The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu recently in Binga
ON any given afternoon, Binga, located on the northern tip of Matabeleland North, seems to be serviced by its own sun, a solar system divorced from the rest of Zimbabwe, if not the planet.
The midday sun in Binga, seems to burn with a fury reserved for this corner of the earth in particular. On the edge of the Zambezi River, where the Binga Beach stretches for about a kilometre, making it the only phenomenon of its kind in Zimbabwe, the heat of the Binga sun is tamed somewhat by the cool breeze blowing from the longest east flowing river on the African continent.
This breeze does little to temper the hot sand of the beach, however, which bakes under the steady, unblinking glare of this unrelenting afternoon sun.
It was in this atmosphere, where the sun, an unstoppable force, met the breeze from the Zambezi, an immovable object, that the Tourism and Hospitality Industry Deputy Minister Tongai Mnangagwa sat under a shade, contemplating the pristine Binga beach. Staff from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) mingled with locals, playing games of volleyball and tug-of-war.
While Dep Minister Mnangagwa’s attention might seem to have been stolen by two groups of people striking the ball back and forth over the net with their open palms or balled fists, in his mind, he was picturing a different kind of spectacle unfolding on the beach. According to the minister, Binga is sitting on a potential gold mine, which is why the Government is now courting investors, inviting them to build structures around the beach and make Binga a prime tourism hub.
“Binga is amazing. There’s a lot of wildlife and just on this trip we have seen so many different animals and of course we also have the beach. This beach is not something that you will find anywhere else in the country and it’s completely natural. So we are saying to the people of Zimbabwe come and see it for yourself.
“We also have a message to investors. We have a whole big place here that is ready to be put under construction. Hotels, lodges, and restaurants have all been earmarked and pegged by the local authority, to say come and invest in Binga. Bring activities here. We need skis in the water, we need boat rides, we need canoes. So different service providers should come to Binga and participate in growing our economy,” he told Sunday Life in an interview.
The beach is ideally located near the Binga airstrip, making the location a hive of activity, as aeroplanes buzz in and out throughout the day. The beach serves as a key attraction to those in search of nature’s pure unadulterated beauty but there are precious few facilities to host tourists.
For those visiting, walking down towards the beach is a journey on its own. One has to endure the steep slope along a meandering rough and rocky road, with some stretches surfaced with concrete to aid the path of vehicles trying to reach the river bank. However, further rehabilitation of this road is indeed needed if the beach is to host more people and facilities. For the adventurous that reckon that they are a physically fit, they will find themselves involuntarily running down this slopping shoulder of the hill, as it seeks to propel towards the beach because of its steep gradient.
The sand beach is located on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi River between the imposing mountains, giving a picturesque view on all sides. It stretches from the current edge of water to the river bank at the foot of a hill, and is bounded by rocky parts on the eastern and western sides, where it stretches for about 300 metres.
Like on most edges of the Zambezi, the wildlife here is both an attraction and a threat. Luckily, on the beach, the dreaded crocodiles are kept at bay by waves that crash on the sandy shore from dusk until dawn.
Dep Minister Mnangagwa said as they attempt to turn Binga Beach into a prime tourist destination, they would ensure that whoever brought to life Government’s vision would not leave the locals behind.
“We want to see hotels going up but while we do that, it is important to acknowledge the level of employment that this will bring to the people here in Binga. As these hotels go up, I want the people to know that we shall have a Binga first policy and whoever comes here to build these structures will be under obligation to hire and employ the children of Binga first. They should be first in line to benefit from what is rightfully theirs,” he said.
Charity begins at home the adage goes and Deputy Minister Mnangagwa said while foreign tourists were important, they were targeting Zimbabweans to ensure that the gem that is the Binga Beach could be uncovered in all its splendour for the rest of the world.
“Basically, the reason why we are here, is to push our programme, whose main input is to make our domestic tourism go up. We have a lot of hidden gems here like, for example, the Binga Beach, which not a lot of people know exists. So we came down, had a few games which saw us compete in volleyball, tug-of-war, but in all of that, the main idea was to sell the destination and say to our countrymen, us as Zimbabweans need to visit our local tourist destinations. Being a tourist does not mean one has come from somewhere international. Our locals can push and become tourists themselves then as we grew this concept, the economic side will improve. As people are moving around, they will be spending and in turn, creating jobs,” he said.
On Thursday, Dep Minister Mnangagwa launched the Festive Season Domestic Campaign — ZIMBHO for Matabeleland North, with a campaign geared at convincing Zimbabweans to visit some of the country’s under-appreciated wonders during this festive season. It is a campaign that he believes is starting to bear fruit, with places like Binga benefiting the most.
“We want our tourism economy to grow to US$ 5 billion. We are working flat out with my Minister, Minister Rwodzi to see the country achieve the US$5 billion. Hence this is the reason why we are going around the country promoting destination Zimbabwe. From here now, I’m going to Beitbridge, from Beitbridge to Masvingo and from Masvingo to Manicaland and we won’t stop until we finish every place in Zimbabwe. The President said we should not leave any place behind and that is what we are doing as the Ministry of Tourism in conjunction with Zimbabwe Tourism Authority,” he said.
Dep Minister Mnangagwa said his ministry had been courting service providers to ensure that they meet Government half-way, as they try to lure domestic tourists.
“We believe that the campaign is working because more people are travelling. I am receiving personally in my inbox, pictures of people that have travelled across the country. Great Zimbabwe, Chinhoyi Caves, Binga Beach, people are going all over now. But now we are saying, for locals, we want them to have a better rate, a better package, whereby it’s cheaper for them to go and sleep at a hotel or go to the Victoria Falls. It should be cheaper for the locals to do all that. So we are working with all the service providers to come up with a local tariff on everything, whether it’s bungee jumping or helicopter rides. We want our locals to enjoy because they own the resource,” he said.