BY RICHARD MUPONDE
VICTORIA Falls authorities and residents have faced off over the increased rate of deforestation in the resort town as residents invade surrounding forests including game parks in search of firewood during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The lockdown is into its third month and many companies in the resort town are closed as they rely on tourism which has been hit by the banning of international flights.
Residents, most of whom are employed in the tourism sector, are no longer receiving salaries and the cost of electricity and gas has gone out of reach, forcing them to turn to firewood.
This has riled the city fathers, prompting ward 8 councillor Goshen Zhou to issue a warning to residents.
“I am equally worried about people cutting big trees along the buffer zone between Kazungula Road and other areas. ZimParks, police and council will punish those doing this. Let us guard our vegetation jealously. We are the face of Zimbabwe. Heavy penalties are on the way (so) stay away from destroying the future of our children,” Zhou said.
“There is need to sensitise residents and warn them that heavy fines will be charged to those that poach for firewood.”
However, a resident, Mbongeni Sibanda said wood poaching had become rampant because of economic hardships exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown because most people in the resort town were out of work.
“Times are hard; there is no money to buy electricity and people can’t afford gas. Can authorities come up with better and more affordable ways to help these people? It’s not that they want to do that, some fetch firewood for sale because they are sleeping without food. For instance, we have elephants that have killed people and we all know that ZimParks and other local authorities are benefiting from wildlife by having animals slaughtered for their staff’s consumption, surely as city fathers, a request can be made for a number of elephants and buffaloes to be killed and given to people to ease these hardships” Sibanda said.
Oliver Gumbo urged ZimParks to designate days when residents would be allowed into the parks to harvest drywood to avoid clashing with rangers.
“This way the people will also feel part of the conservation of wildlife and forests. Right now they get arrested for wood gathering (‘I don’t want to use the word poacher here I think it’s exaggerated) and they see you council and ZimParks officials bringing loads of wood for yourselves. If you go to ZimParks residential area you will find piles of wood there, and drying meat on lines. Please, let’s find ways for our brothers and sisters to survive and stop labelling them poachers, that was a Rhodesian mentality,” Gumbo said. Victoria Falls sits in-between Chamabondo and Victoria Falls game parks which are now threatened by illegal tree logging.