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A gap near Victoria Falls
MAGNIFICENT: An aerial view of the Victoria Falls as seen from the Zimbabwean side
Last updated: 06/23/2004 06:15:34 Last updated: 06/22/2004 23:00:26
WITH a rainbow from the mist of Victoria Falls spanning the background, a woman walks from Zambia into the no-man's land separating the Zambian and Zimbabwe customs and passport stations on June 3. Zimbabweans who once plied the tourist trade in their homeland have begun moving to Livingstone, Zambia, across the Zambezi River, where visitors are flocking.
With a name like that, one would think this town would have no trouble attracting tourists.
After all, Victoria Falls, the town, is cheek-by-jowl with Victoria Falls, the waterfall -- a jaw-dropping, heartstopping torrent almost 2km wide and 100m high, its constant roar audible for some distance, its towering cloud of spray visible from the farthest horizon. Mere words do not do justice to Victoria Falls. One must see it to appreciate it.
Where better to start to see the waterfall than Victoria Falls, the town?
Until lately, the answer was "nowhere." In the contest for falls-hungry tourists, Victoria Falls towered over its only rival, Livingstone, just across the broad Zambezi River in Zambia. Lively Vic Falls embraced everyone from backpackers to jetsetters, bungee-jumpers to golfers. Livingstone, disheveled and sedentary, had some historic cachet: It is named after the explorer David Livingstone, the first European to see the falls. But for tourists, it was an afterthought.
Then Zimbabwe imploded. And the tables turned.
Suddenly, prosaic Livingstone is hot, jamming visitors into new four-star hotels and river's-edge lodges, bursting with upscale craft and souvenir shops, clubs and casinos.
Victoria Falls is not.
"There's just no one coming here," a disconsolate businessman said, a conclusion borne out by even a brief stroll in the deserted shopping district.
Since early 2000, when squatters began occupying that nation's white-owned farms in what would become a wholesale seizure of commercial farmland, tourism in Zimbabwe has hit the skids.
Things grew worse in 2002, after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was re-elected in balloting marred by widespread violence. It deepened further last year, as inflation roared past 600 percent and fuel shortages became pervasive.
In truth, Zimbabwe's violence and repression have largely passed by Victoria Falls. The region is so solidly in the camp of Mugabe's political opponents -- and such an important source of scarce hard currency -- that the government has avoided measures seen in other opposition centers, such as the invasions of pro-government youth militia, which might scare tourists away.
But Zimbabwe's reputation has grown increasingly ugly, especially among tourists from members of the Commonwealth nations, mostly former British possessions. Mugabe quit the Commonwealth last December after it refused to lift its suspension of Zimbabwe in protest of its human-rights policies.
One hotelier in Victoria Falls, who refused to be named for fear of retaliation, said tourist traffic from Europe and the US has been little affected by Zimbabwe's turmoil, but that visits from Commonwealth nations have all but dried up. Some tour agencies in some Commonwealth nations have removed Zimbabwe from their lists, one South African agent said, and replaced it with package trips to Zambia.
During a recent visit to the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, Mike Carter, a New Zealand appraiser on holiday with his family, emerged raincoat-clad from the falls' drenching mist and said, "We never considered coming to Victoria Falls," the town. "We wouldn't bother going 'til they sort things out."
Zimbabwe's loss has been Zambia's gain. Livingstone's hotel occupancy since 2000 has jumped to 50 percent from an average of 36 percent, despite a brace of new hotels.
The contrast with Victoria Falls could hardly be more stark. Zimbabwean businessmen say average hotel occupancy runs between 20 percent and 30 percent, and some of the bigger four- and five-star resorts have severely pared their staff to keep from closing. The world-famous grand dame of local hostelries, the Victoria Falls Hotel, marked its centennial this month with hallways of empty rooms despite an effort to lure celebrants with a 100th-birthday package.
The plight of merchants is, if anything, bleaker. Souvenir shops on the main street to Victoria Falls sometimes pass the entire day without ringing up a single sale, one vendor said. Some wholesalers and street vendors have given up and moved their operations to Zambia, prompting a government minister to denounce them as unpatriotic in a recent meeting with the town's beleaguered businessmen.
Things could change, of course: Longtime residents remember that Vic Falls prospered most in the 1970s, when Zambia's economic policies drove that nation and its tourism close to ruin.
In the meantime, merchants and hotel operators might take a tip from a Zimbabwe tourism Web site, and try to turn their bitter plight into tourism lemonade.
Zimbabwe's national parks
"are completely safe to visit, as they are far from the cities where the
instability exists," the site says. "Game lodges are desperate for occupants, so
prices are extremely competitive. And low lodge occupancy means you'll have
thousands of hectares of pristine game country virtually all to
New York Times News Service
PRESIDENT TSVANGIRAI’S TUESDAY MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE
Our campaign for electoral reforms has attracted Zanu PF’s attention. Zanu PF and Mugabe know that our aim is to attain the SADC norms and standards before March 2005. The intensity of the campaign so far has thrown Zanu PF and its regime into a defensive rage that could force Robert Mugabe to put together some cosmetic arrangements in response to the people’s calls for change.
We are aware of the impact the campaign has seeded in that camp. We remain steadfast in our view that Zimbabweans will turn down half a loaf, just as they did with draft Constitution in February 2000. We believe a lasting solution to the political impasse rests in a genuinely free and fair election.
You cannot cut corners and expect a legitimate
outcome. The level of mistrust in
The first admission of the existence of an improper electoral environment became public last week through a terse statement from the partisan Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) hinting at legislative amendments that could lead to the creation of an independent mechanism for conducting Zimbabwean elections.
A properly constituted Independent Electoral Commission enjoys the confidence of political parties, political monitors and observers and the generality of the voters.
The make-up of such a body requires an effort far beyond mere legislative changes. The composition of an IEC is national issue, calling for a political, social and legal input. Consultations on the calibre and competencies of commissioners and the terms of reference of their work are all part of the national confidence building measures Zimbabweans need today for a legitimate process to unfold, leading to a legitimate result after March 2005. The setting up of a truly independent commission is therefore a matter for burning public interest and public concern.
The regime has also announced that it was considering making allowances for postal voting in the forthcoming election. You will recall that Zanu PF and Mugabe denied millions of Zimbabweans their vote in 2002 after they banned postal ballots.
Given the large numbers of voters in exile today, only an independent commission can work out a transparent and effective way of managing the postal voting system.
May I make it clear, at least eight months before scheduled time for these elections? What we are asking for are minimum standards. Each standard carries equal weight. A democratic election is impossible if the regime ignores some of the standards. We would be happy if Zanu PF and Mugabe were to adopt the entire SADC package.
May I also caution against unnecessary delays in accepting these standards. A democratic election is impossible if these standards are met shortly before March. The time to start work is now.
Zanu PF and the regime have subverted the rule of law and polarised the political environment to a dangerous level that we need time to rebuild confidences and allow all players to marshal resources for a meaningful campaign under new conditions right across the country.
Periodic and genuine democratic elections are the cornerstone of any working democracy; they empower citizens to have a direct influence in shaping the society in which they want to live by enabling them to elect a government of their choice, a government that reflects their values and aspirations.
What we have seen in the past five years is a classic case of how not to treat the people. Zanu PF‘s hollow claims of victory in 2000 and in 2002 botched the nation’s dreams and flattened our development agenda.
We believe governments born out of a credible, transparent and trustworthy election process are an expression of the will of the people, a factor which bestows on them the legitimacy and credibility. Political stability and economic prosperity depend on legitimate elections.
A repeat of the current level of instability leads to a state of permanent national disability. We cannot afford that act of carelessness.
Everybody everywhere is watching us. Any election,
which fails to conform to recognised standards, is a waste of time, regardless
of the winner. The way
A severe democratic deficit today sits at the heart of
Indeed, we were instrumental in the shaping of a
Through the Harare Declaration of the Commonwealth of
1991, we provided the much-needed leadership and worked with the region to
embrace human rights, the rule of law and sound electoral practices. New
constitutions that enshrined core democratic values became part of life. New
electoral systems that conferred integrity on the electoral process flourished
across the region, except in
Given that record, the people are surprised at what
has hit them since then. The significant progress made by most
The people have watched Zanu PF and Mugabe reverse their democratic gains. They are determined to turn around this process and reclaim their space in March. But, the conditions must be right.
The integrity of the electoral process suffered from
the cumulative impact of elections that have come to symbolise violence, abuse
and the subordination of the will of the people to the interests of a narrow
ruling elite. The question therefore cannot be about getting out of your home
and casting a ballot in March 2005. What is needed are genuine, democratic
elections, held in accordance with the SA
Zanu PF must take the forthcoming election seriously
and start to work with political parties and civil society to take immediate
steps to give practical effect to the minimum conditions and to the people’s
On the ground, we remain focussed on our campaign. We believe we are making serious inroads. Together, we shall win.