As Zimbabwe tried to spruce up its tourism image, militants of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s party launched raids at boating clubs and tourism lodges on the shores of the capital’s main fishing and leisure area, tour operators said on Sunday.
A safari lodge about 30km west of Harare reopened after being sealed off by more than 200 militants since Friday, owner Gary Stafford said. The seven-chalet Kuimba Shiri lodge is a popular getaway for locals, foreign visitors, diplomats and UN staff.
Militants told witnesses more than 20 clubs and holiday facilities were being targeted on the shores and hinterland of Lake Chivero, a dam 8km in length — bordered by a wildlife preserve — that serves as Harare’s main water supply reservoir.
Incidents began on Friday, coinciding with the launch of a new campaign by Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi who branded Zimbabwe as “the world of wonders,” during a convention in Spain.
After collapsing during a decade of political and economic turmoil, tourist visits have crept upward since 2009 when a coalition government between Mugabe and Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, abandoned the hyperinflationary local currency and adopted the US dollar as legal tender.
Tourists had been kept away from the famed Victoria Falls in northwestern Zimbabwe and the country’s animal reserves because of recurring political violence and acute shortages of gasoline and the most basic goods during the nation’s economic meltdown. Victoria Falls is seen as one of the world’s natural wonders.
The change to hard currency saw gas stations and empty store shelves replenished — with foodstuffs and luxuries still being mainly imported from South Africa as once self-sufficient local industries battled to resume production.
After years of neglect, tourist services, the third-largest hard currency earner after agricultural exports and mining a decade ago, were being revamped too, and advertising promotions were mounted at several international travel fairs.