By Rex Mphisa
ZIMBABWE National Water Authority (Zinwa) workers at Zhovhe Dam in Beitbridge have been accused of duping holidaymakers by making them pay “water access” fees for boat rides during the just-ended festive season.
The workers reportedly charged R100 per individual passenger on boat cruises on Zimbabwe’s 11th largest water body where some enterprising businessmen run boat facilities.
Mzingwane Catchment Area manager Farai Manzira said he had not received any report of that nature, but would investigate.
“Thank you, this information will assist us to make further investigation,” said Manzira.
He asked if any receipts were issued to those allegedly fleeced by the operators, who according to some people that were duped, just pocketed cash before directing people to a makeshift harbour for boarding.
Zhovhe Leisure Park Lodges run by South Africa-based businessman and farmer Erasmus Marema also operates a fleet of boats that take people for cruises on the dam.
Apart from swimming facilities and horse rides, the leisure centre also provides entertainment tables. But it is the boat cruises that were a major attraction on Christmas Day when hundreds of families flocked to the dam, 80km west of Beitbridge town.
“We first paid ZWL$200 for two to ride the boat, but when we went to the boat launch pad we were asked to pay another R100 per head, money we were told was for Zinwa,” said a former Beitbridge councillor, Max Chikova.
“What surprised us is that we were not given receipts but we did not mind since we were just out for fun. It also surprised me when the operator said the money was ‘water access fees’, something I have never heard of,” he said.
Later Chikova said he asked himself why a government department was charging in foreign currency.
Other people who took their families for the boat rides were discouraged by the exorbitant charge.
“It was discouraging because I work for the government and there is nothing like that I know happening anywhere,” he said.
Some holidaymakers also questioned the loading of the boats which was not controlled with a speed boat meant for four people loading up to 10 passengers.
One of the boats was constantly breaking down and on one occasion had cut off three times in the middle of the dam.
“At one time it refused to move forward and came back to shore in reverse gear,” said one man who took his family of eight on one ride.
Unsupervised boat rides have in the past ended tragically with the most known being the Chivero boat disaster where 11 children died after an overloaded speed boat capsized resulting in drowning.
It is understood in that disaster the captain overloaded the boat, but swam to safety when it capsized leaving the children to die.
It also emerged that the accident was caused by a combination of negligence, greediness, drunkenness and human error.
Survivors spoke about the strange behaviour of the skipper, who while in the middle of the lake, suggested to the petrified children that the boat might capsize.
At Zhovhe, Parks and Wildlife officials who oversee and licence boats were nowhere to be seen on the day.