PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu says the move to reopen the Victoria Falls is not political but meant to keep the wheels of the economy running, and has since warned tourism operators not to argue or politicise his directive for them to open.

And Tourism and Arts Minister Ronald Chitotela has warned players in the tourism sector against issuing contradictory messages to the directive given by the President.

Last month, President Lungu ordered churches and other places of warship to open, along with barbershops gyms and golf clubs, but the clergy refused to follow his directive arguing that it was not safe for their members, in the face of the Covid-19.

Speaking when he reopened the Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Tuesday, President Lungu said there was urgent need for the wheels of the economy to start spinning again “under the new normal.”

The President however expressed concern that whenever he gives directives on measures to be taken, some stakeholders disagree with him and tend to politicise the guidance.

“You see, when the Vic falls is closed, the transport sector, the lodge owners and hotel Industry, you name it in Livingstone, it comes to a close, it’s dead, so from today on, it’s business, not as usual but business under the new normal as we fight or live with Covid-19. I expect whoever is trading in the tourism sector to adhere to the regulations put in place. Not nikakamba mwayama kukambulula (when I speak, you start misinterpreting), the minister has said, my message is straight forward, nakamba bwino bwino, sininakambe na chi bwibwi (I have spoken clearly, I have not stammered), I haven’t stammered, my message is very ear, I hope I have been understood but I know there are always those people who want to take advantage of statements like this to politicise them, there is no politics here, we want the economy to continue running,” said President Lungu.

President Edgar Chagwa Lungu addressing the Nation on Friday,April 24,2020 at State House in Lusaka. PICTURE BY SALIM HENRY/STATE HOUSE ©2020

“So economic Life in Livingstone depends on the Vic falls and from what I have seen and from what I have seen elsewhere in Livingstone and what I have seen in Zambia and the trends of this Covid-19 since it was declared in Zambia, it’s imperative that the Vic falls be made available to the public and tourists subject to the Covid 19 fight regulations and I think the rest is clear. The public health act is in place, statutory instruments number 21 and 22 are in place, the measures which we have advocated for in fighting the Covid-19 are well known I don’t need to repeat that. The minister has just echoed what I said that the economy of this place and to a large extent the economy of Zambia is affected adversely by the closure of the Vic falls following the fight against Covid-19. And I think given the fact that we have resolved as a country that we are going to live under the Covid-19 new normal, that should also be extended to the opening of the Vic falls.”

And Chitotela warned against any sector players issuing public statements that are contradictory to what the Head of State directed.

The president has officially opened Victoria Falls, nshilefwaya confusion iyakuti ba boss balanda imwe mwayamba ukulandulula (I don’t want confusion were when the boss says something, you start misinterpreting (President Lungu in the background agrees “nikakamba bakambulula”). Under my leadership, in my ministry, nganaumfwa fye (if I hear anything of the sort), whether you are an agent, tizamvelana bwino (you shall hear from me). We must all go by the direction of his Excellency the president that Victoria Falls is open. If there are any other modalities that you would want us to put in place, can you come to my office, we shall agree but no public statement to contradict, that I must emphasise. It is not just the Victoria Falls but all the tourist sites. If you have got any concern please come to the office, we shall guide you and see how we can proceed because we can’t continue to, in keeping all the Zambian workers without working, you the operators have been complaining to my office that are we going to sustain paying workers that are not working, where are we going to be getting the resources from?” said Chitotela.

“So of there is any challenges, whether you have a hotel, you have a lodge, come let us sit down and see how we can collaborate with our friends in the Ministry of Health. If we need to give you certification for you to start operating, we will do that but if you don’t require that, we shall collaborate with you with our friends from health and Making sure that all the necessary measures are put in place. But beginning today, please, let’s promote domestic tourism, local tourism is laka (best), we need to begin with our own citizens then we shall start inviting the international tourists to come. We shall tell them, Zambia is safe, the Livingstone site is very safe, we have no case of the Covid here. The number of cases of Covid in Zambia are actually very low so there is no way we can continue closing up the sectors of the economy, we will continue choking the economy. We need to balance up health and economic activities.”

Livingstone Tourism Association (LTA) President Rodney Sikumba thanked government for the quick response to their call to open the sector.

“Yes, we did request through our parent ministry, the ministry of tourism and arts and in no time, I think it only took about 24 hours or less, for the minister to respond and when I was told to say the minister is on his way, I was elated and I told my members to say, ‘look, this is what is happening’. And now within another 24 hours his Excellency is here so it shows how much committed our parent ministry is to tourism. We were very affected because we were recording zero revenues as a sector. Most of the properties that we are going to, especially the David Livingstone was completely shut, 77 room facility, there was no business. We had the total Livingstone and Avani [hotel], as we speak today we only have five people in house and that’s a property that harbours 560 staff. So effectively we are very happy and I know locals will start travelling now. Considering that the Victoria Falls is open, we will see a lot of traffic coming into Livingstone and for that we thank you very much,” said Sikumba.