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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 (, 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. " (, 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.


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

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