By Judith Sibanda
Victoria Falls, February 17, 2016 – RESIDENTS in the Matabeleland North resort town have demanded reduced entry fees into the famed rain forest saying the prevailing charges were beyond the reach of poor locals.
The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) charges adults $7 and children $4 to enter the Victoria Falls rain forest described as “an area of dense woodland vegetation supported and nourished by the constant spray from the waterfall”.
Thousands of local and foreign tourists visit the place every year but local residents say they cannot pay what they find to be unaffordable charges which could allow them to also spend time at the attraction.
Ward 11 councillors Edmore Zhou told a recent full council meeting that most residents in the resort town have never visited a rain forest which is in one of the world’s most biggest natural wonders.
“Last week, we had a meeting with Zimparks and the Forestry Commission on the issue of cutting prices by half for locals or even offering free entry once in a while,” he said.
“During the surveys we conducted, we realised that many students and elderly people did not know the Falls but just see the smoke from afar because the charges are too high for them.
“In response they suggested we write a letter to Parliament or send a representative to present our grievances around the charges.”
Zhou said the revenue generated from the rain forest visits did not benefit locals.
“As we speak, roads are dilapidated,” he said. “Hospitals are not well serviced as the equipment is not adequate and schools are badly equipped yet we are a tourism hub in Zimbabwe.
“We feel we deserve to get part of the money generated from the rain forest to develop our town.”
Councillors resolved that town clerk Christopher Dube should write a letter to Parliament to urging legislators to consider concerns from the residents on access to the rain forest.
Otilia Shoko, an elderly vendor in the resort town said she had never entered the rain forest in her life.
“I have been working here selling curios for more than 30 years but I’ve never got the chance to see the Falls,” she said. “I also know a lot of people who have never set foot at the rain forest.”
Meanwhile, Zhou said residents want Zimparks to give them permission to fetch firewood for special occasions such as funerals and weddings from national parks surrounding the resort town.
“Many residents especially at Mfelandawonye and Garikai do not have electricity and they cannot afford to buy charcoal especially during funerals,” he said.
“They are usually arrested for fetching firewood in the parks. They propose to pay $10 a load and that permission be given to bereaved families to fetch firewood.”
Victoria Falls Residents Association chairman Morgan Dube said Zimparks rangers were too hard on residents found fetching firewood in the resort town.