Zimbabwe denies scuppering development of transfrontier park

19 April 2004

Also appearing in Sunday Tribune and Sunday Argus

Johannesburg - The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) this week dismissed concerns by South African and Mozambican tourism ministries that Zimbabwe was scuppering development on its side of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park by failing to finance capital development projects on the Gonarezhou National Park.

South African minister of tourism, Valli Moosa, and his Mozambican counterpart, Fernando Sumbana, emerged from a meeting in Maputo last week saying that while the Mozambican and South African parts of the park were well on their way to becoming an integrated system, Gonarezhou on the Zimbabwean side remained a separate entity.

ZTA`s Ndaipaneyi Mukwena told Business Report that unlike South Africa and Mozambique, which had secured foreign funding, Zimbabwe was having to go it alone since international donors had pulled out for political reasons.

`As you may well know that Zimbabwe is under selective sanctions, from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and international donors. Zimbabwe is having to rely on its own resources and well wishers to finance projects in the Gonarezhou,` Mukwena said.

Zimbabwe, which is the fourth-largest economy in Africa and South Africa`s largest trading partner on the continent, is in the throes of a deep economic crisis that has seen the latest inflation figures running at 600 percent.

The country is in its fifth consecutive year of recession, foreign currency is scarce, manufacturing companies have closed, commercial agriculture is struggling to feed its 14 million citizens, and international agencies have frozen aid.

The three countries signed treaties in 2000 to establish the world`s largest animal conservancy. At 35 000km², the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park combines the Kruger National Park, the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe.

Since then, South Africa and Mozambique have consulted with the 20 000 people who live in their parts and up to 150km of military fence had been pulled down.

Translocation of game, including elephants and other big game was continual, 4x4 vehicle tracks were being mapped out, a border post is under construction and tourists are expected to start crossing between the two countries in October.

Mozambique is funding its initiatives partly from a R65 million grant from the German Development Bank for infrastructure development, while another R65 million has come from the EU for the resettlement of people from the footprint of the Limpopo national park.

The country`s demining programme near the national park, has also received R10 million from the donor community.

The South African government recently announced a R40 million grant for the building of infrastructure, while private game lodge developers have showed huge interest in the eastern part of the Kruger National Park, alongside traditional seasonal migration routes for wild animals to and from Gonarezhou.

Mukwena said it was untrue that nothing was happening on the Zimbabwe side. In this year`s budget its ministry of finance had allocated Z$17.9 billion (R26 million) for the upgrading of international airports, part of which was already being spent on the refurbishment of Buffalo Range Airport in the southwest of Zimbabwe, which is the entrypoint to Gonarezhou.

The state had also allocated Z$2.2 billion (R3.2 million) for the upgrading of existing tourism facilities in the 5 000km² Gonarezhou, which is potentially one of the best game-viewing sites on the continent.

`We have started with three main areas of road development, electrification and communications. These will provide for accessibility for interested investors to develop campsites.

`One big project that is on the drawing board is the development of the biodiversity animal corridor linking Gonarezhou with the Kruger,` Mukwena said.

`It will be a virtual bridge for some of the larger animals like elephant and eland, which have traditionally crossed through the two countries for centuries.`

Mukwena said lack of funds had put on hold demining programmes for landmines left over from Zimbabwe`s war of liberation, which ended in 1980. It would be suicidal to open sections of Gonarezhou to tourists when there were still concerns over large tracks of border land that contained landmines.

Commitment from the Zimbabwe side was also evident m projects by its Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire), which was combining initiatives by ecologists and rural development specialists for communities alongside Gonarezhou to generate income and improve the quality of their lives.

These included encouraging rural people to change their attitudes towards ecology, to help ensure the survival of wildlife and natural ecosystems, and thus reduce the environmental degradation that often accompanies rural poverty.

Zimbabwe was looking at tourism to lead its economic recovery since the country offered variety, affordability, infrastructure and one of the seven wonders of the world - the Victoria Falls, which alongside the Great Zimbabwe ruins is a world heritage site.

South African tour operators had been making inquiries with the ZTA to package and sell Zimbabwe as a standalone destination, or in a multi-destination package of Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, Mukwena said.

Mozambique was featuring in the plans because of the transfrontier park, she said `The bad publicity that Zimbabwe has suffered in international media has had positive aspects, with people now coming from all over to see things for themselves. Many are surprised that Zimbabwe is actually not the hell that our detractors want to make it look like.`

Business Report - 20040418Kenneth Chikanga

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