Victoria Falls-based tourism company, Shearwater Adventures, has revealed that it is planning a new $6m (R41m) project outside the Victoria Falls rainforest, near the World Heritage Site’s VIP entrance. The new development should replace the current restaurant, which Shearwater built earlier this year within the rainforest.
The current Shearwater restaurant at Victoria Falls caused an uproar last month when the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) claimed the development was threatening the World Heritage status of the area. Allegedly to protect the area’s status, the NMMZ decided to forcefully take over management of the park from the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority with the aid of armed policemen, and to replace the park’s flag and banners with NMMZ flags.
The NMMZ, as well as various environmental institutions, claimed the Shearwater development violated national, regional and international regulations under which a World Heritage Site is governed. Clement Mukwazi, PR Manager Shearwater Adventures, maintains, however, that the restaurant is in no way a threat to the World Heritage status of the Victoria Falls and that no violations were made. She says: “Unesco was consulted through their local representatives and they accepted that we should go ahead and upgrade the tourist facilities in the manner we did.”
Paul Connolly, Legal Adviser to Shearwater, adds: “A final and most important fact is that the project occupies less than 0,05% of the rain forest area. It is constructed within the boundaries of buildings that have existed there for many years. It does not intrude into any area that did not previously have some kind of development on it.”
The battle over the management of the rainforest has been raging for many years. The area was declared a national monument in 1932 and a national park in 1957. Unesco designated it a World Heritage Site in 1989. Museum officials claim that the Victoria Falls, as a national monument, fall under the Home Affairs Ministry, while the parks authority is superintended by the Environment and Natural Resources Management Ministry.
The matter was resolved when Vice President of Zimbabwe, John L. Nkomo, directed in November this year that, with immediate effect, the management of the Victoria Falls must revert to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Ross Kennedy, CE Africa Albida, warns the admin and legals shouldn’t distract from what is important. He says: “At all costs, the long-term plan for the rain forest must be one that delivers a world-class experience in a pristine environment to our visitors while preserving this natural wonder and its environs. In this modern day, it is remarkable that we have been able to maintain such a low-key commercial aspect to the rain forest, and that is commendable indeed.