As Zimbabwe tried to spruce up its tourism image, militants of 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.
A safari lodge about 30km west of Harare reopened after being sealed off by more than 200 militants since Friday, said owner Gary Stafford. 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 area – that serves as Harare’s main water supply reservoir. The 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 upwards since 2009 when a coalition government between Mugabe and 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 petrol 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 caused shortages at petrol stations, and empty store shelves were replenished with foodstuffs and luxuries still being mainly imported from South Africa. The raids at Lake Chivero follow similar incidents in the mountainous northeastern trout fishing and hiking district of Nyanga.
There, holiday cottages were searched by militants and visitors reported being forced to show identification documents by groups not in official police or security service uniforms. In some areas, they also manned makeshift road blocks. Calls for elections this year by Mugabe to end the shaky power sharing deal have heightened political tensions and spurred fresh demands for the implementation of Mugabe’s policy of empowerment that calls for 51 percent ownership of businesses by blacks.