The Sunday Mail
From whichever direction one looks at Binga, either from Harare or Bulawayo – the country’s two biggest centres of power and influence – it is considered remote.
This remoteness is mainly due to the town’s inaccessibility which has rendered it one of the country’s most untamed natural attractions.
While the most common connotations about Binga is its remoteness, the abundant fish and the tobacco-smoking Tonga women, little is said about the tourism potential that the district in general and the town in particular possesses.
With cold and hot springs littering the transverse of the district, Binga has the added advantage of being the only place where a sand beach which stretches for about a kilometre naturally occurs in Zimbabwe.
“Binga has potential,” Theresa Dale, a tourism enthusiast in the town, was oozing recently, “and it is the town of the future. It might be five, 10 or 20 years from now but I am quite positive that a time will come when the whole of Zimbabwe will be converging here for their holidays. Reason why we have made the first steps to be able to welcome them when that time comes.”
Her sentiments are shared by the chief executive officer of the Rural District Council, Mr Joshua Muzamba.
“We are just not accessible for the time being, but we see that as just a temporary setback. We know we cannot remain stuck in the wilderness like this forever. Sooner or later, we will be easily accessible and we will be the talk of Zimbabwe.
“There are many positives about Binga, probably the most significant being that we lie in a great wildlife corridor. When one is driving from Kariba to Victoria Falls there is the Chete and Chizarira Wildlife Safaris on either side, according tourists the opportunity to experience game at close range. Add to that, we are halfway between the two world-known resorts so it offers tourists a chance to rest, probably for a day or two, as they take in the natural beauty of Binga.”
However, this inaccessibility is actually a blessing in disguise as it has helped the district to maintain its traditional vestiges, mainly the Tonga tradition, which makes the art and craft centre in the town, together with the museum, a must-see for any visitor.
As a positive for tourism, Binga remains raw, untamed, unpolluted and mainly laid-back with not much hassle.
But Mr Muzamba sees the laid-back days of Binga becoming a thing of the past soon.
“We have vast reserves of coal in Binga and it is very common to pick coal from the surface when one is walking around and we believe once we get just one serious investor in our coal, our fortunes as a destination will change. There have been reports that at Lusulu the coal deposits are enough to spur an investment, and this is news that the people have always wanted to hear.”
The other opportunity that awaits Binga is the granting of border status to the town, an application that has long been lodged with the authorities.
“We have the land ready for a border post, we are waiting for Government to give us the go-ahead and declare Binga a border post. That will increase the economic activity in our town as people traffic between Zimbabwe and Zambia.”
On the other hand, the abundance of coal reserves might be good news for the advance team for Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, which is scheduled to arrive in the country tomorrow to make the preliminary paperwork on a multi-million dollar investment that will straddle cement production, coal extraction and power generation.
For Mrs Dale and other tourism players, they should be the deep waters of the Zambezi River that should be more enchanting to anyone wishing to sap into the flavours of Binga.
“Binga prides itself as having probably some of the deepest channels of the Zambezi River and those who love sport fishing can come here. And when they come here, they will find our hospitality warm. We don’t want people to come to Binga and say, ‘this place is backward’. We should be able to offer world-class services, even in the middle of nowhere.”
But for Kujatana Union, a grouping of 17 fishing co-operatives, the potential of Binga lies elsewhere, if only their wishes could come true.
“Most people relate Binga with fish,” explained Paul Muleya, the chairman of the union.
“Though not a wrong perception, over and above the fish, if we could find an investor who could add value to our fish so that we just don’t sell fresh or dried fish we could create more revenue and contribute more to the national economy.
“There is a possibility of canning the fish, there is room to construct specialized holding bays such that the fish does not lose freshness, in fact the opportunities that abound here, with regards to fish, are many.”
Then there is the crocodile farm.
The Binga Crocodile Farm is a private enterprise that has up to 40 000 crocodiles that are being bred commercially. It offers guided tours of the farm so that tourists can see live crocodiles from within almost touching distances.
Those with an affinity with water have a chance to enjoy a sunset or sunrise cruise or during any time of the day that suits their schedules as there are a number of houseboats available for hire.
However; raw, untamed and unpolluted as it might be, one thing that strikes a first-time visitor to Binga is the disparity of the living conditions between the haves and have-nots of the town, a situation that the Rural District Council chief executive officer was quick to explain.
“Those structures you see on the shores of the Zambezi River are supposed to be temporary structures for the fishermen to live, temporary because the areas are zoned as industrial and tourism and as such no permanent residential structures can be built on those areas. However, if they want to build fish processing plants on these sites, they are free to do so as long as they follow the proper regulatory procedures.”