Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
LAKE Gwayi-Shangani means different things to different people.
To the government led by President ED Mnangagwa, it stands as a great example of how big and attentive the ears of the listening government are.
While the project seemed to be a mere footnote to successive regimes since the National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (NMZWP) was proposed in 1912, it took the coming of the Second Republic to finally transform a dream on paper into actually tangible progress on the ground.
To the people of Bulawayo, the -Shangani is a gift that was long promised, a lasting cure to the dry taps that have become a hallmark of the city in the last few years.
With the dam wall nearly 70 percent complete, and works ongoing on the laying of the 245km Gwayi-Shangani-Bulawayo pipeline, which is expected to coincide with the completion of the construction works, there is genuine hope that the thirsty Bulawayo and other satellite areas may finally be quenched by the multimillion-dollar project.
To tourism operators in Gwayi, however, the project represents something else entirely. While it offers much of the natural beauty and wildlife that Matabeleland North is often touted for, to some, Gwayi might seem to be a tourism no man’s land, sandwiched between the provincial capital Lupane and the two major tourist drawcards, Hwange and Victoria Falls. With this in mind, some might think that while some of its resorts might offer an ideal sanctuary to the weary traveller, it also perhaps means they do not stand to reap the same benefits as places further on, that are seen as the “final destination” for the average tourist.
However, this perception is already being changed by the coming of the Gwayi-Shangani, whose downstream benefits are now trickling down to resort operators in Gwayi.
According to Chris Dube, the managing director of the Gwayi Leisure Resort, located 76km from the provincial capital, Lupane, and 135km from Binga Centre, the construction of the Lake Gwayi-Shangani has brought a great boon for tourism operators in the area.
“What the project has done for us is already immense and we anticipate that this will be more so as the project nears completion. I think, people should not underestimate how such a big project affects the entire outlook of a province and we are already feeling the transformational effects of this. The nature, wildlife and sights of Matabeleland North are being complemented by a structure which will only bring in more numbers to the province. As those that are situated on the highway, we are in a prime position to benefit from this and many are positioning themselves with this in mind. So, perhaps days when operators that may seem lost in between attractions in Hwange and Victoria Falls are long gone because we are witnessing an influx of clients,” he told Sunday Life in an interview.
Dube said while he initially conceived the idea of the resort with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa in mind, things started to take shape when he realised the benefits that would be brought by the commencement of the Gwayi-Shangani project.
“The idea of the Gwayi Leisure Resort is one that comes from far back. It is an idea that came when we were looking at the World Cup coming to South Africa. As someone who had experience in the tourism sector working at Dumazulu Safaris, I had said to myself that in future I would like to own a lodge of my own. That’s when I started applying to the Lupane Rural District Council and eventually I was given this stand. The building started in 2015, when we started with the clearing and setting.
“By 2019-20 we had two operational rooms which I was using mainly for hunting activities because I’m into hunting… We are in the hub of tourism as Gwayi Valley, because this is where things are in terms of safari activities. Being on the highway, with the blessing of the Lake Gwayi-Shangani coming up, I said to myself this is an opportunity to come up with the project that will facilitate the growth of tourism within our region. The vision, as you see, is to do functions and conferences, weddings and workshops as we go along. As you can see, we are in the process of adding up some rooms,” he said.
Dube said the construction of the Lake, which has a catchment area of 38 000 square metres extending up to Gweru and will become the third largest inland water body after Tugwi Mukosi and Lake Mutirikwi upon completion, had already transformed business for resort operators in the Gwayi Valley.
With business booming, Dube’s neighbours like the Sikumi Tree Lodge also stand to benefit.
The eye-catching Sikumi, possesses 13 thatched, ensuite tree chalets, which are mostly shrouded by giant Mangwe trees. A watering hole maintained by the lodge attracts animals longing to quench their thirsts after spending time in searing heat of the Dete vlei.
Due to increasing demand at his own place, Dube said often nowadays he had to refer some clients to hidden gems like Sikuni.
“At the same time that does not stop us hosting conferences that can take up as many as 50 people because we are close to other stakeholders such as Sikumi whereby if we have more clients, we take those clients to those places,” he said.
While he operates a resort, Dube said he and others were looking to diversify, as there were a lot of other benefits that operators could reap from the mere presence of the dam.
“Looking at Gwayi-Shangani, it is simply going to change the industry. We are looking at the throwback of water from the dam, which will result in a push to right where I am. That is why I thought positioning myself closer to the Gwayi will attract a lot of activities that I will venture into because of the Gwayi-Shangani. Right now, I’m thinking of a fish project just close by and I’m also thinking of establishing a camp site. So, whenever there’s going to be that push back, I shall have people staying at the lodge and that becomes an attraction on its own,” he said.
Dube said although operators were enjoying the brisk business in Gwayi, they were also eager to make sure that villagers in the area were not left behind by the rapid speed of development and enterprise.
“The vision, is to operate within the environment and like I have said, Gwayi is a centre of tourism. We have communities close-by so if you come up with an eco-tourism friendly facility which will embrace the communities as well, it becomes an advantage because I am not only doing it for myself, but I am also trying to promote the locals around here in terms of employment creation and in terms of venturing into tourism on their own and also in terms of selling some of the hand-crafted items that they stock in abundance. So, such facilities would be helpful for more than just a mere individual.
“From the position where I’m standing right now, I am being overwhelmed by the demand for accommodation. I am no longer able to accommodate the numbers that are coming in here and I think it’s because of the influx of projects near this place. In addition to the Gwayi-Shangani, we have many mines that are taking ground so I have been able to accommodate mine people here. There are NGOs that are also operating in the area and I have managed to tap into that market as well. As I speak today, I am fully booked by people that are doing activities in the Binga, Lubimbi area,” he said.
The construction of Lake Gwayi Shangani is one of the major projects by the Second Republic, and speaks volumes about the capacity of government to use local resources to develop the country despite the economic sanctions imposed on the country by the West.