Sydney Kawadza Mash West Bureau Chief
Lake Kariba, the largest man-made dam in Southern Africa, is not difficult to market because of its magnificence, teeming wildlife and clear, mesmerising blue waters.
Its rich history has been told over and over again. The packed wildlife on its shores has led it to being touted as a “little bit of paradise”.
That little bit of paradise called Kariba is indeed a gem awaiting to be polished for its glow to emerge, making the resort spot a prime tourist destination.
There is a breakthrough in all these efforts. One such breakthrough being the launch of the $2,5m African Dream Cruise Boat that Vice President Constantino Chiwenga graced on September 23 this year.
As the VP aptly said, “such a development could not have come at any better time than now” with Government seized with the revival of Kariba as a tourism destination. Kariba had been, according to Vice President Chiwenga, for years, a favourable playground for both domestic and international tourists, especially South Africans.
“Back then, visitors would throng Kariba in their thousands to enjoy the heat, game viewing, casino, boating, fishing and generally the expanse of the inland water body as well as its rich history and cultural heritage. This market segment sunk into oblivion due to a number of factors, among them key enabling infrastructure that needs rehabilitation, coupled with the isolation of our great and beautiful country,” he said.
VP Chiwenga added that to reverse the negative developments, Government, under the leadership of President Mnangagwa, has a pragmatic policy to engage, re-engage and open “Zimbabwe for Business.”
President Mnangagwa’s “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” is, according to the launch of the African Dream Cruise Boat, bearing fruit. The luxury boat, with a carrying capacity of 16 people, was designed and built by a Zimbabwean company, GDI (PVT) Ltd based in Msasa, Harare, which is one of the 23 boat builders in Africa.
Owned by CroisiEurope, a company owned by French entrepreneurs, the Shmitter family, Zimbabwe becomes the 33rd country in which they operate from across the world. In terms of boat manufacturing and cruise, the African Dream is the first in Africa.
Vice President Chiwenga added that the cruise presented Zimbabwe with an excellent opportunity to show the world that the country is ready for business.
“It is a demonstration that Zimbabwe has the requisite skilled labour force. . .The investment, which was done in partnership with a French-based company amounts to $2.5m,” he said.
The VP said Kariba should be developed into another SADC tourism hub, promoting regional integration and filling a gap of development between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“The situation in Kariba calls for serious and meaningful tourism development as well as aggressive marketing of Lake Kariba and its environs. Given the location of Kariba, access plays a critical role just like any other tourist attraction. Kariba is such a powerful tourism magnet that deserves an international airport with the capacity to handle direct international flights from the region and beyond,” he said.
There is no reason why – VP Chiwenga noted – Kariba, a strategic location, is not directly accessible from other domestic, regional and global centres.
“We envisage direct flights from Johannesburg, Lusaka, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and even Central, West and North Africa coming directly into Kariba.”
He said Government’s thrust was to open Zimbabwe’s skies hence the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development had the re-development of Kariba Airport as one of its priority areas.
Government was prioritising the development of the Harare-Chirundu Highway including the Makuti-Kariba link as a way of improving accessibility to the resort town.
“As the gateway to the vast water body and the entire lower Zambezi, Kariba could be in a similar position as Victoria Falls. It is very important that our God-given and shared resources such as the Victoria Falls and the man-made Lake Kariba are well developed and linked in order to improve the livelihoods of our people,” he said.
Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Prisca Mupfumira believes the launch of the African Dream Cruise Boat is also in line with Government’s thrust to sustainably develop the industry in Zimbabwe. She said Government would align its tourism policies, business operations and investments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The SDGs are 8, 12 and 14 which seek to create jobs and promote local culture and products through sustainable tourism, adopt sustainable consumption and production including sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources among others.
“My ministry is aiming at promoting tourism through the sustainable development goals journey to 2030 which aims to build knowledge and empower and inspire tourism stakeholders to take necessary action to accelerate the shift towards a more sustainable tourism sector,” she said.
Minister Mupfumira said Government, in pushing this agenda, will be guided by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation which is encouraging voluntary national reviews.
“Zimbabwe intends to join 64 countries that have already been reviewed and as such we are mobilising provincial advisory committees to ensure that whatever we do, our tourism must be sustainable.”
Referring to Lake Kariba as the African Island Sea, Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs Minister Mary Mliswa said it is a well-known area for its spectacular and mesmerising sunset, several islands, rich in wildlife, and incredible fishing opportunities. She said the cruise boat’s launch was testimony to the strides Government is taking in rebuilding Zimbabwe’s economy and the role that tourists are playing in the development of tourism.
“The cruise boat will not only provide employment directly but much more will be created in the downstream industries such as our local farmers who will be shelve food providers.
“The cruise boat further underscores our nation’s rich human capital as the ship was designed and build by the GDI (PVT) Ltd boatyard based in Harare. The outstanding workmanship in Harare has impressed the investor that they have committed themselves to the building of second luxury boat and the construction is expected to begin in October and completion is set for March 2020.”
She said the introduction of devolution means Mashonaland West would leverage its business on such resources to ensure that the province meets its targets in the envisaged provincial GDPs. The Shmitter family representative, Lucas, who accompanied his parents, Patrick and Daniele, hailed the business environment in Zimbabwe.
He also applauded the close collaboration between the Governments of Zimbabwe and France.
“The boat was built in Zimbabwe through the combination of African ingenuity and French engineering. We are very proud of the Zimbabwean flag flying at the stern of the ship, which is a symbol of our true industrial co-operation leading to international success in the tourism industry. Lake Kariba and its beautiful landscapes are the ideal setting to welcome our passengers. We are totally won over by the unspoiled wilderness, the exceptional flora and fauna and the breath-taking views.
“And of course, the grandness of Victoria Falls left us utterly speechless. But above all else, the unanimously positive feedback we get from our passengers regarding the warm welcome they receive when arriving in Zimbabwe; the kindness and joie de vivre of the locals is anything but a myth.”
The boat which has a crew of 14 Zimbabweans, has already been fully-booked for the next two years starting in January 2019. He said the beautiful Zimbabwean environment, teeming wildlife and landscape has won over several tourists to the country.
He said the success of the RV African Dream has inspired construction of a second ship to be launched on Lake Kariba in March 2020.
“This second boat will be named the Zimbabwean Dream and will start cruising in March 2010, welcoming more than 1 500 passengers and bringing the grand total of customers to 3 000 per year across both boats,” he said.
There are also plans underway for a third boat. The Shmitter family business, CroisiEurope, boosts 42 years in existence, a fleet of 55 boats and ships in Europe, Asia, North and South Americas as well as Africa, 2 000 collaborations and more than 250 000 loyal customers.
Interestingly, Lake Kariba’s link with the French can be traced to the Chief Designer of the Kariba Dam Wall Andrew Coin, a well-known French engineer and inventor who designed 70 dams in 14 countries around the world.
Lake Kariba covers an area of nearly 5 600 square km and is fed by the mighty Zambezi River which begins its journey 2 700km in North West Zambia and reaches the Indian Ocean through Mozambique.