By Marianne Betts
It should be peak season in the normally bustling tourist town of Victoria Falls, but there is not a visitor in sight.
Travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought Zimbabwe’s top tourist destination to a standstill – the craft markets are closed, as are the many souvenir shops and hotels and the larger species of wildlife – particularly elephants – have returned to its quiet centre.
Tourism has collapsed, and along with it the livelihoods of most of Victoria Falls’ 35,000 residents, bringing untold hardships to the community, with starvation looming large.
However, showing trademark Zimbabwean resourcefulness, the Victoria Falls community has banded together in these tough times, with those able to, assisting the more vulnerable members of the community. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate, operated by hospitality group Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), has been a part of this.
AAT chief executive Ross Kennedy says the community in and around Victoria Falls is the fundamental strength of the destination and tourism sector.
“In good times and in bad, and especially in the unprecedented times of COVID-19’s devastating impact, it is this very same community that has shown incredible spirit, fortitude and resolve,” Kennedy says.
“AAT has continued to contribute to community projects through our corporate social responsibility policies and ethos to the best of our resources and abilities in such challenging times,” Kennedy says.
“We have spread our support through human resources, donations of goods and services, and the limited financial support we can give with business closed, as well as energy, guidance and skills where appropriate.
“We all wish we could do more of course, but our commitment to do as much as we can for as long as we can, will prevail. We salute our colleagues and the community in both public and private sectors for their commitment and loyalty to the Victoria Falls community.”
Despite being closed since April 1, the Vulture Culture Experience – a supplementary feeding programme for these endangered birds – has continued at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate, so has support for the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU), and operations at Victoria Falls Recycling.
In addition, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate staff members Modester Bonda, Mluleki Moyo and Matina Sangwene visited Monde Village last week, located 14km from Victoria Falls town, with donations of clothing, which came from employees and past guests, and soap. Smiles lit up the faces of those who benefited from this donation.
Village head Gladys Ziwoya said: “We feel so greatly honoured and happy with the donation that you have made to our community and it will greatly help some members in my community, especially in this winter season”.
VFAPU, which works in support of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police to protect Victoria Falls’ wildlife, and relies on donations to survive, has also been hit hard. AAT also handed over goods, which included first aid supplies, cameras and batteries to VFAPU, last week, donated by past guests through the Pack for a Purpose initiative. NB: We can put a link to the PFAP website here for info.
A Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate team also joined an initiative spearheaded by Greenline Africa, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and others to remove lantana from the Victoria Falls rainforest last week.
Greenline Africa trustee Charlene Hewat says: “The problem with lantana is that it is invasive, and will take over areas and suffocate other plants from the area. We have just managed to remove 70 per cent of it from the rainforest.
“Greenline Africa is working mostly in the rural communities at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hewat says. “About 40 per cent of the urban population have relocated to rural communities during this period and this has impacted enormously on these communities. What is real in the rural areas is that people are suffering.”
Meanwhile, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate general manager Anald Musonza has also spent time ensuring that the region is equipped to manage the pandemic by being instrumental in establishing the Victoria Falls COVID-19 Taskforce, of which he is deputy chair.
The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate gardens are growing food for vulnerable communities, and US$500 has been donated towards medical and personal protective equipment to fight COVID-19. In addition, food has been donated to health workers, soap to the returnees at the quarantine centre, as well as 1,000 food hampers to the less privileged, Musonza says.
Work done by the taskforce has included setting up two isolation centres and a quarantine centre for returning residents, refurbishing Victoria Falls Hospital’s intensive care unit and safeguarding the food security of the community’s vulnerable families.
• For those wishing to assist vulnerable Victoria Falls communities during the COVID-19 pandemic please donate to:
- Victoria Falls COVID-19 Taskforce at www.gofundme.com/f/vic-falls-ventilator-and-covid19-supplies/donate or
- Greenline Africa at https://www.givengain.com/c/greenlineafrica/