By Judith Sibanda
Hundreds of Victoria Falls residents including school children were, Thursday, turned away from the Zambezi Rainforest by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority officials in defiance of a government directive that locals will gain free entry during public holidays
Tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira earlier this month announced that locals will be allowed to visit the World Heritage site free of charge during public holidays.
Currently, locals pay RTGS$7 for adults and half price for children to gain entry into the rainforest.
Zimbabwe marked the 39th Independence Day celebrations this Thursday.
Local residents who spoke to CITE said they were irked by the behaviour of the Zimparks officials.
“We left in the morning at around 8AM and when we got there, there were a lot of Chinotimba and Chamabondo primary pupils and Mosi Oa Tunya Secondary school pupils with their teachers,” said a school teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity
“We wanted to use this as opportunity to teach our learners about heritage and we were turned off.
“Zimparks said the stories circulating on social media were false and we had to walk back home with our learners.”
A Human rights activist Trymore Ndolo added: “The minister is the one who told people here last week and when l went to the Rainforest in the morning, l found small children in the company of their parents and teachers standing outside the entrance gate after being told to go back home. This is against what environment and tourism minister (Prisca Mupfumira) told the residents last week.”
Victoria Falls Combined Residents Association (Vifacora) chair Morgen Dube said local residents are always sidelined.
“Our people are being treated like secondary citizens by officials who have no respect of our place and its indigenous inhabitants. The Vifacora finds this to be unfortunate and unacceptable and condemns such practices and practitioners in the strongest terms.”
Residents were later allowed free entry just after lunch time, but many had already walked away while some had paid to gain entrance.
“We cannot go back now, it’s late and anytime it can rain. They should’ve allowed people in the morning to also avoid commotion,” said Siyabonga Dube, a resident.
However, Zimpark’s spokesperson Tinashe Farawo refused to be drawn into the matter.
“I will not talk about that, but what l can confirm is that our elderly people mainly the war veterans and pensioners have been given free entry and all residents of Victoria Falls. We do this to celebrate our Independence that we are enjoying while promoting domestic tourism.”