Zimbabwe’s quest to push for a Sadc uni-visa has been dampened by recent regional and local security threats such as poaching, Tourism minister Walter Mzembi has said.
Zimbabwe has been supporting a Sadc uni-visa. It launched a Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza) uni-visa with Zambia in 2014 as the first phase of a four-staged process expected to eventually result in the introduction of the regional visa. Securocrats in the region were beginning to warm up to the idea, but recent threats changed their attitude, Mzembi told businessdigest last week.
“As a result, we risk losing the open skies open boarders regime currently being pushed for by the secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation,” Mzembi said.
This comes after Ntombi, a prominent female black rhino, was shot and killed last month in the Matobo National Park outside Bulawayo, leaving behind a 13-month old calf.
Ntombi’s story reminded many of the “celebrity lion” Cecil, a black-maned animal which was shot and killed with an arrow by an American recreation hunter in July last year.
The collared Cecil, was the best-known animal in the giant Hwange National Park, and a major tourist attraction. Ntombi and Cecil’s case is similar to that of a rare, famous elephant shot and killed in Gonarezhou National Park in October last year. The elephant, which attracted international headlines, had “majestic tusks” weighing 55 kilogrammes.
In the region, South Africa confirmed a case of the Zika virus in February while Angola is grappling with a yellow fever outbreak, posing a health threat to the region.
Giving an analysis of Zimbabwe’s security state, Mzembi said; “We don’t have the same security concerns like the ones currently playing in the world. Because of that we have seen a relaxation of our visa regime by our security sector placing 37 countries on the visa on arrival category that is from category C to B and there is a continuous review.”
On the problems facing the tourism industry in the region, Mzembi said poaching and contagious diseases are the major threats.
“Our concerns on security here are not the travellers but on the product. Poaching comes as a major issue because what is being poached is the product so we have different concerns in sub-Saharan Africa, its biodiversity terrorism,” he said.
“There are also issues of other insecurities that may arise from contagion effects like health insecurities as in the case of Ebola and yellow fever. Although Ebola never broke out here, there was a contagion effect which resulted in a 16% reduction in arrivals in the region.”
Mzembi, however, said governments in the regions are well prepared to manage such threats.
A uni-visa is expected to promote travel in the region and boost arrivals at a time Zimbabwe is struggling with the impact of regional currencies that are falling against the US dollar. Mzembi said Zimbabwe is impacted negatively by the weakening of regional currencies, given that the country is largely a US dollar economy.
“There is a danger in sticking to the US dollars to a point it is making the destination uncompetitive. As a result, we had offered to reduce value added tax on a sliding scale from 0 to 15% on industry players who use regional currencies,” said Mzembi. He said government was finalising a model with the central bank and only awaiting industry’s response to the proposal.
“It’s possible to even scrap the entire 15% for Sadc member states,” said Mzembi.