Beitbridge: A sleeping tourism giant
Tourism is one of the major national economic development anchors in Zimbabwe, contributing at least 10 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually.
Commonly referred to as a world of wonders, Zimbabwe has adopted robust policies to speed up economic growth through accelerated development of tourism facilities and products.
This is in line with the achievement of the envisaged Vision 2030.
According to the Government, the full implementation of the devolution concept will ensure that every part of the country develops economically from the grassroots level.
Accelerated economic growth has become a dream for the Beitbridge community, domicile in a district in the southernmost part of the country, which sits on perhaps a virgin tourism zone.
The area has great potential to contribute to the country’s gross domestic product.
This is a district which houses two great transfrontier conservation areas that include the Greater Limpopo and the Greater Mapungubwe TFCAs, which Zimbabwe shares with Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.
This region is rich in natural wonders and historical sites.
The Limpopo River which separates the country from South Africa is dotted with several natural features on its course right to the Indian Ocean.
All these Zimbabwean components of the mega parks are found in Beitbridge district on the east and west.
An hour’s drive southwest of Beitbridge town will lead you to Sentinel Safaris where the country’s component of the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA begins. This area has been home to the Bristows for over five decades and has become a very significant feature since the discovery of the large dinosaur fossil beds the family have known since 1950.
The safari is also rich in fauna and flora with over 300 birds species, Mopani woodlands, Mapungubwe Heritage and archaeological and middle Stone Age sites which are more than 750-years-old.
Sentinel Safaris co-director, Mrs Vanessa Bristow, said recently that there are at least 15 known sites which are between 190 and 240 million years old though we continue to discover more.
One of the sites, she said, was discovered around 1994 when a member of the family stumbled on the clearly visible vertebrae, ribs, and pelvis and leg bones in their sandstone sarcophagus while walking on the farm with friends.
“Another site was discovered on Christmas Day in 2006 by our son Adam Bristow, when he was sent with his brother to look for fossils with their new folding pick-and-spade sets,” said Mrs Bristow.
“The site has a collection of large vertebrae and limb bones which were found tumbling out of a steep hillside where a deep gully was being gouged by rain water.”
She said the Tuli fossils are under review and name changes may be on the cards in the not too distant future.
“Palaeontology is a living science, with new methods and technologies of dating and identification being discovered all the time, and our fossils are no exception,” she said.
On the eastern side, South Africa and Zimbabwe have set plans in motion to open a tourism border at the Tshikwalakwala area along the Limpopo River to boost tourism activities in the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation area (GLTFCA).
The development follows a successful implementation of a dry run in November this year, which saw a group of seven travel reporters entering from the Pafuri area in South Africa through Tshikwalakwala some 130km east of the Beitbridge Border Post.
They also left via the same point and are expected to profile a number of tourist’s attraction centres and products in Zimbabwe’s component of the GLTFCA.
It is envisaged that the new entry point will be opened on a set schedule mostly during the dry season when the Limpopo river bed will be dry.
The GLTFCA is made up of national parks from Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
At the moment South Africa and Zimbabwe share the Beitbridge Port of Entry as the only land port, and occasionally informal borders are opened at Shashe and Tshikwalakwala for seasonal tourism events.
GLTFCA International Coordinator, Mr Gwinyai Muti said during a recent interview that they expect the new tourism border to be officially opened soon.
“The sole purpose of this tour is to test and capture GPS points for the route directly linking Kruger National Park in South Africa and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe through affected communal land, whilst simultaneously showcasing and marketing community facilities along the route to the mini group of media houses,” he said
“This is in line with one of the GLTFCA objectives which seek to promote trans-border ecotourism as a means of fostering regional socio-economic development and integration.
“After this dry run, we expect journalists from across Sadc to market this place as a destination of choice in Africa.”
Mr Muti said annually the South African component of the mega park was receiving over 1,5 million tourists and that Zimbabwe was targeting at least 10 percent of those to cross over to Zimbabwe during the course of their visit.
He said Zimbabwean authorities had covered a lot of ground in terms of seeing the tourism border operating as planned in line with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) and the envisaged Vision 2030.
The official said the identified crossing point, he said, had the potential to enhance tourism access and beneficiation linked to the wildlife economy between the Great Kruger Protected area network.
The area includes the Makuleke Contractual National Park, Sengwe Corridor, and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and the Limpopo National park in Mozambique.
Another area with the potential to attract tourists to the district is the sacred Dulivhadzimu Gorge, which lies 3km west of the border post.
The town’s oldest high density suburb, a clinic, a primary school, a soccer team, a pharmacy and the local stadium have all been named after this legendary gorge – a preserve of the Makhakhavhule Clan.
Many stories are told of the importance of the place to the VhaVenda culture and rain making rites.
Beitbridge East parliamentarian, Cde Albert Nguluvhe said the district had great tourism potential which needs serious investments.
“We need to have accommodation facilities with reasonable rates, market the Dulivhadzimu Gorge and other sacred places including small game parks like the Vhembe Game park just outside our town. There is also a market for special restaurants providing unique Venda or cultural meals for the visitors to the town and those passing through the Beitbridge Border Post, “he said.
Beitbridge Town Clerk, Loud Ramakgapola said for tourism growth to be achieved there is a strong need for a more visible marketing strategy.
He said the establishment of a Tourism Information Centre which can be along the highway will help to give full information to all travellers on the resorts and places they may visit around. Mr Ramakgapola said it was important to invest in entertainment spots along the Limpopo River and explore possibilities of crocodile farming and more water related games.
“I think Beitbridge as a border town is one of the most strategic places for tourism, and we just need to continue on the path set by the government to achieve the benefits,” said the Youth in Tourism chairperson, Mr Kudakwashe Garaipasi.
“The US$300 million border transformation is also a game changer, travelling through the facility has become seamless and we should take advantage as a community and invest in tourism related businesses to cater for the travellers and visitors passing through daily.”
Mr Garaipasi said tour operators around the district should consider coming up with packages that also promote domestic tourism, which is a low hanging fruit in the sector.
A tourism development enthusiast from the Makhado areas some 80km west of the Beitbridge town, Miss Primrose Tlou upgrading of key infrastructure including roads that is ongoing was a step in the right direction.
“The development of better roads, airports, and public transportation systems will facilitate easier access for both domestic and international tourists,” she said.
“There is also a need for authorities to develop a comprehensive marketing and promotion campaign to highlight the unique attractions, cultural heritage, and natural beauty of Beitbridge. They may utilise various platforms such as social media, travel websites, and traditional advertising methods to reach a wider audience.”
Miss Tlou said the area had a lot of opportunities for the introduction of adventure tourism products. These include hiking, wildlife safaris, mountain bike tours and river cruises along the Limpopo River.
Additionally, she said, culture tourism which includes organising festivals, showcasing local traditions, and supporting community-based tourism projects could be a game changer for the district.
Another potential tourism site of note is the old Beitbridge town site near Mtetengwe some 30km along the Beitbridge-Bulawayo road.
If one drives for 60km along the same road (Beitbridge-Bulawayo), there is the new Zebra Hilltop Lodge, Mazunga Ranch and the Zhovhe Leisure Par which are rich in wildlife including the big five, but still remains an unknown tourism destination.
In addition, more has to be done to develop or market the Tshipise Hot Springs 120km east of the border town.
The VhaPfumbi tribe which are known for rain making and have rich cultural history on chieftaincy succession issues remain an opportunity awaiting exploration.
Some 140km west of Beitbridge lies the Tuli National Park on the border of Gwanda and Beitbridge, with little being done by authorities to market the place.
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Beitbridge is dominated by the VhaVenda tribe which has a rich historical culture that if researched and documented could bring another dimension to historical enthusiasts.