VICTORIA FALLS and Binga villagers have expressed outrage at being denied free access to the Zambezi River by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).
The mighty Zambezi River has provided a traditional source of livelihood for the majority Tonga people, but access fees charged by Zimparks had disturbed their way of life.
Zimparks declared the river a protected area and charges those wanting to access it between $5 and $7 which most locals cannot afford.
Local chiefs and villagers have denounced the controlled access and fees charged saying they should be allowed unlimited access since they stay close to the river.
They argued that paying to have access to the river was depriving them of a source of livelihood that has sustained them socially, economically and culturally over the years. Villagers said they depended on the river for food, rituals and entertainment, and the current restrictions were tantamount to placing them under siege.
“We are living like people in the Gaza Strip in Palestine who are under siege,” a local Samuel Mudimba of Siansundu in Binga, said.
“The Palestinians have the Mediterranean Sea, but they can’t wade in the waters or fish without coming under attack.
“This is the same thing happening to us in the land of our ancestors,” Mudimba said.
Chief Mvutu, whose jurisdiction covers rural Victoria Falls, yesterday said his subjects should not be paying to have access to the river nor the world famous water falls because the area traditionally belongs to them.
“That shouldn’t happen because this is our area. We should not be made to pay to have access to the Zambezi River as we have always depended on it for our livelihood,” he said.
“I am going to engage the relevant authorities to make sure that the situation is rectified.”
Chief Shana of Jambezi, which is also close to the Zambezi River, said local communities should be given the right to manage the river just like their counterparts across on the Zambian side instead of just benefiting Zimparks and the Hwange Rural District Council (HRDC).
“We appeal to Zimparks and the HRDC to cede the right to manage the river to communities. We should be the ones benefiting, but we are getting nothing as the money goes to these two entities,” he said.
“I think there’s need for us as chiefs to engage the authorities so that we operate in the same way communities in Zambia are doing.”
Zimparks public relations manager Caroline Washaya-Moyo could not be reached for comment as her mobile phone was unreachable.