Transfrontier park to open

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, Francis Nhema this week said Presidents Arimando Guebuza of Mozambique, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa are expected to grace the prestigious event at Giriyondo, almost four years since the heads of state of the three states signed the international treaty setting up the park.

“We expect the three leaders to be part of this important event. This is the first border to be opened for the entry into the other part of the park and this will also be an opportunity for all parties to discuss issues pertaining to the development and benefits expected to emerge from the sanctuary,” Nhema said.

He said this is another part of the region’s initiatives to market its tourism in preparation for the World Cup to be hosted by South Africa and essentially the whole region.

As part of their drive to market the region, Tourism Ministers from Southern Africa met in Botswana last week to discuss how best they can market the region and maximize benefits in areas of business investment and tourism.

The region had a responsibility to work together towards the improvement of all areas seen to have potential of drawing the attention of tourists.

“We also have to move fast and construct a grand bridge supposed to link the whole park and this strategic point of entry is going to link the two corners of Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou and Kruger in South Africa.”

He said a temporary and less expensive bridge would be built while preparations regarding the construction of the major bridge are being made.

Environmental experts indicated that absolute attention to the development of the park should be prioritised particularly when the region is expecting an upsurge of tourists in 2010.

The development of infrastructure is also a major challenge for Mozambique and Zimbabwe while South Africa’s Kruger has been highly developed.

Zimbabwe is still to open up new roads, de-mine some sections of the park and install electricity.

The Government has so far injected Z$132 million for various projects in Gonarezhou, replenishing the $100 million it gave out early this year.

Nhema said Zimbabwe has no intention of destroying the natural aspect of the park as some tourists find such raw wilderness an excitement.

Mozambique although still lagging behind has sealed a number of deals with investors while the donor community has since poured millions for the development of Limpopo.

The 2010 World Cup has also compelled the region’s tourism Ministers to lobby for the implementation of the universal visa, which will make movement of tourists less cumbersome.

“We have resolved to have implemented the uni-visa by October 2008,” Nhema said.

There is still much to do until the whole 35 000 square kilometre park, and a surrounding conservation area, mainly in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, amounting to another 64 000 square kilometres is fully realised.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park were obviously the easiest two to connect; they are simply separated by a fence, a fence that has already been partially torn down.

So the first border post was planned to connect the two. Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, and two small adjacent safari areas, are not only on the other side of the Limpopo River, but were separated by almost 20km of sparsely inhabited communal farming land from the southern two parks.

But the Zimbabwe authorities, showing almost infinite patience, have at last persuaded the people in the Sengwa Wilderness Corridor, established to connect Gonarezhou to Kruger, to move to significantly better land and plans are at an advanced stage for an adequate bridge over the Limpopo, to be replaced by a high-level bridge later.

As soon as this first bridge is up the second border post will be opened, with officials of South Africa and Zimbabwe, like the Giriyondo teams, sharing many facilities to make life as simple as possible for the visitor.

An existing border post at Sango will connect Gonarezhou with the nothern Mozambican conservation area.

Since the Limpopo National Park is a fairly late creation, a small number of Mozambicans are also having to be moved, and again have agreed to take up better land elsewhere.

Ecologically the park has always been a scientist’s dream.

The larger a block of land preserved for conservation, the easier it is to maintain complex ecosystems in their natural state.

From the tourism point of view, all three countries see a major benefit. Kruger is highly developed, some say too developed, with a million visitors a year and ever-tighter rationing of access.

So South Africa welcomes the extension of the area since this allows more visitors with less potential damage.

The other two core parks were different.

Gonarezhou was deliberately kept in almost pristine condition since it was declared a park after all game had been shot in the area in a pre-1950s attempt to control tsetse fly.

But in the 21st century, a post colonial century, national parks while necessary also have to earn their keep.

The Limpopo National Park was also a later creation, designed to conserve the core of an almost unused area.

Both Mozambique and Zimbabwe will benefit almost immediately from an influx of tourists.

August 2006
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