Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
Trying to re-write Kariba’s story is as unimaginable as trying to re-invent the wheel.
The story of its beauty has been told over and over again, it’s not so good side, too.
Situated on the shores of one of the world’s four largest man-made lakes, Kariba town is a serene home to 46 000 residents and also a variety of wildlife.
Sadly, the town is not benefiting from proceeds associated with activities on Lake Kariba.
Residents feel the town is being neglected yet more can be done to develop and boost its tourism prospects.
They say funds generated through tourism can be channelled towards further development of Kariba, especially for residents of Mahombekombe.
In Mahombekombe, residents live in dilapidated structures built for workers employed during construction of the dam wall in 1955.
Worse still the residents have resorted to bucket and bush systems because of the dilapidated ablution facilities.
There is also a section they call Blantyre because of its desolate facilities.
A resident, Mr Munashe Mugwagwa, fears for the worst.
“I have been staying in the blocks since 1993 but while Nyanhunga is developing this side of Kariba seems neglected,” he said.
Mr Mugwagwa said residents are not happy with the water and sewer reticulation in Mahombekombe.
“We understand that the drinking water is mixing with sewage. We are also using alternative and unsafe water sources.”
He said communal toilets and showers built recently have been lying idle for years. Another resident, Mrs Maidei Tambai, said the situation is so dire any disease outbreak could be devastating.
“We use the bush during the day and bucket system at night because we are afraid of being attacked by wild animals. This is not what we expect in a town like Kariba,” she said.
Council has promised residents land for housing projects, Mrs Tambai said, but they have been waiting for years.
The Mahombekombe area has also been hit by constant dysentery outbreaks.
“We are exposed and we hope the authorities can preserve this historic community. There is an urgent need for better facilities,” she said.
Kariba mayor Mrs Tracey Ndoro believes the fortunes could be better if tourism was as vibrant as it used to be before the turn of the millennium.
“Residents are finding it difficult to pay their rates and tariffs and this has had a negative effect to the growth of the town. Service delivery has also been severely affected by shortages of funding,” she said.
Mrs Ndoro said efforts were being made to improve the town’s image.
“We have engaged partners to improve the living conditions in Mahombekombe. Council is seeking partners to build a new shopping centre that suits Kariba’s status as a major tourist destination in Zimbabwe,” she said.
“We have land for private developers for both residential and commercial purposes. We would also need Government to assist with grants for such development purposes.”
Kariba has a population of at least 41 369, according to the ZimStat Census of 2012. Mrs Ndoro said the unemployment levels in the resort town are also high.
“Most of the residents are employed in the fishing industry, especially kapenta. The Kariba South Expansion project has also employed a number of our people and it’s a welcome development for our community,” she said.
Kariba legislator Mr Isaac Mackenzie also condemned the houses in Mahombekombe.
“The plan was to destroy the houses because they were temporary structures. The Zambezi River Authority and Zimbabwe Power Company have done well to renovate and extend some of the houses and that is recommendable,” he said.
MP Mackenzie said there was also need to build a proper business premises in Mahombekombe.
He said the tourism sector was still suffering despite the introduction of direct flights to Kariba.
“The main problem has been the closure of hotels in Kariba. Some hotel owners abandoned the properties and we hope the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry will force them to pave the way for new investors,” he said.
Close to seven hotels including Lake View, Kariba Breezes, Forthergill, Sanyati Lodge and Katete have ceased operations.
“The hotels provided the necessary accommodation for tourists and we would be happy if we get regular and efficient flights to Kariba.”
MP Mackenzie also urged Government to upgrade the airstrip in Kariba.
“Our area lags behind compared to such areas as Victoria Falls because of Government input in that area. We would be happy if Government puts the same effort in Kariba so that tourism improves,” he said.
Business people in the area feel more can be done in Kariba. Ultimate Leisure Adventures managing consultant Mr Laiton Mkandawire believes Kariba offers the unique combination of sun and water sports and game viewing by water, land and by air but needs to be developed.
“The damming of the Zambezi River at Kariba Gorge and the resultant formation of Lake Kariba created a new reality out of an untouched wilderness only known to the BaTonga people prior to the 1950s,” he said.
“A wide spectrum of wild animals and bird-life is on offer along the Matusadona National Park. The animals can be viewed from a boat, your lodge, on a safari walk or during a game drive. Both international and local tourists find this destination attractive.”
The Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament has grown to be a major calendar event attracting international anglers.
Leisurely bream fishing is also popular, particularly, because the fish is a delicacy.
“Kariba’s proximity to Mana Pools National Park helps to combine two of Zimbabwe’s best national parks — Matusadona and Mana Pools while a cruise on Lake Kariba ensures a perfect mix. Trips to Mana Pools National Parks mostly start from Kariba, from where the Zambezi River ambles on to this gazetted World heritage Site.”
However, Mr Mkandawire said despite all these attractions, Kariba’s tourist arrivals have been dropping dramatically in recent years.
“The introduction of domestic flights in August 2014 and the re-introduction of daily luxury coaches were thought to be enough measure to stem the drop but this has not been the case,” he said.
Sport tourism, according to Mr Mkandawire, was also expected to boost Kariba’s fortunes but an unexplained delay in the completion of the Nyamhunga Stadium has been a negative factor to development.
“It was expected that domestic tourism would be a precursor to international tourism. Well, unless the lethargy in implementing important national programmes is arrested, the rot will continue.”
He added: “Without a vibrant domestic tourism platform, even our peak seasons- school and public holidays- will not help much. The tourism infrastructure is there but it is lying idle and if it continues like that, we will not be able to maintain it to the standards expected and demanded by international tourists.”
According to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Kariba Recreational Park is based around the Zambezi River, which was initially dammed so as to build a hydroelectricity generation utility for the benefit of both Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The Kariba dam wall with six flood gates was built between 1955 and 1959 and is 128 metres high and 617 metres wide.
The lake is 282 kilometres long at full level and 32 kilometres across at its widest point, 116 metres deep and covers an area of 5 180 square kilometres of what once was the Gwembe trough.
The dam wall was designed by Andre Coyne, a Frenchman, and built by a constructor called Impresit from Italy. Eighty-six men perished during construction of the dam and a church has since been constructed as a memorial to them.
There are many stories that are put forward to explain the name Kariba. Some elders in the area note that close to the dam wall lies a rock that resembles a traditional stone trap, riva, hence Kariva, later mispronounced by the Europeans as Kariba.
The other version is that the rock was named “Kariva” due to the fact that when the river flooded, the Rock trapped water thereby making it difficult for the locals who often crossed the river to return to either side of the Zambezi.