe Cricket envisage the construction "blending into the surrounding forest and connecting with the context of the resort town" (thestadiumbusiness.com, May 2024).

UNESCO, however, are yet to comment on the proposals -  primarily due to the fact that Zimbabwean authorities have so far failed to formally notify them of the Masuwe project, or its potential impacts on the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site, which borders part of the development (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, May 2024).

Read the background to the Masuwe SEZ development on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website 

Read more on the wave of tourism developments which currently threaten the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website and follow us on Facebook for latest updates.

References

The Zimbabwe Mail (June 2021) Old Mutual, Govt strike Vic Falls land deal for new hotel project, 2 June 2021.

The Chronicle (July 2021) Victoria Falls F1 circuit construction reaches major milestone. 2 July 2021.

dailynews.co.zw (August 2021) Minister appoints new Mosi Oa Tunya board, 30th August 2021.

The Sunday Mail (March 2023) Victoria Falls: US$200 million tourism project comes alive, 22 March 2023.

The Sunday News (March 2023) Govt okays Victoria Falls SEZ, 22nd March 2023

The Zimbabwe Independent (May 2024) Zim govt unveils plan for Vic Falls hospitality gems 10th May 2024.

NewZimbabwe.com (May 2024) Parliament raises red flags on proposed Victoria Falls cricket stadium, 22nd May 2024

The Chronicle (May 2024) Victoria Falls cricket ground to broaden tourism products, 24th May 2014.

thesadiumbusiness.com (May 2024) Work begins on Victoria Falls’ Mosi-oa-Tunya International Cricket Stadium, 24 May 2024

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs (May 2024) Zimbabwe Government plans to develop Victoria Falls ignore impacts on World Heritage Site, 22nd May 2024

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Zimbabwe Government plans to develop Victoria Falls ignore impacts on World Heritage Site

(22nd May 2024)

Plans by the Zimbabwean Government to develop the Masuwe Special Economic Zone and Monde Tourism Town at Victoria Falls, part of a drive to develop a US$5 billion tourism economy by 2025, appear to ignore potential negative impacts on the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site.

Cabinet approved implementation of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone project (MSEZP) in March 2023 after a feasibility study endorsed the profitability of the plan (The Sunday News, March 2023). Plans for the development of the Masuwe Special Economic Zone include the controversial construction of an international standard 10,000 seat cricket stadium (NewZimbabwe.com, May 2024a) as well as a four-star hotel with 5,000 seat conference facility, medical facilities, a golf estate and a shopping mall.

Both the Masuwe Special Economic Zone and Monde Tourism Town developments in part border the southern section of the Victoria Falls National Park, designated part of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site. Along with other recent tourism developments at the Falls, the two significant development schemes are not disclosed to UNESCO in the latest State of Conservation Report as required under the World Heritage Listing (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, May 2024).

Victoria Falls proposed Masuwe and Monde developments

Map showing area of the Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls World Heritage Site and location of the proposed Masuwe Special Economic Zone and Monde Tourism Town developments (click image for larger view).

The area of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site is supposed to be protected by a 500m 'Buffer Zone' which surrounds the site and aims to restrict development and prevent a 'hard' boundary between developed and natural areas (State Parties, 2007). The proposed develpment schemes for both the Masuwe Special Economic Zone and Monde Tourism Town appear to make no concession for this zone.

The Masuwe development in partcular will have impacts upon the Masuwe river, with sewage and landfill sites adjoining the river, and which afterwards flows through the World Heritage Site to the Zambezi. The development will also place additional demands upon the city's already overloaded water and electricity needs, requring an expansion of water extraction from the Zambezi above the Falls.

The proposed construction of the cricket stadium has also come under criticism, with Joanah Mamombe, chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Environment, Wildlife, Tourism and Hospitality raising questons in Parliament over potential negative impacts on tourism and the Falls' World Heritage Status.

"Victoria Falls is renowned for its natural environment and wildlife. Our tourism industry is heavily reliant on nature-based attractions... There are many other cities in Zimbabwe that could host the stadium that has been proposed thereby distributing the economic benefits without sacrificing the environmental integrity... UNESCO heritage status is also at risk as we note that Victoria Falls was previously facing serious risks of losing the UNESCO world heritage due to the developments that threaten its natural state... Instead, we should explore alternative locations that do not compromise our valuable natural resources and conservation efforts. " (NewZimbabwe.com, May 2024b).

Speaking in December 2023, Victoria Falls City economy development and marketing manager Mr Ngqabutho Moyo was reported stating “We want to turn the destination into a family and 24-hour city like Las Vegas” (The Herald, December 2023).

More recently, the town's new mayor, Mr Prince Thuso, commented “Council is passionate about development and is on a crusade to lure development to the City of Victoria Falls” (The Zimbabwe Independent, May 2024).

Read the background to the Masuwe SEZ development on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website 

Read more on the wave of tourism developments which currently threaten the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website and follow us on Facebook for latest updates.

References

The Sunday News (March 2023) Govt okays Victoria Falls SEZ, 22nd March 2023

The Herald (December 2023) Council to turn Vic Falls into ‘little Las Vegas’, 27th December 2023

NewZimbabwe.com (May 2024a) Vic Falls cricket stadium to be completed by August 2025, 15th May 2024

NewZimbabwe.com (May 2024b) Parliament raises red flags on proposed Victoria Falls cricket stadium – says it compromises conservation efforts, 22nd May 2024

The Zimbabwe Independent (May 2024)Vic Falls under fire over irregular land sale, 17th May 2024.

Saturday 18 May 2024

Vic Falls under fire over irregular land sale

 TOP Victoria Falls City Council officials were this week alleged to have unprocedurally extended payment deadlines for the sale of a US$2,8 million commercial stand to Midlen Investments, which plans to construct a luxurious Arab-themed hotel, the Zimbabwe Independent can exclusively reveal.

Documents gleaned by this newspaper showed that  Victoria Falls City Council on January 8 published a notice for the sale of stand number 1815, which bid was awarded to Midlen at a cost of US$2,8 million.

Terms of the lucrative deal indicate that Midlen was obligated to pay a 30% deposit, amounting to US$840 000 by April 30.

However, investigations by this publication show that the local authority bosses extended the deadline to June 30 without a full council resolution as required.

This was after Midlen had failed to pay its deposit within the required time-frame.

Under such circumstances, as spelt out by local governance dictates, rights awarded to the winning bidder are forfeited if the party fails to meet terms of the agreement.

Subsequently, the second most competitive suitor is given the green light to purchase the property. In the case of the stand in question, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed leisure giant, Rainbow Tourism Group (RTG) came second, with a US$2,5 million bid.

A company called Hillfonic Investments was vying for the same asset, while MJ Air weighed in with US$2,4 million. As documents show, the balance for the purchase of the land would be serviced within 18 to 24 months after the deposit is paid.

“A Call for Expression of Interest (VFCC/S1815/0124) (the CFEOI) to purchase and develop commercial land being Stand 1815 Victoria Falls (the Investment Property) was made by the City of Victoria Falls on the 8th of January 2024 in terms of Section 152 of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15),” the documents read in part.

“Midlen Investments (Private) Limited (the Company) participated in the CFEOI and was selected as the winning bidder upon adjudication by the City of Victoria Falls.

“The City of Victoria Falls requires a 30% deposit (US$840 011) for land purchase. The

amount is payable strictly in United States dollars and is due by the 30th of April 2024.

“The balance of US$1 960 026 is to be paid over a period yet to be discussed with the City of Victoria Falls. Indications are that it will be paid over a period of 18 to 24 months in equal quarterly instalments. No interest accrues on the balance,” the documents state.

Midlen managing director Ngonidzashe Manjeru told the Independent that his firm was given the extension to settle the deposit to the Vic Falls City Council.

He did not specify whether the extension was granted by the local authority management or by a full council.

“We are on course for the settlement of the purchase price, we applied for extension of time,” he said this week.

“At this stage I think I have given you enough information. We are not privy to such technicalities and council processes.”

The mayor, Prince Thuso declined to comment on how the decision was made.

He told the Independent: “Council is passionate about development and is on a crusade to lure development to the City of Victoria Falls.”

“Midlen Investments won a bid to develop a hotel in Victoria Falls. More details about the development will be made public as the development unfolds.”

Thuso’s responses were addressing questions posed by the Independent focusing on whether the decision to extend the payment deadline was made by management or a full council. This publication also questioned the mayor on whether a due diligence exercise was conducted on the suitability of Midlen.

A source close to the transaction said management acted unilaterally when it gave Midlen the extension.

“As councillors, we are not aware of any extension, unless the extension was given by management without council resolution,” the source said.

“Management officials extended it without seeking council approval.

No item was ever brought to the attention of council or any of its committees for consideration to vary that standing policy of council.

“It is improper. It is not binding. The second best bid should be given the offer. A bid by a leading hotel group in the country came second though it was dismissed.

“Management tends to offer these tenders to companies owned by dubious characters. They shun big corporations because they do not have room to budget for bribes,” the source told the Independent on condition of anonymity.

Town Clerk Ronnie Dube had not responded to questions posed by the Independent at the time of going to print.

A search at the Companies Registry in the capital shows that Midlen was registered in Bulawayo in 2008 under company number 27006.

Outside the purchase price, Manjeru said Midlen would mobilise US$121 432 347 to build a six-star hotel tailored to attract “high end clientele including those of the Muslim religion”.

“Our bid, which was the highest evaluated bid and the winning bid among the five  bidders was as follows: US$2 800 037 for the purchase of the land and US$121 432 347 for the development of the proposed hotel. The total bid value was US$124 234 382,” he said.

“The proposed hotel construction is going to be funded through investor funds. The proposed hotel is going to be the first six star hotel in Zimbabwe and the first to be Halal compliant, targeting the high-end clientele including those of the Muslim religion.

“The proposed hotel is set to be completed within the next 24 months, all things being equal.”

Documents seen by this publication indicate that Midlen would dispose of 99% of its equity to a financing partner in a transaction valued at US$3,3 million.

As documents show, an evaluation done by Bard Real Estate pegged the value of the asset at US$3,5 million.

“It is proposed that the financing partner subscribes for 99% shareholding in the company for a consideration of US$3 300 037,” excerpts from documents viewed by this publication read.

“The promoters obtained a copy of a valuation report of the investment property by Bard Real Estate, which placed the value of the investment property at US$3 550 000 translating to US$216,95 per square meter.”

If Midlen’s transaction sails through, the outfit claims that it will build a hotel targeting “the princes and the Arabic elites who are used to a high end, luxurious lifestyle, the types that travel in expensive private jets but are strict subscribers to and observers of the Islamic Halal laws”.

Source: Vic Falls under fire over irregular land sale (17/05/24)

Thursday 16 May 2024

Vic Falls cricket stadium to be completed by August 2025

(15th May 2024) 

Zimbabwe is hosting the men’s under-19 cricket World Cup together with Namibia before it hosts the 2027 men’s cricket World Cup jointly with South Africa and Namibia.

The construction of a cricket stadium in Victoria Falls will finally commence after years of promises as President Emerson Mnangagwa is expected to lay the foundation stone on the site on May 23.

This was revealed Tuesday during a post-cabinet briefing.

Addressing the media, Minister of Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services Jenfan Muswere said the government has allocated Zimbabwe Cricket 10 hectares of land to construct a World Class cricket stadium ahead of the World Cups which Zimbabwe is hosting in 2026 and 2027.



Building a stadium in Victoria Falls is one of how the government together with Zimbabwe Cricket are aiming to boost sports tourism.

Minister of Tourism Barbra Rwodzi added that the stadium is expected to be completed next year.

“The construction of the stadium will be completed next year 2025 in August, to allow the pitch or grass to be done a year before the 2026 World Cup,” she said.

Rwodzi added that the stadium will be a multi-sport facility which will be used by other sporting disciplines.

“Other sporting disciplines to use the same Stadium are Rugby, Hockey, Tennis and Squash.

“So there will be another ground to be constructed on the same place for practice of the teams that will be participating during the World Cup,” she added.

News of building Victoria Falls stadium comes barely a week after Zimbabwe Cricket announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Gweru City Council which will see them constructing another stadium in the Midlands province.//

Source: Vic Falls cricket stadium to be completed by August 2025 (15/05/24)

Read more: Zimbabwe Government plans to develop Victoria Falls ignore impacts on World Heritage Site (22/05/24)

Monday 13 May 2024

Authorities fail to notify UNESCO of new developments at Victoria Falls

Keep Victoria Falls Wild, (13th May 2024)

The managing authorities for the Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls World Heritage Site have failed to notify UNESCO of recent and proposed tourism developments affecting the Site in their latest State of Conservation report (available to download from the UNESCO website here, direct pdf download here.

The report, submitted to UNESCO by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the National Heritage Conservation Commission (Zambia), fails to disclose the commencement of tours to Cataract Island (launched in April 2022), the construction of the Baines Riverside Restaurant (opened in mid-2023), the development of the Zambezi Drive 'Rock Pool' bar (also established during 2023) and proposed development of a Riverside Tree Lodge complex along a extensive section of the river, first announced by developers in 2019.

These significant developments are located all along the ecologically vulnerable upstream riverside fringe on the southern, Zimbabwean, side of the river and within the Highly Ecologically Sensitive Zone (HESZ) of the World Heritage Site (as designated within the 2007 and 2016 Joint Integrated Management Plans agreed by both managing authorities and UNESCO) and which supposedly prohibits all new development.

As part of their requirements under the World Heritage Listing the managing authorities are required to disclose all proposals which could potentially affect the Site to UNESCO for review in advance of their development. The failure to disclose these developments, which have caused widespread negative reaction and even resulted in a legal challenge from a group of concerned local residents, represents the latest attempt to deceive UNESCO over the status of tourism developments at the site, following a history of misreporting and misrepresentation of developments at the Site.



Victoria Falls tourism developments

Map showing area of the Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls World Heritage Site and location of recent and proposed developments.

Read more on the wave of tourism developments which currently threaten the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site on the Keep Victoria Falls Wild website and follow us on Facebook for latest updates.

Download the Keep Victoria Falls Wild 2023 State of Development Report for background and further information: Keep Victoria Falls Wild 2023 State of Development Report.

See also: Zimbabwe Government plans to develop Victoria Falls ignore impacts on World Heritage Site (22/05/24)


Saturday 11 May 2024

Zim govt unveils plan for Vic Falls hospitality gems

 PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has instructed the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry to make use of its 271 hectares of land in Victoria Falls for the development of top end hospitality gems in the resort town.

This was revealed by Barbara Rwodzi, the Tourism minister, during a two-day investment summit held in South Africa last week.

She said the ministry was considering using the land to build holiday homes and an estate similar to the affluent Borrowdale Brooke in Harare.

“Why can’t we build our own estate - beautiful, like what we see here in Johannesburg,” Rwodzi asked.

“We are here, your government, with terms and conditions, which are quite flexible. My boss (Mnangagwa) told me it ‘is a special economic zone for lease for 25 years. But listen to the investor, talk to the investor and always come to us and discuss if there are any adjustments that need to be made’.

“We have vast land in Victoria Falls, 1 200 hectares in an area called Masuwe that is for Special Economic Zones for tourism only. Two hundred and seventy-one hectares is under the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry. It has a title deed.

“The 1 200 hectares used to belong to our ministry,” she added.

Since she was appointed, Rwodzi said she had been running around to make use of the allocated land.

“I have 261 hectares now. Ten hectares have gone to Cricket Zimbabwe to build this stadium with its amenities, a three-star hotel and others,” the Tourism minister said.

Zimbabwe was one of three countries chosen to host the 2027 Cricket World Cup last year.

She said discussions were also underway to build the Victoria Falls financial hub.

“It is ready land,” Rwodzi told the conference.

“No stories, no back and forth, I have the titled deed. The conversation starts and ends here.”

The push for tourism investment comes as the sector saw a drop in capital injections by a huge 45% to US$172,2 million last year, despite a 27% increase in receipts to US$1,14 billion.

The drop in investments is from a 2022 comparative of US$312,5 million.

“All those properties you are talking about have to look like Zimbabwe,” Brand Africa founder and chairperson Thebe Ikalafeng said.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube revealed in the 2024 national budget that the tourism industry was expected to continue on a growth path, driven by increased domestic, regional and international arrivals.

The substantial rise in international arrivals in the country can be partly attributed to continued investments in the tourism industry, particularly airports and hotels.

The private sector is also complementing the government’s efforts to boost the tourism industry, marked by a surge in private sector investments.

Notable private sector investments include the opening of the Bulawayo Sterling Hotel and investments made by African Sun Limited in the refurbishing of Hwange Safari Lodge.

In 2024, the government will continue to allocate resources towards rehabilitation and renovation of tourism-related infrastructure to make the country a destination of choice, according to officials.

Source: Zim govt unveils plan for Vic Falls hospitality gems (10/05/24)

Thursday 9 May 2024

Livingstone to host KAZA TFCA Heads of State Summit

Lusaka, Zambia – Zambia takes center stage for conservation efforts in Southern Africa this month as the country prepares to host the Kavango Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) Heads of State Summit. 

Scheduled for May 31st, 2024, in Livingstone, the summit brings together leaders from five nations – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, as stated by Zambia’s Tourism Minister, Rodney Sikumba.  Their aim is to discuss the future of this critical wildlife sanctuary.



The summit’s primary objective, is to assess the progress made  in establishing and developing the KAZA TFCA since its inception. 

This includes reviewing the implementation of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding that laid the groundwork for the initiative, and the subsequent 2011 KAZA TFCA treaty. 

As Sikumba  said, “The key objective, colleagues, is that we intend to review and track the progress of the memorandum of understanding done in 2016 and obviously its implementation of the KAZA treaty done in 2011.”

Renewed Commitments, Strategic Priorities

Beyond reviewing past achievements, the summit aims to reignite high-level political commitment from regional leaders towards continued cooperation and integration in developing KAZA further.  

As Sikumba emphasizes, “So what we intend to see out of the Summit is to hear at high level the political commitment to the regional cooperation and integration in the further development of the KAZA now.” 

This collaborative effort, as highlighted by Sikumba, is essential for maximizing the potential of the eco-region.

The theme for the summit, “Leveraging KAZA’s natural capital and cultural heritage resources as catalysts for inclusive socio-economic development of the eco-region,” underscores the commitment to harnessing KAZA’s diverse assets for the benefit of local communities.  

The sustainable management and utilization of the landscape’s natural resources, cultural heritage, and unique wildlife are central to achieving this goal.

The summit is expected to attract over 400 delegates, including policymakers, decision-makers, and technical experts from the member states. 

Additionally, representatives from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), international cooperation partners, non-state actors, and prominent community-based organizations will be present.  

This diverse group, as described by Sikumba, will include “policy and decision makers as well as the technocrats from partner states which includes SADC and representation from International cooperating Partners, non-state actors, and notable Community Based organizations operating in and around their interest in the various landscapes.” 

Their valuable insights and perspectives will contribute to the discussions.

A Multi-Day Event for Comprehensive Planning

The KAZA TFCA summit will be preceded by two days of technical deliberations and a ministerial session.  These sessions will provide a platform for in-depth discussions on crucial topics such as strategies for sustainable management and development within the KAZA landscape.

The summit in Zambia presents a significant opportunity for the member states of the KAZA TFCA to collectively chart a course for the future. 

By fostering stronger regional cooperation, prioritizing sustainable development, and leveraging KAZA’s rich natural and cultural resources, the summit has the potential to create a lasting positive impact for the environment and local communities alike.

Meanwhile a new multi-purpose complex in Hwange will enhance the tourism potential of Hwange National Park – a key destination in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA).

The project contributes to the KAZA vision of establishing a world-class Transfrontier conservation and tourism destination within the context of sustainable development and is a result of joint efforts through a partnership between the Republic of Zimbabwe and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Source: Zambia to host the KAZA TFCA Summit (08/05/24)