Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
The tourism industry in Victoria Falls wants commercial vehicles such as haulage trucks to be banned from using the Zambezi Bridge saying such traffic negatively impacts on the tourism business.
Tourism executives accuse haulage trucks of blocking the road stretching from Victoria Falls town across the border to the bridge and Livingstone border on the Zambia side, as they wait to be cleared. There are also concerns about massive pollution as most trucks will be carrying smelly toxic substances such as sulphuric acid.
Sometimes tour guides are forced to walk across the border to the bridge with clients as the road will be blocked.
Various activities such as the tour of the Rainforest, tour of the bridge, bungee jumping, and gorge swing among others take place at the bridge. The issue was raised by an environment expert, Professor Brain Chaltz, on Tuesday at the just-ended Africa Union-United Nations Wildlife Economy Summit. He proposed that the bridge be moved about 40km downstream.
If adopted, this will leave the Zambezi Bridge in Victoria Falls solely for tourism purposes while all commercial vehicles will be relocated downstream.
“The Victoria Falls Bridge was built for tourism more than a century ago but it is now being used for all economic activities. Why not built another bridge about 40km downstream because that way it will be cheaper and quicker as well as shorter for trucks coming from the direction of Bulawayo to cross into Zambia,” said Prof Chaltz.
In response, participants said the future of tourism was at stake. Some suggested that engagements be made with implementers of the Batoka Hydro Electric Project with a possibility of constructing an alternative commercial bridge at the site. Some also implored representatives of the sector to engage the customs department to possibly introduce scheduled timetables for trucks and tourism.
“We can have all trucks cleared from the truck stop and only go to the border when they are ready to cross. The powers that be should also consider opening the border 24 hours a day and have trucks cleared and crossing at night so they don’t disturb tourism activities during the day,” said one participant.
Barbara Murasiranwa, who represented the Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) said the industry once raised the issue but nothing was done.
“We once wrote to authorities and we were still hoping that something will be done because there is a challenge with trucks as they block the road and the bridge. Sometimes clients have to walk to the bridge for activities because the trucks would have blocked the road,” she said.
Another tourism executive, Robin Brown, concurred saying the net effect and value of tourism was compromised as a result.
“Even National Parks is a victim because the entrance into the Rainforest is blocked for most parts of the day and we don’t need that in Victoria Falls.
“There is also high level of pollution as the border is filled with smell of toxic substances such as sulphuric acid carried by the trucks,” he said.
Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president, Emmanuel Fundira, who chaired the meeting, said the proposal of moving the bridge was long overdue.
“This is the way to go. You have heard what people are saying, in the interim, there are proposals for various methods of trying to stagger activities between commercial and tourism to minimise the immediate very ugly conflict,” he said.
“It’s one aspect which as industry we will continue lobbying for.”