Â THE indisputable fact tourism to Zimbabwe’s spectacularly magnificent Eastern Districts has withered since 2000, and the chaos that came with land grabs, was vividly seen on a trip to Osborne Dam.
It was my first visit to this spectacular man-made lake which opened in 1984 and, apart from my car-load of rubber-neckers, there was just one boat – belonging to a Mutare bus owner who often fishes there – on a waterway covering 2 600 ha: the whole of the former Osborne tobacco farm and bits of communal land.
Latest addition to Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife estates, Osborne is more than 6km wide at its broadest point; runs 16km up the course of the Odzi River and 15km along its Nyatande tributary. The lake is 66 metres deep at high water mark and, with a capacity of 400 million cubic metres, is our third largest inland water source, after Mutirikwi and Manyame.
Dull statistics! scenery is superb: soaring peaks lushly clad in verdant indigenous trees, brush and scrub; dramatic almost fairy tale islands: tops of once tall gomos flooded when the dam wall shut; gentle slopes into warm soft water, the colour of which changed from indigo through aquamarine to a washed-out baby-powder blue as light altered and the sun gained or lost intensity. As calm as a millpond in mid-afternoon, lusty waves chopped on sandy shores as dusk neared and sundowners of lager and snacks were enjoyed.
Almost un-fished, the dam offers bass, Robusta and red-breast bream, barbel (don’t scoff, their fillets are superb) and eels. Why does no one do anything with our splendid eels these days? The late Reg Morfitt, once boss of Rhodesia Railways catering, when it was among the world’s best – but then a butcher at Marondera – paid kids a few cents an eel caught in vast numbers around Mutoko and Merewa: smoking them for up-market local restaurants and connoisseurs’ larders. He also made jellied eels, a much-loved Cockney delicacy.
Osborne has great twitching. We heard the haunting, unmistakable “kyow-kow-kow” of a pair of African fish eagles long before a single male quartered the sky, then settled on a dead tree within plunging distance of a bream school. Black eagles are plentiful, but not in the same numbers as Matopos. There are huge numbers of aquatic and terrestrial birds, thousands of LBJs. The one gymogene I saw in my life went into the book a few kilometres away on what was the lovely, lush tobacco and ostrich farm of irrepressible “Hammy” Hamilton, sadly recently widowed.
Introduced game (returned to a natural habitat from which it had disappeared) includes zebra, kudu, wildebeest, waterbuck (much spoor), eland, impala and warthog, all of which thrive, notwithstanding Parks and Wildlife bringing in eight male (only!) gnus. Somehow that recalled an old BSAP story of an OC on annual inspection demanding to know the whereabouts of young of the camp mules!
What the dam doesn’t have (we were assured by a scout) is croc and hippo. So a large number of water sports such as wind-surfing can take place safely. On many stretches of most Zimbabwean lakes it can be fatal to expose too much flesh for too long!
There are two boat loading facilities, 4×4 game drives, hiking and cycle trails, camp facilities for 300, with braai points, Zesa and ablutions. Two of four National Parks lodges are complete, each with two twin bedrooms, self-catering facilities, fridges, stoves, crockery and cutlery.
A former Manicaland Zanu PF governor once ran boat trips there, but engines of one of her pontoons were removed; the craft rots on a sandy beach. Parks say they will start shoreline pony trails, wind-surfing and canoeing. One hopes they finish the other two lodges; apparently there’s demand on holidays.
We stayed at Musangano Lodge, Odzi, run with German efficiency by Birgit Eggers and her staff, about 25 km away up a dirt road which once passed some of the most productive Zimbabwean farms. My guide mentioned this one “belonged” to retired major-general this, brigadier-that, top CIO honchos, the minister of whatever, air-commodore whatsit. Sadly there was little sign of these worthies having produced a crop bigger than a couple of bags of mealies or a few under-nourished weed-choked sunflowers. Tobacco barns appeared lifeless, no coal or wood stockpiled for curing the golden leaf. From the road we saw brand-new, presumably government supplied tractors, but none reaped, nor land-prepped for winter cereals.Â
Osborne was meant to irrigate these and scores of other farms “taken” in the land reform “programme.”Â Sadly, it looks like taxpayers’ money was totally wasted.
By Dusty Miller