Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
GOVERNMENT has identified land where a new city will be built as part of the Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric project outside Victoria Falls, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development Engineer Gloria Magombo has said.
The coming in of Batoka City will be a big boost for the broader Matabeleland North development, which has in the recent past become an economic epicentre following the designation of Victoria Falls as a Special Economic Zone and the elevation of the tourism town to a city.
Zimbabwe and Zambia are implementing the US$4 billion hydro-power project in the gorges along Zambezi River where two 1 200MW power plants on either side of the river, a sub-station, transmission as well as a new settlement and road infrastructure will be built.
Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) jointly owned by the two governments is the implementing agent and in 2019 chose General Electric and Power Corporation of China to build the power plant, about 50km downstream from Victoria Falls City.
A steering council of ministers comprising Ministries of Finance and Energy from both countries was set up to spearhead the project, which was first planned in 1992 but was delayed by an impasse over colonial-era debts and community resistance.
Work had been scheduled to start in 2020 but was delayed following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
Public consultations on the environmental disclosure have now been completed and inputs submitted to the relevant authority and work is underway to start pre-construction work for the new Batoka City, a key component of the Government’s drive to steer development in Matabeleland North, particularly the Victoria Falls-Hwange-Binga corridor.
Communities around the Batoka project finally agreed to the project after extensive consultation by ZRA and both governments. About 4 000 direct and 6 000 indirect jobs are set to be created.
Eng Magombo said the land has been secured and authorities from Hwange Rural District Council, Zimbabwe Power Company and Ministry of Local Government and Public Works are on the ground making preparatory work.
She, however, could not reveal the exact location of the land and its size.
“There is a lot of work that is being done in terms of the environmental disclosure after the finalisation of the Environmental Impact Assessment,” she said. “Consultations were done during the Covid-19 lockdown period and all the input from various stakeholders has been received.
“But there is also the issue of land for the project as you are aware last year Zimbabwe did approve the cession of the land but the land is now available.
“ZPC, together with Hwange RDC and Local Government Ministry, is looking at coming up with a plan in terms of how the whole city will be developed and there is a lot of work which is already going on in this regard,” said Eng Magombo.
She said over and above other developments, there has been appointment of various advisors with the African Legal Support providing some of the advice on evaluation of documents, which have been submitted by the contractor.
The two governments have also appointed a technical advisor in an effort to ensure that there are no grey areas.
“There is a lot of work going on in terms of finalising preparations and structuring of the project, which is being done by ZRA as the main co-ordinator and implementing agent of both governments and steering committee comprising both Ministries of Energy and Finance and we believe that in the next quarter we will be announcing the dates of the groundbreaking ceremony,” she said.
Batoka Dam wall will be 175m high after it was reduced as a result of concerns by tour operators, particularly rafting companies in Victoria Falls, that water backflow would hurt their operations.
The power plant is expected to take about five years to complete but electricity generation should start in the third year.
The Second Republic is focused on driving robust economic transformation of the province through unlocking its vast investment potential so that it contributes more to the mainstream economy.
Several projects, which had been in limbo have been reactivated and are now at various stages of completion. Among these are the giant Gwayi-Shangani Dam, Bulawayo Kraal Irrigation Scheme, Hwange Power Station’s units 7 and 8 expansion, Lupane Provincial Hospital and Elitsheni Government Complex.
The Second Republic has also moved swiftly to operationalise the Victoria Falls SEZ and established the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange, capping the city as Zimbabwe’s financial and tourism hub. — @ncubeleon.