Zvamaida Murwira and George Maponga in Masvingo
Zimbabwe continues to reap economic dividends from its engagement and re-engagement drive, with French President Emmanuel Macron facilitating the rehabilitation and upgrading of the historic Great Zimbabwe Monument in a €3 million deal which President Mnangagwa yesterday hailed as a game-changer in the country’s quest to propel its tourism industry.
President Mnangagwa said he was excited by the desire of the French government to deepen bilateral relations with Zimbabwe, particularly in the area of cultural heritage and monuments.
He said this at the iconic monument while delivering his keynote address during the launch of the Great Zimbabwe Development Project to rehabilitate and conserve the World Heritage Site.
The project is being implemented in a partnership between the Government through the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and the French government via the French Development Agency.
This will see the country accruing maximum benefits from the tourism spectacle by creating inter-linkages with the nation’s economy.
“I want to thank French President Macron, who wants to strengthen bilateral relations between France and Zimbabwe,” said President Mnangagwa.
“At the advent of the Second Republic, he (President Macron) sent a delegation which I met and held discussions on a wide range of cooperation initiatives which culminated in us submitting several areas of cooperation.
“In return, they felt that they would start assisting us in heritage management and conservation.”
The partnership between the French Development Agency and Zimbabwe in the preservation and promotion of the Great Zimbabwe Monument, said President Mnangagwa, was indeed a “welcome initiative”.
“It speaks volumes about the excellent relations that exist between our two great countries and peoples. This cooperation must continue to weave the intricate link between culture and sustainable socio-economic development.
“This is more critical as climate change, Covid-19, illegal sanctions and emerging global shocks entail the increased need to build adaptive and resilient capabilities.”
The President said the project was in sync with the Government’s desire to ensure the recovery, growth, and ultimately increase contribution of the tourism sector in the growth of the economy.
The interventions of this project, he said, will go a long way in enhancing the realisation of Zimbabwe’s tourism recovery and growth targets.
The multi-dimensional package of interventions of the project which include, documentation and conservation of tangible and intangible heritage of the site, installation of interpretation and visitors’ facilities at the site, as well as commercial management and marketing of the site are a welcome development, said the President.
In line with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation spirit of “tourism for all” by 2030, President Mnangagwa implored the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe to deal with barriers that encumbered visits to tourist attraction sites.
“Ride on the use of technologies as best ways to brand and market our tourism products in both traditional and emerging markets.
“The capacity building of the National Museum and Monument of Zimbabwe as well as strengthening of research and development under this project, must propel the tourism development and marketing vision of this iconic Monument,” said President Mnangagwa.
Interventions to improve community livelihoods based on innovative and territorial level management solutions dovetail with the country’s Community Based Tourism Enterprise Strategy.
“In this regard, the funding for the development of tourism incubation programmes must continue to ensure that our local communities participate in the sector’s value chains.
“This will ensure that our people enjoy the benefits of our rich heritage and natural endowments,” said President Mnangagwa.
He called for the speedy implementation of the modernisation of the Nemamwa Craft Centre, as well as the training in environmental management practices.
President Mnangagwa described the Great Zimbabwe Monument as the physical embodiment and expression of the country’s national identity, and source of pride, inspiration and the cradle of the nation’s civilisation bequeathed by fore fathers.
He said the monument was not only about its grandiose architecture but a revered national shrine and place of worship that symbolises the nation’s sacred cultural tradition and belief system.
“I therefore take the opportunity of this occasion to applaud the Government, stakeholders, traditional leaders and communities here in Masvingo province, for preserving, protecting and safeguarding this world heritage site,” said President Mnangagwa.
He said the protracted armed struggle for independence revolved around the importance of the Great Zimbabwe Monument as the oppressive white minority regime wanted to deny Zimbabweans of their ownership and authorship.
“The unifying force that builds this great country emboldens us to work harder towards the realisation of our National Vision 2030. To this end, we will unapologetically invest in our local economy, construct our roads, dams, schools, clinics, and hospitals, produce what we eat, manufacture our own clothes and safeguard our peace, unity and cultural heritage,” said President Mnangagwa.
In his address at the event, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said the support by the French government was part of the engagement and reengagement drive.
“The fact that the French Development Agency has committed resources to the rehabilitation and development of Great Zimbabwe monument shows that the Second Republic recognises both the past achievements of our nation and the future of its people as espoused in Vision 2030,” said VP Chiwenga.
Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Kazembe Kazembe, said while the tourism potential of the site was apparent, feasibility studies had shown that it was still underutilised in terms of tourism potential and its contribution to community sustenance.
French Development Agency regional director, Ms Audrey Rojkoff, said the project was a reflection of one of their key priorities which is the promotion of cultural heritage as a means to enhance socio-economic growth.
French Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Laurent Chevallier, said the project was a demonstration of the cooperation between Zimbabwe and his country.
Villagers from around the Great Zimbabwe Monument hailed President Mnangagwa and his Government for walking the talk on pushing for inclusive growth by launching the development project at Great Zimbabwe.
Mr Bylaw Charumbira of Juru Village close to the monuments said: “We are happy that this historic place (Great Zimbabwe) will be undergoing major changes owing to the project that has been launched by President Mnangagwa today (yesterday).
“We are quite certain that the three-year project will see jobs being created for our children and this will reduce unemployment for locals who have always jealously guarded these monuments.’’
Mrs Georgina Mashavave of Haruzivhe Village under Chief Mugabe said the development project would boost tourism at Great Zimbabwe, meaning more money in the pockets for locals.
“We are emerging from the Covid-19 period when tourist arrivals dipped to almost nothing but now with what President Mnangagwa launched in a partnership between our Government and France, we foresee good times because we now have a bigger and diverse market for our traditional handicraft and other cultural wares that tell our unique history,” she said.
Mbuya Memory Mugodhi of Muza Village under Chief Mugabe, also thanked President Mnangagwa for pushing a deal that will see Great Zimbabwe monuments being spruced up and upgraded to international standards.
“We are hopeful this development will lead to more visitors both local and international. This means increased business for everyone, from ordinary vendors to local hotels and lodges,” said Mbuya Mugodhi.
Chief Mugabe, Mr Matubede Mudavanhu, also said: “We are very happy and satisfied with what President Mnangagwa and his Government are doing here to grow tourism by upgrading Great Zimbabwe monuments because our people will accrue benefits from increased tourism around here.
“I must also mention that before the President launched this project today (yesterday), all the parties involved were consulting us as traditional leaders around the monuments so we can only pray that the consultation continues until after completion of the project.
“Traditional leaders and spirit mediums connected to the history of the monuments should continue to be consulted during the execution of this project.”
A spirit medium, Mbuya Bukani Mahlasera, who resides at the Shona Village inside the monuments and is also a member of Ivhu Inhaka dance troupe, said the development project would change their lives.
“This project means there will be more visitors even to places like the Shona Village where we stay and always showcase various cultural wares and even traditional medicine to the outside world.
“Some earn a living by selling various cultural wares at the Shona Village and when more tourists come, it means potential more income for us,” said Mbuya Mahlasera.
Benefits from the development project will also likely spill-over to other tourist attraction sites in the vicinity of Great Zimbabwe, like Lake Mutirikwi.
The Great Zimbabwe development project comes as Government and other stakeholders are working to jump start tourism recovery after being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.