The majestic Victoria Falls, nature’s gift to humanity

Africa is a land of natural wonders. Majestic wild animals roam the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Chobe National Park in Botswana.

There are deserts – Sahara in the north, the Kalahari in Southern Africa, as well as the Angolan, Namibian, and South Africa’s Namib coastal deserts. Then, there is the Gcwihaba Cave in Botswana that is home to fossil remnants of flora and fauna, indicating that the region was cooler and wetter about 30,000 years ago.

The Sahara Desert (9.2 million square kilometres) spans North Africa, except for the Mediterranean Sea’s coastal lands. It is inhospitable, and covers significant parts of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, the Sudan, and Tunisia.

There are imposing mountains, such as the Table Mountain in South Africa, and the magnificent, snow-capped summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa, at over 6,000 metres.

But the pièce de résistance is the awesome, majestic, mesmerising, almost mystical Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Victoria Falls (known in the Lozi language as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’, which means ‘thundering smoke’) on the Zambezi River that partitions Zambia and Zimbabwe, is one of the world’s largest waterfalls, measuring 1,708 metres wide.

David Livingstone is credited with discovering the falls in 1855 and named it Victoria Falls in honour of Queen Victoria, then Queen of England. But the natives must have known about the falls long before Livingstone stumbled upon it, by virtue of the native given name of ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’.

But, it was the practice of the colonialist white man, to usurp what belonged to the indigenous people. A similar instance is the case of Sir Francis Light, the ‘founder’ of Penang, when it was already inhabited by indigenous fisher folks and was part of the kingdom of Kedah/Siam.

It is the same in other parts of Africa, such as South Africa, Rhodesia, and the Congo, where the whites confiscated native lands and stamped their identity by ruling over them. Victoria Falls is but another example of the white man’s insatiable greed to take everything.

Victoria Falls is one of the main tourist attractions in Southern Africa, specifically Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, apart from the animal safari, which is synonymous with African countries below the Sahara. The locals in these countries, within a reasonable distance of the falls, travel by road to visit this natural wonder.

Air links are available from the various capitals and border towns such as Kesane in Botswana. But for foreign tourists, flying is the most convenient, and time-saving. You could fly from Johannesburg, Harare, Gabone, and Kasane straight to Victoria Falls town.

But for our group of Malaysian delegates, attending the 18th Session of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Kasane, Northern Botswana, recently, we went by road, as did most of the foreign delegates.

Joining us were three Singaporean delegates, testimony to the fact that we are culturally and geographically inseparable.

The first leg, about 15 minutes, took us to the Botswana/Zimbabwe border, where we cleared immigration with gratis visa on arrival for selected countries, including Malaysia and Singapore.

Then, it was an hour by road, over rolling savannah-covered forests to Victoria Falls town, which takes its name from the falls. Most of the facilities in the town are geared towards serving tourists visiting the falls, apart from other adventure activities.

As in any eco-tourist attraction, the frontage of the entrance to the falls is covered with stalls selling local handicrafts, such as animal figurines, specifically the ‘Big Five’, namely the elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhinoceros, that are usually advertised in all adventure safaris. In addition, there are other handicrafts, like stone beads, wooden receptacles, textiles, and ornate stone sculptures.

Driving into the parking space around the stalls, we were met with a local Zimbabwean folk dance ensemble performing the characteristic African dance of strong foot stomping, arms and legs swinging, and staccato movements.

The handicraft stalls and dance were a prelude to the euphoria of viewing the magnificent Victoria Falls, as we walked towards the entrance. We were brought down from our euphoria by the harsh realities of the commercialism of the tourism industry, with an entrance fee of US$50 per person. An exorbitant price to pay, just to view the falls without any attendant facilities, only a jagged path along the length of the fall. Not only that, tourists are charged in US dollars for all other services, including food and beverages.

It somewhat dampened our enthusiasm and spirits. We couldn’t help feel that we were being fleeced. Someone in our group remarked that it was inconceivable to pay so much money to just see water falling down a cliff. It is true, if you look at it from a prosaic perspective. But it is different if you view it as nature’s creation, as a divine creation.

A few metres after crossing the turnstile entrance to begin the 1.2-kilometre route to see the falls, you hear its faint roar. It gets louder as you proceed along the wooded route. There are 16 lookout vantage points along the route that allow you to see different sections of the falls, the world’s largest sheet of falling water, which is twice the height and width of the Niagara Falls.

You first come up to the western edge, the first gorge that shows the Zambezi River cascading down from the cul-de-sac formed on the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides. From the second lookout, you see through the gorge, the length of the main falls towards the east, and the rainbow (Rainbow Falls) that forms when sunlight shines on the water spray.

As you traverse the variegated path connecting the various lookout points, you can view the various faces of Victoria Falls, ranging from 10 metres to over 100 metres in width. The volume of water plunging into the chasms from various points of the falls is bigger and voluminous during the wet seasons from November to April, peaking in March/April.

The Victoria Falls is a sight to behold with its cascading water plunging between 80 and 185 metres to the gorge below, causing billowing sprays of water droplets to reach up to a height of 400 metres, accompanied by the sonorous thundering sounds of water.

One can also view the lengths of the falls, the Zambezi River Basin, and the Zimbabwe Park via helicopter that costs between US$150 and US$284. The rides range from between 15, and 22 minutes long. For the more adventurous, there is the Gorge Swing from the top of one end of the third gorge, to the other, costing between US$105 and US$158 for single or tandem, respectively.

Other activities include safari, river cruises, bungee, and bridge activities, most of which cost between US$80 and US$280, excluding entrance fees for each activity that range between US$10 and US$30.

To fully enjoy the sights and activities at Victoria Falls Park, one needs to spend at least a few days there and have enough money to cover accommodation, food, park, activities fees, and other incidentals. Day visitors must rush through the main agenda of visiting the falls.

Besides serving as a tourist product, earning both Zimbabwe and Namibia a significant part of their GDP through charging steep fees in US dollars for all park activities and attendant services, Victoria Falls, a Unesco-listed tangible heritage, must be protected and safeguarded for future generations as a reminder of nature’s gifts to humanity.

 

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