Sydney Kawadza Senior Reporter
In Rusape, St Theresa, in particular, Manicaland province, villagers talk of the Maninga Mountains – a range adding to the beautiful landscape occupying a unique place in the people’s hearts.
A part of Zimbabwe’s apocryphal tales, the Maninga Mountains’ rich history is pregnant with tales associated with the craftiness of the Maungwe people.
Various large caves make part of the Maninga range’s story as these ningas – caves running for kilometres and large enough to accommodate villagers, their livestock and food stocks for months.
These caves, believed to be bigger than the popular Chinhoyi Caves, were used in times of plenty to protect the yields. They acted as grain storage but also came in handy when the villagers hid in the caves from the marauding warriors who invaded these parts.
The ningas accommodated even the people’s livestock. Whether these stories are true or not, the caves are there and remain unexplored. No-one knows their true value, economically, both to the villagers and the tourism authorities in Zimbabwe.
The ningas, however, remain an interesting enigma. But how are these caves beneficial to the villagers? The Zimbabwe National Tourism Master Plan could be the answer.
The Master Plan seeks to identify potential tourism magnets to grow new tourist attractions in Zimbabwe. The plan has identified 11 Tourism Development Zones in Harare, Eastern Highlands, Chimanimani, Gonarezhou, Limpopo, Great Zimbabwe, Midlands, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Kariba and Mavhuradonha.
Those who know or have heard of the Maninga Mountains suggest that they fit squarely into the TDZ. The TDZ identifies potential product development opportunities.
These can generate small to medium investments and larger, more ambitious, projects to diversify the tourism product in Zimbabwe. The TDZ can also ensure the equitable spread of tourism benefits to communities.
The Mavhuradonha TDZ, however, has a potential to raise hopes for many rural communities that the tourism cake can be expanded for their benefit.
This TDZ area is a wilderness in northern Zimbabwe, which is part of the eastern side of the Zambezi Escarpment. The Master Plan states: “The terrain is extremely wild and rugged and the escarpments meet with Zimbabwe’s mineral rich Great Dyke Range.” Authorities believe “Mavhuradonha is one of Zimbabwe’s true wilderness.”
“The area is endowed with rich biodiversity with part of it designated as an Important Bird Area.” It houses the Tengenenge Arts Village with 2000 stone sculpture artists, basic accommodation, a wildlife farm and the Nyamaneche National Park. Mavhuradonha is believed to have a potential for a world class mini-tourism destination.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi, in his foreword to the Master Plan, states there is a vibrant, real and powerful tourism economy that can play a central role in helping Zimbabwe to flourish.
“My ministry sees tourism as one integrated economic system – making substantive social, economic and environmental contributions that are very necessary, structurally, to economic success, very responsive to the citizens of the nation and that can bring wealth creation across many sectors and communities,” he said.
Tourism, according to the Master Plan, has the potential to stimulate economic growth while creating crucial employment. The Master Plan also identifies tourism as a tool for poverty alleviation.
The sector has shown huge potential for growth rising from a $200 million economy in 2009 to the current $1 billion. Minister Mzembi believes there is need to re-define tourism while enhancing community participation and beneficiation of the industry.
“This sector needs serious re-definitions, its understanding of the international community, regional, even our community.
“There has always been one definition in a leisure way. That it is a sector reserved for those who are already privileged, the rich,” he said.
The Master Plan will work as a guide in product development and diversification, infrastructural and manpower development, community participation and preservation of our nature, culture and heritage.
Minister Mzembi, after his global campaign for the position of secretary general of the UNWTO, looks at domesticating his vision. Zimbabwean tourism, in the colonial era, took place in a constricted band along the Zambezi basin. These areas include Victoria Falls, Kariba, Mana Pools and other few select areas.
“We have identified new growth frontiers in all provinces in what needs to be done to grow the tourism cake,” he said. He said Zimbabwe had magnets, the major attractions, such as the Victoria Falls, as tourist destinations.
“We have taken an overall growth strategy, that of new frontiers in all provinces, anchored on geographical spread of these tourism nuggets or magnets,” he said. Minister Mzembi said people have been struggling to find the nexus between the tourism products and community beneficiation.
“So you will see an attempt to integrate these communities and their involvement in this plan,” he said. The Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry has signposted a $5 billion tourism economy by the year 2020.
The call – Vision 5:5:15:2020 – looks towards a $5 billion tourism economy from five million arrivals, contributing 15 percent to gross domestic product by year 2020.
Minister Mzembi said among the identified 11 TDZs, the Victoria Falls has been designated a special economic zone, with enhanced features in terms of investment attractiveness.
“My vision is really to see that extension of SEZ status extended to all remaining 10 (tourism development zones) . . . (for) a democratic dispensation that ensures that there is tourism for all inclusively,” he said.
The re-definition, Minister Mzembi says, will go beyond its ledger definition to include historical, liberation tourism, religious tourism, culinary and cultural tourism.
“These are elements of tourism that you will not ordinarily see in the leisure definition,” he said. The launch of the Master Plan later this year coincides with the designation of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
“Going forward to 2030, as you will be aware, tourism is assigned to three Sustainable Development Goals.
“The first one, SDG No. 8 (is) on decent jobs and growth and if this plan cannot expose the jobs opportunities for the youths in alignment with our own vision at the African Union on harnessing the demographic dividend and investing in the youths, then it is not good enough.
“So I would like to see a link in terms of output between what has been designated as zones and how they are going to generate jobs going forward to 2030 in alignment with the SDG.”
The next SDG, No. 12 on sustainable consumption and production, Minister Mzembi said, is relevant to the extent that biodiversity constitutes 80 percent of the tourism product in Zimbabwe and Africa.
“The sustainable management of our flora and fauna is so imperative to the extent that we can sustain the product and attractions that bring in current international source markets into our destination.
“We have to drive a very strong message around sustainable management of our biodiversity if we are going to sustain the product going forward in the future,” he said.
The third goal, Minister Mzembi said, Goal No. 14, which is related to life under water.
“It was conceived mainly on the back of oceanic resources but I am sure you know that in Zimbabwe we now have huge and large water bodies like the Tokwe-Mukosi, Kariba Dam and others that characterize life under water,” he said.
The minister believes there is recreational and empowerment potential of Zimbabwe water bodies in fisheries and aquaculture products.
“It is in that context that you find us at the UNWTO celebrating at least one of the international tourism days with a theme on tourism.
“Water because; wherever there is water, there is tourism; wherever there is water, there is recreational potential and wherever there is water there is tourism.”
Minister Mzembi said the Master Plan speaks to the overall development thrust in the country as enunciated under Zim-Asset.
“You will find, for example, the vision for transport development and the development of transport infrastructure and networks.
“Actually speaking of what we call economic arteries in this book, where we say, roads must lead somewhere and they must lead where there is economic activity.”
He said Zimbabwe’s many hidden treasures are not known because they are not accessible.
“This plan attempts to speak to the future; to say, if we are going to know all these assets, they must be accessible and they must be a transport artery, an economic artery network that basically exposes them.”
At the global level, tourism is the third global export earner, after fuels and chemicals, foodstuffs including automobiles.
It also contributes 10 percent of GDP employing 300 million across the world while adding 30 percent to global service exports and seven percent to net exports.
In Zimbabwe tourism has grown from a $200 million economy in 2009 to the $1 billion that it is today.
“It means there is incremental and exponential growth but this is coming out of natural attractiveness of the destination plus branding,” Minister Mzembi said.
He said there was also need for investment and application of basic laws of diminishing returns.
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