Leonard Ncube – The Herald Victoria Falls Reporter
Victoria Falls becomes the City of Victoria Falls tomorrow, with President Mnangagwa expected to formally confer the new status at a ceremony where he will also be granted the Freedom of the City, the highest civic honour in recognition of his contribution to the town’s growth.
It will be the first such honour to be given to anyone by the municipality in the history of the town and the first for President Mnangagwa as Head of State.
While city status grants no extra powers not already possessed by a municipality, it is an honour, establishes precedence, and recognises that a municipality has greater national importance than being a local authority in a particular area.
Victoria Falls becomes the first city in Matabeleland North, and only the second after Bulawayo in the three western provinces in Zimbabwe.
The new status recognises its national, and global, importance as the capital and hinge of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry, as well as putting it on an equal footing with its older twin across the river, Livingstone.
The city status is a milestone and prestigious achievement for Victoria Falls, which becomes the first municipality to be upgraded by the Second Republic, gives it more name recognition for investors, and opens opportunities for twinning relationships with other cities around the world.
In line with the growing links as the whole area becomes a single international destination, the new city has invited guests from the city councils of Livingstone and Francistown in Botswana, as well as the municipal council of Kasana in Botswana, the town just up the Zambezi from the Falls.
Victoria Falls town clerk, Mr Ronnie Dube, said Victoria Falls and Livingstone, Zambia’s second largest city, share similar backgrounds not only as part of former colonial Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, but also because people found on either side of the Zambezi River are from the same cultural backgrounds.
Victoria Falls has a twinning relationship with Botswana’s second largest city, Francistown, which dates back to about four years ago while Kasane is a key tourism town about 82km from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
The city fathers and residents are excited about the development which they believe will help expand industry and create more jobs for the town, whose economy was solely dependent on tourism.
Said Mr Dube: “We have invited Livingstone, Kasane and Francistown municipalities. We have invited them as our neighbours while we have a twinning relationship with Francistown.”
Victoria Falls mayor, Somveli Dlamini, said preparations were at an advanced stage.
“We are ready for the function and a lot of preparatory work has been done including securing the venue. All logistics are being worked on and invitations have been sent out,” he said.
Two months ago, Parliament approved that Victoria Falls be granted city status after recommendation by a commission set by Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo, about three years ago.
This comes as Government has shown commitment to transform the province, particularly Victoria Falls, which was designated a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with special focus on tourism.
Government wants to make Victoria Falls its conferencing capital and plans to build a multi-purpose convention centre with top-notch facilities such as five-star hotels, a medical centre, a university, a Zimbabwe Defence Forces camp and sporting facilities.
There are plans through the development plan, to improve infrastructure in the town to match world tourism destination standards as well as development the Victoria Falls-Hwange-Binga SEZ comprising Masue and Batoka satellite towns, Hwange, Mlibizi, Binga and Sijalila, along the Zambezi corridor.
Government recently launched the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange (VFEX), which is also expected to lure investors.
The 2012 census says Victoria Falls has 33 000 people, but it is widely thought that the population has grown to about 40 000.