Leonard Ncube,Victoria Falls Reporter
VICTORIA Falls’ city status came after a thorough research locally and internationally by a commission of inquiry which recommended that the local authority be exempted from some expected standards because of its uniqueness as a World Heritage Site.
Unesco declared Victoria Falls a World Heritage Site in 1989, 10 years before the town was granted municipal status.
President Mnangagwa proclaimed the city status through Statutory Instrument (SI) 285 of 2020 and SI 286 of 2020 on Tuesday.
He then officiated at a ceremony to mark the birth of the new city here on Wednesday when the council also presented him with the Freedom of the City.
Chief director for urban local authorities in the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works Ms Erica Jones who chaired the commission that was set up by Local Government Minister July Moyo three years ago to assess the then municipality’s capacity said Victoria Falls is a special city.
She said it took a thorough research around the world to get additional benchmarks used in upgrading local authorities as Victoria Falls did not meet some of the requirements.
The municipality’s case was however different and needed to be treated on its own merits because of its being a World Heritage site whose population cannot be expected to grow big.
Ms Jones said the local authority showed good governance and quickly attended to sticky issues that the commission raised after the visit.
“The procedure is such that a local authority applies to Government in terms of Section 14 of the Urban Councils Act after which the Minister then sets-up a commission of inquiry to visit the local authority to gather evidence. I chaired the commission and Victoria Falls’ case caused a lot of headache.
“It was up to Victoria Falls to convince the commission because there is an inherent mindset where when we think of a city, we think of high rise buildings, heavy industry and huge population which Victoria Falls doesn’t have. This meant that Victoria Falls didn’t qualify but if you look at governance issues and environmental limitations you realise that they are very well administered,” said Ms Jones.
Without heavy industry, high rise buildings and a civic centre with a city hall, it was then difficult to recommend the status, said Ms Jones.
She said the commission did a study globally to seek second opinion.
“There were shortfalls such as in books of accounts which were behind in terms of audit and refuse collection fleet which was not as large as was required. There was no civic centre or city hall but the council rushed to fix some of those. They have made plans for the civic centre and started servicing some sections as well.
“We did a thorough research to find out from the rest of the world how such situations are handled and if there was any other criteria used besides industry and population. Population used to be a determinant but not now in this case because Victoria Falls cannot be expected to have a large population by virtue of being an environmental city.
They put up a special case and so we recommended that they be exempted from some of the requirements and the Minister made submissions to Parliament which then approved and recommended that the President should declare the city status,” explained Ms Jones.
The new city becomes the eighth in the country after Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, Kwekwe, Masvingo and Kadoma, Ms Jones said.
The other cities’ economies are backed by a wider industrial base while Victoria Falls’ economy is solely tourism based.
Government is therefore making efforts to widen the city’s economic base and has since declared it a Special Economic Zone whose focus will be on tourism but with several other sectors while the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange was also opened recently.
Victoria Falls becomes the first city in Matabeleland North and also the first city based on tourism in the country.
This cements the city’s prestigious status as the only tourism destination town that competes with Cape Town in South Africa in terms of the number of hotels.
It is the first local authority to be upgraded by the Second Republic.
Town Clerk Mr Ronnie Dube said the city status will make Victoria Falls comparable with other destinations like Durban and Cape Town.
Briefing President Mnangagwa on Wednesday, Mr Dube said the council had already identified an investor through Private-Public-Partnerships (PPPs) for construction of a multi-million dollar civic centre to house the city hall, five-star hotel, a shopping mall, conference centre and a theme park.
“The commission made a couple of recommendations, part of them being the state of our books of accounts and at that time they were not up to date in terms of auditing. So we managed to update everything to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Local Government. This growth brings in a lot of challenges but it also brings in a lot of opportunities.
“We are developing a mixed commercial use project comprising a civic centre which will have and also city hall and other facilities that go with a civic centre,” he said. — @ncubeleon