Footsteps Through Time

Footsteps Through Time
A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls - www.zambezibookcompany.com

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Santonga promotional video

Here is Africa Albida's vision video for their Santonga development.


Paradise lost?

The last blogpost, 'Victoria Falls - A Fragile Power', is the text of an article written by Sally Wynn and originally published 20 years ago in Africa Geographic magazine. It is critical of developments around Victoria Falls, developments which have continued in the years since it was first written, notably with large areas being fenced off for the operations of captive animal interactions

Other recent developments include the Wild Horizon's Gorge Swing site below the Victoria Falls Hotel, which now dominates the second gorge following recent expansion to accommodate a restaurant overlooking the gorge - including the clearing of a large section of bush for a coach and car park.

When Sally Wynn wrote her article on the Falls, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge had just recently opened (in November 1994) - note her comment: "Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, for example, is built on land originally set aside as a wildlife corridor from the Zambezi National Park to the river. This has created a whole new problem - keeping potentially dangerous large animals at a safe distance from tourists."

Over the two years I've been running this blog I've recorded many human-animal conflict events in Victoria Falls, including most recently a whole heard of buffalo chased into the town by lions. Some of these events have resulted in human deaths, including one which tragically occurred at VFSL itself. 

African Albida, who operate VFSL, have just launched another large development, Santonga, on virgin land adjoining the lodge, and with stories circulating of planned hotel developments on neighboring land along the river at this point, an essential wildlife corridor that has allowed animal movement to and from the river will be almost completely blocked. In fact it will complete an arc of development encircling the falls on the Zimbabwean side, and preventing larger animals accessing the Big Tree/Zambezi Drive area just above the Falls, which to this day frequented by elephant and buffalo and part of the magic of Victoria Falls. It may even result in the reduction of wildlife visiting the famous VFSL waterhole, as it is located on this wildlife-corridor, and will probably result in more potentially fatal human-wildlife conflict events whilst animals try to find new routes to and from the river.

The Santonga development was recently described by Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi as a biodiversity' project and by reporters as a 'conservation park'. It appears to have little biodiversity or conservation value by any traditional definitions of either word. However it does sound more like a theme park with captive animal interactions. When will tourism operators in Zimbabwe (and Zambia, who are planning similar captive parks on their side of the river) realize that tourists want to see Africa's wild animals in the wild, not enslaved into novelty tourism activities - they can see captive animals in zoos and safari parks in their own countries. And even these are going out of fashion and struggling to survive.

Ironically Africa Albida and VFSL have repeatedly been the winner of 'green' eco-awards over its first 20 years (given, of course, by the tourism industry rather than by conservationists!). Much of this has been in valid recognition of its support for local anti-poaching initiatives. It is a reputation, however, about to be destroyed, together with the degradation of a significant element of the  ecological value of the immediate Falls.environment.


Victoria Falls is a unique and fragile ecological environment, one that is being suffocated, bit by bit, by the ever growing demands for development
, part of what Mzembi hails as the creation a 'Niagara' - a US$30 billion economy around Victoria Falls - and including a 'Disneyland in Africa' development next to the Victoria Falls Airport.

Together with the development of the Batoka Gorge Dam, a project which threatens to flood the rapids below the Falls, these  natural wonder of the Victoria Falls is slowly being despoiled, despite all the designations designed to protect it. 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Victoria Falls : A Fragile Power

This is the text of an article written by freelance conservation writer Sally Wynn on development at and around the Victoria Falls and published in Africa Geographic Magazine in 1995. Despite being nearly ten years old, the issues highlighted in this article are as pressing and relevant as ever. Victoria Falls town has grown hugely in the last fifty years, and development continues.  Note the Makasa Sun has since been redeveloped as The Kingdom. See blogpost 'Paradise lost?' for an update on recent developments in Victoria Falls, including several significant developments currently being proposed.

THE VICTORIA FALLS - A Fragile Power
by Sally Wynn
Africa Geographic Magazine
Vol.3, No.1, January 1995

Last July, the President of Zimbabwe announced that his government would carry out a study to assess the environmental impact of tourism in the Victoria Falls area. Conservationists, Victoria Falls residents and members of the tourism industry were delighted - they have long been worried about the way things run in the popular tourist town, and the effect this all may be having on the very fragile wilderness which makes this one of the world's greatest natural wonders.

A year later, Phase One of this document has been completed by consultants in the Department of Natural Resources. The study urges increased co-operation between Zimbabwe and Zambia in promoting environmentally sustainable tourism development. It calls for a major environmental awareness campaign aimed at all sectors of the Victoria Falls community, and for a Tourism Development Master Plan, incorporating environmental and natural resource management considerations, to be prepared and implemented. This could take years. In the meantime, the report recommends that the Victoria Falls Town Council be given greater authority to plan and manage its own development and to ensure that proper environmental impact studies are carried out before any more development takes place in the area.

This begs the question of why the Town Council lacks authority in the first place, and how some large hotels have recently been allowed to ignore carefully formulated planning controls aimed at preventing environmental damage and overdevelopment in the Falls area.

The report contains some interesting recommendations which should spark off lively public debate, and raise some pertinent questions about which matters more - tourism revenue or the welfare of the environment it relies on. Since the one is largely dependent on the other, it would be logical to assume that the recommendations of the impact study should be followed to the letter … but, as usual, when there are large amounts of money involved, it probably won't be as simple as that. For the report recommends (among other things) the banning of helicopter flights over the Falls and the complete removal of electric fences around tourist developments. This should outrage a few operators and hoteliers who are reaping profits at the expense of the environment.

The most obvious cause for concern must, of course, be the impact of so many tourist feet tramping the paths of the fragile ecosystem of the rain forest and other riverine habitats. The tourism impact report fully endorses the sensible move taken by the Department of National Parks to impose an entry fee to ensure that only bona fide visitors enter the rain forest. In order to ensure that this beautiful and tiny patch of natural paradise will survive for future generations, very hard-wearing but environmentally sensitive pathways have been constructed, visitors are directed into a one-way system and are warned of the dire consequences of their straying from the paths and disturbing the vegetation or the wildlife. More monitoring of tourist movement is called for, and it is suggested that numbers of visitors at any one time be restricted to an agreed maximum.

As more and more tourists visit the Victoria Falls (156000 arrivals in 1992 as compared with 46000 arrivals in 1983), the growth of the town to accommodate them has taken little account of an original Outline Plan laid down to protect the area from over development. There is lack of a precise planning law stipulating that buildings in Victoria Falls should not rise above tree height. While some hotels have clearly made an effort to blend well into the environment (Masuwe Lodge, the A'Zambezi River Lodge and Ilala Lodge, for example), skyline intruders like the Makasa Sun and Elephant Hills hotels spoil the otherwise natural appearance of the landscape.

In addition, the nearly completed Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, for example, is built on land originally set aside as a wildlife corridor from the Zambezi National Park to the river. This has created a whole new problem - keeping potentially dangerous large animals at a safe distance from tourists. Electric fences have been erected to 'protect' the new Safari Lodge and the Elephant Hills Golf Course. But they are unpopular with local people who say they are hazardous, and with conservationists who argue that they cut across game corridors and are, in fact, often ineffective (both elephant and buffalo are able to breach electric fences). The tourism impact report recommends that all barriers such as electric fences should be pulled down to allow free movement of wildlife. It calls for much tighter controls on the siting and appearance of buildings to avoid further undesirable environmental impact and to ensure that game is able to move freely past the town.

One of the major problems apparent in the Victoria Falls (and indeed elsewhere along the Zambezi River) is that there appears to be little cross-border co-operation between the Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities when it comes to enforcing regulations for the sake of the environment.
The two countries have a Joint Technical Committee on Tourism and Natural Resources, but this group meets only infrequently. It is blatantly obvious from a number of examples in the Victoria Falls that some unscrupulous companies are exploiting loopholes in the system because the two nations lack cohesion in their approach to conservation and protection of the area. It appears that some operators are able to obtain permission from Zambia to carry out activities banned in Zimbabwe (and vice versa). This situation sets a dangerous precedent. It extends to a wide range of activities, including overnight camping on hitherto undisturbed island refuges in the middle of the river, bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls bridge, boating on the river and flights over the Falls.

Noise pollution is a major problem for residents and visitors alike in the Falls. Air charter companies on both sides of the river are making 'big bucks' out of 20-minute flips over the Falls to allow tourists to view the spectacle from the air. The report recommends much stricter controls on the number of aircraft and minimum flying heights, and suggests that all flight activities in the Falls be based at the main airport which lies 24 kilometres south of the town, away from residential, commercial and tourist areas. It calls for a total ban on helicopter joyrides. Fixed wing planes can stay, suggests the study, but consideration must be given to their noise being muffled by some sort of silencing device. A laudable (if not entirely feasible) suggestion. However, unless there is considerably improved co-operation from the Zambian authorities in enforcing such limitations, there will be little reprieve from the incessant din and whine of engines which has become a feature of the 'tourism experience' at the Falls.

Likewise, along the Zambezi River upstream from the Falls, lack of cross-border cohesion on the issuing of boating licences has resulted in a proliferation of vessels operating 'sunset booze cruises'. Some evenings there may be as many as 18 boats chugging up and down - all disturbing the wildlife and ruining the peace and tranquillity of a sunset experience on the Zambezi River, so carefully outlined in each company's advertising blurb. The number of licences issued to companies operating from the Zimbabwean bank is ostensibly strictly limited by the Department of National Parks. But companies refused a permit in Zimbabwe are simply taking advantage of a convenient loophole and are obtaining permission to operate from the Zambian side of the river - to the detriment of its environment. Some appear to be operating whole fleets of vessels at any one time, and each year the boats get bigger because the licence costs the same, regardless of the size of the boat. The proliferation of boats has resulted in a proliferation of jetties and onshore facilities - not all of which have been constructed with due care and concern for the environment. Apart from anything else, what sort of pollutants are the engines at those jetties emitting? And what sort of effect is all the wave action having on the breeding sites of certain birds (such as the African skimmer) which nest on islands in the river?

The tourism impact report calls for much stricter regulations regarding boating, and makes special mention of the need for Zimbabwe and Zambia to co-ordinate controls and the issuing of licences. Indeed, there is some glimmer of hope that such cross-border discrepancies will receive serious attention in the future. An international conservation organization intends to prepare a management plan for the area which will span both sides of the river. This is good news indeed.

There are other, less obvious, environmental problems in the Victoria Falls, many of which have come about because the town council is failing to exercise existing controls already laid down in the bylaws.

What, for example, happens to all the rubbish? Hotels are notorious waste producers and notoriously bad at waste management. The unfenced municipal rubbish dump is an environmental disaster area, posing a serious health hazard as it remains largely unburied, is invaded by human and animal scavengers and overflows into a nearby river bed from where its potentially toxic contents are carried … who knows where? … when the river is in flood. The report again urges tighter controls and has some practical suggestions about fencing the area and burying the rubbish and suggests alternative and more appropriate sites for landfill dumping.

Cutting of local hardwood trees for firewood and for the carving of curios remains unchecked and will continue to do so until council bylaws are enforced. The report's suggestion that electricity be supplied to the town's high-density suburb, thus reducing the need to burn wood for fuel, is a laudable one - but unlikely to succeed in its ultimate goal, as few occupants will be able to afford electricity charges.

It is not within the scope of the report to highlight some of the success stories on the environmental front. But there are some, and it's worth drawing attention to these, to highlight the commitment of some sections of the Victoria Falls community. The town itself and the beauty spots along the river are being kept clean by the Victoria Falls 'Clean Team' - a successful campaign organized and sponsored by a group of local companies. An area of derelict land near the municipal camping site and adjacent to the railway line is being rehabilitated into a parkland, under the guidance of a local business-woman. A severely eroded gully near Chinotimba high-density suburb has been reclaimed and a drainage canal constructed to divert surface water runoff and prevent further erosion. New sewage filtration ponds below the Victoria Falls Hotel have successfully replaced an antiquated and environmentally unacceptable system whereby untreated sewage was discharged into the Zambezi River (the Zambian town of Livingstone still pumps its raw sewage into the Zambezi).

And slowly, very slowly, the rest of Zimbabwe is becoming aware of the need to protect its greatest tourism asset. The government's initiative to undertake an Environmental Impact Study for the Victoria Falls was a welcome and long overdue step. But it will only be effective for the environment if its recommendations are swiftly and boldly implemented.

The Victoria Falls community, concerned citizens of Zimbabwe and environmentalists all over the world are waiting to see whether their research is followed by firm action in the right direction. If so, there is hope for the future of this most precious of the region's tourism assets. And a fine example will have been set for the future management of the other jewels in southern Africa's tourism crown.

Sally Wynn is a freelance journalist based in Harare and she specializes in issues related to travel and the environment. She has edited The Traveller's Times, an independent newspaper for visitors to Zimbabwe, and was previously assistant editor of Countryside Commission News, the official journal of a British environmental organization.

Monday, 29 December 2014

South Africa urged to review Yellow Fever requirements

THE Livingstone Tourism Association (LTA) has urged the Government to expedite the yellow fever impasse with the South Africa following the declaration of Zambia as yellow fever-free zone by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Zambian authorities had since written to their South African counterparts and were currently awaiting a response on the issue. South Africa is one of the countries where travellers from Zambia were required to possess yellow fever certification documents upon entry into that country.
LTA chairperson Alex Mutali said it was important for the Government to implement the resolutions that were made by WHO because it was impacting negatively on the growth of the tourism sector.
Mr Mutali said the yellow fever requirement was also impacting on the performance of the Universal Visa (Univisa) which was jointly launched almost a month ago by Zambia and Zimbabwe.
He said travellers passing through South Africa into Zimbabwe and Zambia were required to have a yellow fever certificate despite them having a Univsa.
"Government must move with speed on this issue and engage South Africa. You must understand that South Africa is into competition with us and the Ministry of Health must act fast to resolve this issue.
It is no longer a WHO issue but an issue between Zambia and South Africa, even travelers with the Univsa are restricted from entering Zambia because they are required to pay an extra US$100 for the yellow fever certification," Mr Mutali said.
He said the yellow fever certification requirement was working against Zambia and making the country an expensive tourism destination.
According to Zambia Tourism Board, the removal of the yellow fever vaccination certificate requirement by South Africa increase international tourist arrival figures by at least 10 per cent.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mzembi says US$30 billion economy can be grown in Victoria Falls

Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi says a US$30 billion economy can be grown in Victoria Falls with new infrastructure projects and other investments coming to the resort town.
Speaking at celebrations to mark Victoria Falls Safari Lodge's 20th anniversary, Mzembi said a multi-million dollar investment by Africa Albida for the establishment of a new conservation park dovetailed well into his ministry's vision.
"Next to the airport I intend to create a Niagara, a $30 billion economy ... We realise that the difference between our own Victorial Falls and Niagara is that we have not planted any infrastructure that captures the imagination of the demographic dividend, the younger group," Mzembi said.
"It fits very well with my own vision on biodiversity. It's a biodiversity project that you are doing under Santonga (see: Santoga Project an Insult to Vic Falls), and I want to assure you that the project should go ahead."
He said the new US$150 million Victoria Falls International Airport, due to open next August, would triple capacity, potentially boosting earnings from tourism to US$30 billion a year, to match Canadian Niagara Falls's economy.
The minister said tourism was the catalyst for the economic turnaround of Zimbabwe, adding that he hoped to kick start earnings by declaring Victoria Falls a special economic zone. Tourism is a tax haven, he said.
Africa Albida Tourism, the parent company of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, has invested US$18 million in properties over the past three years, and work has begun on Santonga, an education, entertainment and conservation park which will interactively tell the story of Victoria Falls.
Mzembi said local operators should provide input on how to shape his proposal which could transform Victoria Falls from its current US$1 billion a year economy between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In addition to the special economic zone, the minister said he hoped to create an "ultra-modern" Victoria Falls on 300ha adjacent to the airport, to boost infrastructure and earnings.
Mzembi assured stakeholders that the Victoria Falls and the immediate surroundings would remain natural and untouched.
Africa Albida Tourism chief executive Ross Kennedy said despite several tough years for the tourism industry, the future of tourism at Victoria Falls and in Zimbabwe was extremely bright.
"That is why we have invested millions in our products in the past few years -- our first move was to add the premium luxury Victoria Falls Safari Club which we believe sets new standards for the industry and the area in terms of quality," Kennedy said.
"Next we created the Victoria Falls Safari Suites, which are very high quality two- and three-bedroom accommodation offerings, that have plugged a gap in the market, and now we have fully refurbished and upgraded our flagship, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
"We are fully committed investors and operators in Victoria Falls, and we have no other intentions than to be at the top of the pile."
The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge's four-day 20th anniversary celebrations included an Amazing Race, in which six teams completed challenges at different sites in Victoria Falls, such as learning a traditional dance routine and solving a crime. It was won by Team Lokuthula.
Ground work at Santonga, to be built on 80ha near Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, began last month. The education, entertainment and conservation park, which is expected to draw 120 000 visitors a year, is due to open in June 2016.

Batoka Gorge Dam ESIA Meeting - 21 Jan

ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BATOKA GORGE HYDRO-ELECTRIC SCHEME
The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) is a statutory organization equally owned by the Governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The ZRA has been mandated by the Governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe to develop Batoka Hydro Electric Scheme (BHES).  The proposed HES is proposed approximately 47km downstream of the Victoria Falls.   In Zimbabwe, it falls within the province of Matabeleland North and in the Hwange Rural District.  In Zambia, it falls in the Southern Province, in the Kazungula, Livingstone, Zimba, Choma and Kalomo Districts.
In line with Statutory Instrument No. 7 of 2007, the Environmental Management (Environmental Impact Assessments and Ecosystems Protection Regulations) in Zimbabwe and the Environmental Management Act, 2011 and Statutory Instrument 28 of the 1997 EIA Regulations in Zambia, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) is required.   The ZRA has commissioned Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and its local partners (Kaizen Consulting International in Zambia and Black Crystal in Zimbabwe) as the Consultants to undertake the ESIA.  

The project is currently in the Scoping Phase of the ESIA and as such the Project Consultants are identifying issues of concern and gathering comments to inform the scope of more detailed specialist investigations for the ESIA. Open days and information sharing meetings were held between 30th September 2014 and 13th October 2014 in Zimbabwe and Zambia. At these engagements it was requested that a further meeting be held prior to the completion of the Scoping Phase of the Project. This notice serves to invite any interested and affected parties to attend this meeting.

INVITATION TO PUBLIC MEETING – VICTORIA FALLS
The meeting will be held on the 22nd January 2015 in Victoria Falls . Representatives from the ZRA, ERM, Black Crystal and Kaizen Consulting will be present to answer your questions and gather comment.  Details of the public meeting are listed below.

Date
Venue
Time
22/01/15
Victoria Falls Municipal Chamber, Livingstone Way, Victoria Falls
09:00 – 12:00

A Background Information Document is also available on the following website: http://www.erm.com/BatokaHESESIA for further information. Where stakeholders have already registered for the project, they will also be sent personalised invitations.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

Zambian guide takes on a charging elephant


A Zambian wildlife guide who stood in front of an aggressive elephant and commanded it to "get back" has been widely praised by the British school pupils he protected. The elephant had been trailing a group of female elephants.

Footage of Manny Mvula taking on the elephant who was threatening to charge the group he was leading has recently been uploaded on to YouTube.

"My instinct was to run away but Manny's calming and authoritative presence reassured me - we figured he knew what he was doing," a pupil from a secondary school in England told the BBC.
"But for Manny's heroism we could have had a memorable encounter with this gigantic beast in more ways than one."

However, Mr Mvula says that his defence of the students was all in the line of duty.

"I realised I had to do something to stop it because they were in imminent danger," he told the BBC.

The unusual standoff happened at the Kasanka National Park in August when Mr Mvula and a group of 23 schoolboys aged between 16 and 17 spotted a group of female elephants with their young in the bush.

After viewing the elephants for some time, Mr Mvula, 46, and his party set up camp at a designated spot once the elephants had moved on.

But they did not know that a bull elephant was trailing in the wake of the female elephants until it appeared a few minutes later.

It weighed an estimated five tonnes (787 stone) and was in the prime of its life at about 40 years old.

At first it seemed that it too was moving on, but suddenly it turned and stared at Mr Mvula and his party.

The trained guide knew immediately that it posed a danger because he could see fluids coming out of its temporal glands which were running down its cheeks - a sure sign that the bull elephant was in a state of heightened sexual activity called musth.

"When they are in this condition, they are liable to charge anything that gets in their way," Mr Mvula said, "especially if it something or somebody that they are not certain about."

"I know that standing in front of it and telling it to go away is not an officially recognised procedure for dealing with this kind of a situation," he said.

"But I knew instinctively that it was worth a try even if there was no guarantee that it would work.

"I have seen such a technique successfully used by two other guides and have done in myself twice previously in such emergency situations."

The guide's remonstrating tone led to the elephant stopping in its tracks. After a moment's pause, it opted to make a strategic retreat.

"Obviously it was a huge relief," he said, "such an incident is highly unusual in this part of Zambia."

Mr Mvula - who with his wife runs a responsible tourism company from their home in the English county of Kent - has for many years led safaris in his home country of Zambia.

He said that he had learnt as a professional safari guide always to have a second plan if the first does not work.

"But in this case I didn't have many other options - the only thing I could have done if it didn't back off would have been to order the boys slowly to walk back to the truck - parked about 10m (32 ft) away - while I would run towards it while swerving in between the trees and swinging my arms wildly to distract its attention solely towards me."

The guide said that in the worst case scenario the elephant could have charged the teenagers, even though he remained confident that he could handle the situation successfully.

"That is the importance of always using fully trained safari guides, who understand animal behaviour," he said.

"Looking back on what I did, I guess you can say it was a bit of a stupid thing to do," Mr Mvula said.

"It took me three weeks to pluck up the courage and tell my wife what happened."



Friday, 26 December 2014

Zimbabwe - Zambia tourism cooperation: Victoria Falls bridge open border policy a hoax?


The view of the globe was on Zimbabwe and Zambia in August of 2013. The focus was on having the global travel and tourism industry and government leaders attend and participate at the UNWTO General Assembly. This high-profile event was jointly hosted by both Zimbabwe and Zambia, and delegates attended events in both countries and stayed in hotels in both countries.
The short drive over the famous Victoria Falls bridge took 5 minutes. There was no border control, no customs - delegates hardly noticed they were changing countries many times during the assembly.
Both the presidents and vice presidents and both tourism ministers for both nations attended and spoke at this important United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly.
The bridge connecting both countries was open. The president of Zimbabwe and the president of Zambia called the opening of the bridge an historic moment and pledged to work together to keep this bridge open to make travel and tourism between Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Livingston, Zambia easier in the future.
Tourists would be able to enjoy this wonder of the world without delay and experience it as one attraction.
This idea was echoed by the secretary General of UNWTO and many other tourism leaders.
A year and a half later this seems to have been wishful thinking.
Here is a report from a tourist that recently visited beautiful Victoria Falls.
While visiting Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, we walked across the Victoria Falls Bridge to Zambia. This sounds easy enough to do, but while planning the trip there was a lot of conflicting information about what visas and vaccinations are necessary in order to do this. This may not be the most exciting post, but I am trying to make a clarification for those who have the same questions we did.
We visited Victoria Falls in August 2014. We made this trip as a day trip from Kasane, Botswana, hiring a driver for the day. We chose not to drive into Zimbabwe from Botswana as we read from countless sources that taking a rental car into Zimbabwe is a hassle that is just not worth it.
Our family of six left Kasane at 8 am. The Kazungula border post is located just ten minutes from Kasane. This is the border crossing to take in order to get to Victoria Falls from Kasane.
The first step is to clear customs and immigration on the Botswana side, which is very quick and straightforward. This requires a quick visit into the border control office to get your passport stamped. From here you get back into your car, drive thirty seconds across the border, then clear customs and immigration on the Zimbabwe side. Here is where things slow down. In the morning there are usually large groups of tourists heading to Victoria Falls, so be prepared to wait a half hour or longer to get through this part. It took us one hour to clear customs in both countries.
In order to enter Zimbabwe, a visa will have to be purchased, and there is the option of a single entry or double entry visa. If you are planning on only walking across the Victoria Falls Bridge into Zambia without entering Livingstone, Zambia, only the single entry visa is necessary. If you plan on entering Livingstone, Zambia (going through customs in Zambia) and later re-entering Zimbabwe, then a double entry visa is necessary. We purchased the double entry visa just so we were covered, at a price of $45 USD per person. A single entry visa costs $30 USD. As it would turn out, only a single entry visa was necessary for what we wanted to do.
From the Botswana Zimbabwe border it is a one hour drive to Victoria Falls.
The Victoria Falls Bridge is located outside of Victoria Falls National Park. To walk across the bridge, park in the lot across from the main entrance to the park, make a right out of the parking lot, and walk ten minutes down the road toward the bridge.
Before being allowed to walk onto the bridge it is necessary to clear customs on the Zimbabwe side, since technically you will be entering Zambia halfway across the bridge. You will be given a piece of paper stamped with the Zimbabwe stamp. Keep this piece of paper because this gets you back into Zimbabwe.
From here, walk across the bridge, enjoy views of Victoria Falls and go bungee jumping if your heart desires. Halfway across the bridge is the Zambia border. It is a ten minute walk from the bridge into Zambia to reach their border post.
Once you are finished visiting the bridge, present the stamped piece of paper at border control to re-enter Zimbabwe and you are on your way.
In summary, to just stand on the Victoria Falls Bridge, only a single entry Zimbabwe visa ($30 USD) is necessary. Once at the Victoria Falls border post you will be given a piece of paper with a stamp on it that will get you back into Zimbabwe from the Victoria Falls Bridge.
If you choose to pass through border control in Zambia and later want to re-enter Zimbabwe, you must purchase a double entry visa ($45 USD) for Zimbabwe. Later in your trip, if you plan on entering South Africa, you must also have your Yellow Fever Vaccination. Without this vaccination, you will not be allowed to enter South Africa if you have been to Zambia.

New supermarket for Vic Falls?

Botswana Stock Exchange listed supermarket Choppies could soon open a branch in Victoria Falls, a development that will come as a relief to residents who have been made to put up with high prices due to lack of competition.

Choppies has opened 18 supermarkets in Zimbabwe since last year and if they move into Victoria Falls that could help lower down prices in the resort town where OK and TM supermarkets are the only giants.

There are other few small shops and tuck shops which are found on every street corner in the two suburbs of Mkhosana and Chinotimba.

But the resort town is arguably the most expensive place in the country with every commodity going for few more dollars higher compared to other towns.

Choppies has poured $35 million into the Zimbabwean economy and more funds are expected to be channelled towards 40 more supermarkets in the next three years.

Of the 18 supermarkets, 15 are in Bulawayo where the group made its foray into Zimbabwe last year after it acquired a 49 percent stake in the city's Modi Enterprises for $21, 2 million.

The other three opened in Harare recently.

The firm has 63 stores in Botswana and 13 outlets in South Africa and plans to move further north into Zambia and also into Mozambique.

The Victoria Falls Combined Residents' Association chairperson Morgan Dube said the development will be welcome and would provide relief to residents who are paying large sums of money for the smallest of services.

"This will be a welcome development. This is a resort town and in most cases people are charged liked they are foreign tourists which makes life expensive here," he said.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Zim/Zam receive 275m for urgent Kariba Dam repairs

Zimbabwe and Zambia have secured $275 million in loans and grants for urgent repairs to the gigantic power-generating Kariba Dam on the border between the two countries, the World Bank announced Wednesday, 17 December.

The move comes after warnings earlier this year that cracks in the man made wall standing 128 metres (420 feet) high could result in a disastrous collapse and flooding in four countries.

The European Union will provide the largest chunk of $100 million, while the World Bank and the African Development Bank will each chip in with $75 million in loans. Sweden is giving a $25 million grant.

The repairs will cost $300 million (240 million euros), and the two countries will pay the difference, said the bank.

Kariba Dam is one of the world's largest, generating more than 1,300 megawatts of hydro-power for the two countries.

Dam officials and the two governments early this year raised the alarm over the cracks in the wall, saying it needed to be repaired within three years to prevent it from collapsing.

World Bank representative Kundhavi Kadiresan described the repairs as "very important" to ensure the safety and reliability of the dam.

She said "very urgent action" was needed "to avoid a potential emergency situation that would have resulted in a devastating situation in the entire Zambezi river basin and loss of human life."

Should the dam wall collapse, flooding from the Zambezi River could hit parts of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, affecting millions of people. Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa also cautioned on the
dangers of not fixing the dam.

"We must maintain the safety of the dam wall, otherwise anything that could happen to it will have very ghastly consequences," he said at a joint news conference with the World Bank. The dam, built in 1955, is situated in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi River basin.

Source: Zimbabwe, Zambia get 275m for urgent Kariba Dam repair (23/12/14)





Saturday, 20 December 2014

Walking With Lions: Con Or Conservation?

Walking With Lions: Con Or Conservation?

I must admit that before my latest visit to Zambia, I didn’t know that much about “lion walks”, lion “cub-petting” and other similar “animal encounter” activities, either in Zambia or here at home in South Africa. But from the little I did know, something didn’t seem right to me. I’ve always felt that wild animals should be exactly that: wild. I’m no conservationist, but exposing a young lion cub to human contact always seemed a strange way to help that lion subsequently have a happy adult existence in the “wild”.
I was prompted to look more into this topic by a chance conversation with a former employee at Lion Encounter in Vic Falls whilst in South Luangwa National Park a few months back. I’d asked what he had done for work before guiding in the park, and when he said he used to work for Lion Encounter I shared my skepticism about such “projects” and asked for his opinions, and why he left Lion Encounter. The scathing and heart-wrenching story he gave me left me feeling that I had to find out more.
So once back in Cape Town, I began to do some research and found that there were a number of articles questioning the ethics and methods of Lion Encounter and similar “projects” and/or operators, many of them echoing my own initial doubts but with a lot more academic weight behind them.
I remained in contact with the former Lion Encounter employee in South Luangwa who also put me in touch with a number of other former employees and volunteers, all of whom gave similar testimonies of disillusionment and deceit without any prompting from me.
Some of the most commonly raised grievances were the poor treatment of Lion Encounter staff and volunteers, the even poorer treatment (and sometimes utter neglect) of the lions, the failure to release or rehabilitate one single lion into the wild since 1999 and the mismanagement of funds.
But most pertinent of all were the repeated assertions by volunteers and former employees from Lion Encounter that their lions were (or still are) being sold into canned hunting, a concern that mirrors the current furore around Lion Park in South Africa, following the admission by the owner that Lion Park had sold lions into canned hunting less than two years ago. As far as Lion Encounter is concerned, as one volunteer puts it, though it is hard to actually get concrete proof that any of their lions have ended up being shot in a canned hunt: “if they (Lion Encounter) deny it I would like to know where are all those cubs are going? Seriously, with as much as they breed, otherwise the continent would be spilling over with lions”.


Lions being bred for canned hunting in South Africa

Lions being bred for canned hunting in South Africa

It can be argued quite convincingly that certain types of hunting as well as the significant revenue that can be garnered from hunting can potentially, in certain instances, be good for conservation, but this is a discussion for another time. It’s also true that at present Lion Encounter isn’t actually breaking any laws, even if it is selling its lions into hunting (we know for sure at least that it has sold some its lions in the past). But what I for one feel we need to take issue with here, is the increasingly high likelihood that Lion Encounter is treating its lions unethically in one way or another and deceiving the public.
Visitors to Lion Encounter pay roughly $130 for a “lion walk”, while taking part in a volunteer program costs thousands of dollars per week. Many of the visitors to Lion Encounter, particularly the volunteers, go there believing that they are doing something good for the lions. The testimonies that I have received as well as a number of others that have been shared in the comments sections of articles about Lion Encounter and similar “projects” suggest that many leave feeling saddened, disillusioned and angered by what they have witnessed, and helpless to do anything much about it. How many would ever have spent the money in the first place if they had been better informed?
As another former volunteer concisely summed it up:
“There’s absolutely no benefit to the lions and it is, in my opinion, nothing more than a money making business.”
I recently sat down and discussed all of the above with the private owners and managers of Zambiatourism.com, and happily it was quickly decided that this website should no longer be promoting such activities. We have now used the “Lion Walks” page on this site to rather increase awareness of the criticisms, issues and allegations facing Lion Encounter (as well as other similar operators). You can visit the page here to read more on this topic.
I would also like to encourage anyone who has personally visited Lion Encounter or similar “projects” and operators in the Vic Falls area to share their thoughts in the comments section here, whichever side of the argument they fall on. The same goes for any of the current staff or management at Lion Encounter et al. Open dialogue from both sides is important going forward if things are to change for the better.

Zambia declared free of Yellow Fever by WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Zambia a yellow fever-free zone after stating that travellers from Zambia to other countries do not require vaccination certificates for the disease to enter other countries in the world.

 Dr Kasonde, the Zambian Health Minister, said the Government had since written to South Africa and Botswana to relook at their demands for certification from travellers from Zambia.
Scientific findings by the WHO conducted in Zambia in 2013 had proved that there was low yellow fever potential exposure status as communicated by the body's director general to the Ministry of Health.
"This means that travellers from Zambia do not need vaccination certificates for yellow fever in order to enter any country in the world. Of course, the final decisions are made by respective countries. We have written to South African and Botswana governments drawing their attention to the scientific findings and we await their responses," Dr Kasonde said.
Source:  AllAfrica 18/12/14

Zimbabwe coins introduced to end change shortage

The Zimbabwe Reserve Bank (RBZ) on Thursday introduced $10 million worth of special bond coins into the market to ease the shortage of small denominations of the United States dollar.

Zimbabwe adopted multi-currencies in 2009 after it was forced to introduce its inflation battered dollar but business has been struggling to deal with a shortage of United States coins.

The government has been struggling to find lasting solutions to the problem of leaving Zimbabwean retailers to devise a variety of solutions to get around the shortage of change but none of them proved satisfactory.

The country's liquidity crisis means shopkeepers and market traders often give change in sweets, airtime for mobile phones and even condoms.

But for small merchants who sell handfuls of tomatoes, onions and lemons to poor people, customers may not always have the luxury of buying a dollar's worth of merchandise.

However, RBZ injected denominations of 1c, 5c, 10c and 25c, while the 50c coin will be introduced in March next year.

Their value would be on par with United States cents and are only for local use.

Similarly, rand coins of 10c, 20c, 50c R1, R2 and R5 worth about R30 million will also be imported to complement the special bond coins.

A total of $20 million worth of bond coins will be imported alongside R20 million worth of rand coins to augment existing stock.

Zimbabwe has exclusively used foreign currency for all transactions since early 2009 after the Zimdollar was rendered worthless by a world record-breaking hyper-inflation.

The US dollar and South African rand are the main currencies used, although about five other currencies are permitted.

The introduction of the special coins has raised fears that government wanted to return the banished Zimbabwe dollar to replace the multicurrency regime.

RBZ boss John Mangudya said the bond coins which were minted outside Zimbabwe would be anchored by a $50 million bond facility from Afreximbank.

"The coins will ease the problem of small change and eliminate the problem of rounding up of prices to a dollar where there is no option to buy more goods and ease the hassle commuters go through trying to break up a dollar to find change," he said.

Source: Zimbabwe coin, change crisis ends The Africa Report (18/12/14)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Rangers drive buffalo from Zim's Vic Falls



Game rangers have driven a large herd of buffalo out of Zimbabwe's prime tourist resort of Victoria Falls, locals said on Thursday.
The buffalo were chased into the busy town in the west of the country by a pride of lions, prompting warnings to residents to be extremely careful.
The herd took refuge near the Sprayview hotel, in the centre of the resort town.
"It was quite a big herd," said Jonathan Hudson, chairperson of the town's hospitality association.
"The lions split the herd into two, but then the National Parks [rangers] and the Victoria Falls anti-poaching unit, they managed to move them back out of town.
"No injuries, just a lot of excitement. It has happened quite a while back, but not for a long time."
Warnings circulating on social media from Victoria Falls on Wednesday read: "Stay away from the bush. Do not walk along paths surrounded by bush. It is very dangerous and the buffalo have been terrorised by people and the lions."
Residents of outlying suburbs of Victoria Falls sometimes contend with wandering game, but the animals rarely venture into the centre of the town.

- SAPA

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Santoga Project an Insult to Vic Falls?



Victoria Falls town has largely remained a natural and remote vestige, making this world class tourist attraction one of the Best World Heritage sites. Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi has declared that the falls must remain so natural that if the first European to visit, David Livingstone who died in 1863, and the Tonga men Suzi and Chuma who showed Livingstone the place were to resurrect today, they would easily find their way around.
It is the unadulterated nature of Victoria Falls that has kept it ticking so much that any new project to be implemented must be carefully planned.
Of late there has been an attempt by Africa Albida to implement a $3,5 million zoo, disguised as an amusement park, on an animal corridor between Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and the Crocodile Farm, opposite the swathe of land between Elephant Hills Hotel and A'Zambezi River Lodge.
Dubbed Santoga, the project's main feature is a zoo, where wildlife will be displayed, while replicas of all tourist attractions in the country from Great Zimbabwe to Kariba will be erected.
"There will be shows throughout the day and lots of interaction with wildlife and hi-tech elements. The project is expected to bring major benefits to the Victoria Falls community, with spin offs to include the creation of more than 1 500 jobs," said Dave Glynn, AAT group chairman.
While job creation and new projects are welcome but wildlife is the mainstay of Zimbabwe's tourism and tourists the world over come not because we have the best hotels but parks where wildlife roam wild and free.
Several questions have been asked about how the game-drive industry in Victoria Falls, will be affected by the Santoga project.

Questions are being asked about how the blockage of the animal corridor that has been giving wildlife access to the Zambezi River, will deal a blow to the teeming wildlife.
Those who have driven along the road past Elephant Hills towards A'Zambezi River Lodge will testify to the amount of wildlife traffic, especially the impala and elephants that have left that corridor a stunted Mopane bush shrubbery. To block such a corridor is not only insensitive to the plight of wildlife but is utterly disgusting to conservationists.
The Victoria Falls Municipality and all and sundry in the town must have been sleeping on duty to allow the project, whose layout, infrastructure, design and content plans are very well advanced with completion set for July 2016.
A zoo is certainly not the best thing for Victoria Falls, never.
Not this time. Any project that drives away wildlife from Victoria Falls or unjustifiably violates wildlife rights is not suitable for a place like Victoria Falls.
The Santoga project needs to be reviewed and re-designed to ensure that it does not deface or soil the World heritage status of Victoria Falls.

Source:  Santoga Project an Insult to Vic Falls

Botswana’s Bushmen resist modernity

Bushmen in Botswana's Kalahari desert are torn between their ancestral traditions and the demands of the modern world. It leaves them struggling to maintain the remnants of their hunter-gatherer way of life.
The blazing sun of the Kalahari desert beats down on a village inhabited by Bushmen in Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

 ADVERTISEMENT

Women with babies sit on blankets in the shade of the doorways of their grass huts.
A man pounds maize under one of the few trees growing in the white sand. Small children chase goats, while older ones try to ride reluctant donkeys.
“This is our ancestral land,” said villager Kesebonye Roy, 29.
“If someone gets sick, we go to the grave site of that person's ancestor to ask for help. We also pray to our ancestors for rain.”
The residents of Molapo re-established their village after the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Botswana government had no right to force Kalahari Bushmen to live in resettlement camps, where they were due to be integrated into modern society.
The camps were on the outskirts of the game reserve and have schools and health centres. The Bushmen were also given land to cultivate.
But many of them preferred to return to Molapo and other villages in remote areas of the 53 000-square-kilometre game reserve, where they are struggling without any modern amenities to preserve remnants of their ancient way of life.
“The Bushmen's connection to their land is very spiritual. Losing it would destroy their identity,” said Fiona Watson from the tribal people's lobby group, Survival International.
About 100 000 Bushmen - also known as the San or Basarwa - remain in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola.
They are known as the “first people” and are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa.
Investigators and visitors have looked to the Bushmen for clues into how humans may have lived in the Stone Age.
But after two millennia of interaction with Bantu populations, and now under heavy pressure from the modern world, the Bushmen no longer provide an adequate model for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that early modern humans practised for hundreds of thousands of years.
Residents of Molapo - a village of about 50 people - still gather wild berries, herbs and roots for nourishment and medicinal uses.
The government's refusal to supply them with water - allegedly to force them back to resettlement camps to make room for tourism and diamond mines - has left them reliant on the traditional method of obtaining it from the rain, as well as from melons they cultivate or collect in the wild.
But the Bushmen no longer hunt - with the exception of boys shooting birds and rabbits with their bows and arrows - because it is forbidden inside the game reserve.
President Ian Khama also imposed a nationwide hunting ban in January on all species including the eland, the hunting of which was central to the Kalahari Bushmen's culture.
The meat of the eland was shared between community members. Shamanic healers absorbed the invisible energy of the slain animal in trance during communal dances, touching the sick to try to heal them.
Today, there are no healers left in Molapo.
“We are Christians,” Roy said.
The villagers also have chiefs, contradicting their traditional lack of social hierarchies - even if the Molapo chief is not recognised by everyone. All of the male elders have a say when disputes arise.
In the face of such modernisation, Bushman culture is increasingly becoming a spectacle for tourists. The Bushmen now dress in animal skins, dance and make modern versions of their traditional ostrich eggshell jewellery - a trend Bushman organisations are trying to reverse.
“We love who we are,” activist Jumanda Gakelebone said.
“The government is trying to turn us into pastoralists, which we are not. We are ecological hunter-gatherers who have a lot to teach the world about how to coexist peacefully with Mother Earth.”
But, while Gakelebone campaigns for the Bushmen's right to hunt, Molapo residents are already leading a pastoralist lifestyle, living off their cattle and goats - kept illegally inside the game reserve - and cultivating crops.
Many Bushmen outside the game reserve make a living as farm labourers or as tourist guides.
The few who have gone to university “are ashamed of being Bushmen”, Gakelebone said.
“They even change their names to appear more civilised.”
Some of the Molapo residents also feel ambivalent about preserving their traditional way of life.
“We want the same opportunities as everyone else,” said Xamme Gaothobogwe, 58, deploring the fact that children must move to a resettlement camp in order to go to school.
At night, when countless stars fill the sky, some of the villagers come to sit around a fire. The flames reveal the shapes of donkeys standing in the darkness. The chirping of crickets fills the cooler air.
Such moments are good for telling stories - perhaps about animals - a tradition that has not yet died out among the Kalahari Bushmen. 

Source:  Botswana’s Bushmen resist modernity