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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.


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)

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