Matabeleland North Correspondent
VICTORIA FALLS residents will be allowed free entry into the famed Rainforest on this year’s Independence and Heroes Days as government responds to complaints by locals that they were not benefitting from their God given resource.
While elsewhere, residents benefit from natural resources around them through community share ownership schemes bankrolled by businesses exploiting their resources, the situation is different with Victoria Falls where residents do not benefit directly from the lucrative tourism industry.
Residents have repeatedly appealed to government and authorities for free entry or reduced fees into the Rainforest and game parks.
Two years ago, residents petitioned Parliament demanding to be allowed free entry into the Rainforest.
They said their children were being disadvantaged and failing in school yet the Rainforest is closer to them because they cannot afford entry fees into the area.
It costs $7 for locals to enter the Rainforest and US$20 for those from the Sadc region.
Last week, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority hiked entry fees for locals to $20, a move which was immediately reversed by Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Prisca Mupfumira following an outcry.
Speaking in Victoria Falls during the week, Minister Mupfumira said government was working on packages for Victoria Falls locals to benefit from the resources around them.
“I resisted increase to parks fees and even threatened the Zimparks director general because these fees are too high for locals. We are carrying an exercise to slash fees and we will be giving free entry for locals during the independence holiday and even the heroes day holidays,” she said.
The minister said free entry will also be extended to citizens above 80 as well as school children.
She said the country cannot not afford to thumb suck because it is losing business in Victoria Falls to Livingstone in Zambia and Francistown in Botswana where charges are much cheaper.
Speaking at a meeting with the minister last week in Victoria Falls, residents reiterated their demands for special packages.
Fortunate Mugwaha of Pride Africa Safaris said locals should be allowed to benefit from tourism because that is their heritage.
Schools across the country visit Victoria Falls for a tour of resorts and residents believe local schools should be afforded the opportunity to enter the Rainforest free of charge.
Even other activities such as rafting, bungee jumping, canoeing, and game drives among other are way beyond reach of ordinary citizens and locals can only watch as those with money from across the country and internationally enjoy.