Feature: The case and curse of Kariba’s Gova Cultural Village

Social commentator Forward Mudengezerwa

INTERNATIONAL and regional tourists who used to visit the resort town of Kariba since 1980 are today witnessing a giant of cultural heritage amiss.For most tourists who visited Nyamhunga high-density suburb soon after gaining independence, a local hotel named Zambezi Valley (ZV) was the place to be.

It had its own unique attraction value in the form of Gova Cultural Village situated at the heart of the residential area and a stone throw away from Nyamhunga Stadium.The cultural village remained a centre of attraction in the resort town of Kariba.

The town also has its fair share of attractions, including Lake Kariba and the Zambezi River.Kariba is endowed with natural resources including elephants, hippos, buffaloes, lions and zebras, among others.

But, on the preservation of traditional norms, Gova Cultural Village was a unique feature in the resort town.International tourists who booked at ZV Hotel got their package of traditional sweet mbira music and an avalanche of traditional items.The village that was within ZV Hotel yard is now a thing of the past.

A visit to the area denoted a few thatched huts and broken wooden stools.A local game guide said tourism took a knock down in 2000.

“Tourists arrivals declined in 2000 following the land reform and it affected other sectors including tourism in the resort town of Kariba. We suffered as more hotels and lodges were forced to close,” the tour guide said.

Twenty-three years later, the defunct Gova Cultural Village has become part of sad history after the hotel closed.The cultural village is no longer there, but what used to be ZV hotel has been converted into a fast-food outlet and a betting shop.There are now boutiques at the site where the cultural village was situated.

Local social commentator Forward Mudengezerwa said the village has lost its relevance and glimmer of the true Tonga speaking community. “We had some mbira players hired around Hurungwe and other places for several days. It was meant to be cornerstone of cultural values and ethos. The place was traditional and international tourists liked it,” he said.

The demise of Gova Cultural Village comes as Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and the Tourism and Hospitality Industry ministry were promoting domestic tourism during the festive season.

Tourism minister Barbara Rwodzi said the primary objectives of the campaigns were to encourage domestic travel, promote local tourism attractions, nurture a travel culture, and boost the tourism economy.

"The Domestic Tourism Festive Season campaign showcased a vibrant tapestry of attendance, providing a shaded insight into the diverse provinces of Zimbabwe,” she said.“The launch event drew an estimated attendance of 28 000 individuals, symbolising a collective eagerness among Zimbabweans to explore and celebrate the rich cultural and natural heritage of their homeland.”

According to the Kariba Regional Tourism Development and Marketing Strategy document, tourism in the region is anchored on water, myths, wildlife and culture.“The region suffered a near two decades (2000 to 2019) fall in tourist arrivals and revenue flows. The year 2020 was expected to bring about growth to tourism anchored on aggressive destination promotion.

“But alas, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world landscape and negatively impacted on tourist arrivals to various destinations locally, regionally and internationally and the Kariba region was no exception,” part of the document read.

It says leveraging on the tourism growth outlined in the National Tourism Master Plan (2018-2035) and the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy (2020-2025), the Kariba region at large and Kariba are poised for a rebound.

“The envisaged growth would require commitment and buy-in from all stakeholders. While in the past, the destination grew on its own volition, the bedevilling challenges necessitated the development of the destination strategy that will not only reposition the destination but also create a brand which is sellable in different markets.

“Ultimately the strategy will help fulfil the region’s desire to be the leading destination in Zimbabwe with the capacity to competing regionally and internationally anchored on sustainable utilisation of its unique assets of wildlife and nature, myths and culture and water,” read the document.

The demise of Gova Cultural Village has a negative impact on tourism in the resort town of Kariba as far as the Tonga culture is concerned.

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