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Land dispute stalls construction of US$50 million Vic Falls hotel

Scott Sakupwanya Sacrificing Workers For Gold, Workers ‘dying’ every week at his mining company

A boat landing company that was leasing a jetty from Victoria Falls City Council is stalling the construction of a US$50 million 5-star hotel by local investor Better Brands after refusing to move off the land although it was given 90 days notice laid down in its lease, and even though the council had offered a new jetty site 200m away.

The new hotel will be employing more than 200 employees, most of them locals.

Wild Horizons was given the required notice by Victoria Falls council through the town clerk Mr Ronnie Dube to vacate stand number 1392A, where it operates a boat jetty after Better Brands owned by Mr Pedzisai Scott Sakupwanya applied to buy the land for the purpose of building the new major hotel.

Tourism in Zimbabwe is expected to continue its strong growth from 2022 in the first quarter of 2023, signalling a recovery from the worst effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. International arrivals surged in 2022, recovering from a decline in 2021, and this growth looks set to continue in 2023.

Wild Horizons have been leasing the property from council for some time but was just using it as a jetty where boats could be tied.

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The council gave the required notice to its tenant under Section 18 of their lease agreement, which states: “Either party can terminate this agreement at any time upon giving the other party ninety (90) days’ notice in writing of such intention. Upon early termination of this Agreement, all rights and obligations of the parties hereunder shall cease, except such rights and obligations as may have accrued on the date of termination and such rights and obligations as are expressed to survive beyond termination; and neither party shall be liable to claim for loss of revenue as a result of such early termination.”

Mr Dube said Wild Horizons responded by rejecting council’s position and they claimed that the move would cost 700 employees their jobs, but the council can only see around 10 people employed and has offered a new jetty site about 200m away.

“It is council’s considered view that the new applicants would add value in the development trajectory in line with the National Development Strategy (NDS)1, which calls for employment creation,” Mr Dube said.

“This will also imply that council will be able to charge rates unlike the US$7 000 lease rental being paid now. The relocation on its own would even create more employment with the beginning of construction which will benefit most businesses in Victoria Falls.

“When council held its full council meeting on February 3, 2023, Wild Horizons brought a bus load of people to try and force council into submission and that type of bullying is unprofessional, unacceptable and as council we will remain resolute to make an informed decision that will benefit our residents and country at large.”

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In a letter dated January 30, 2023, Wild Horizon’s corporate affairs and business development director Mrs Barbara Murasiranwa-Hughes said the company was opposed to the proposal to terminate their current lease agreement and relocate them to an alternative venue.

“Wild Horizons has a valid lease which expires in March 2029. We have always paid lease fees timeously, going as far as pre-paying lease fees for the next 5 years in order to assist council with cash flow difficulties they are experiencing. We constantly strive to foster the great partnership we have always shared with the council.

“Wild Horizons has leased and maintained the area for more than 25 years, and are a sitting tenant with senior employees having lived in the city for between 33 and 50 years, showing long term commitment to the municipality. Wild Horizons has applied on numerous occasions to purchase the land but to no avail as the land was said to be not for sale,” she said.

Mrs Murasiranwa-Hughes said Wild Horizons would like due process legally followed by council where a full council resolution was made on the notice to terminate their lease agreement.

Better Brands Jewellery in May last year submitted an application to Victoria Falls City Council to buy the commercial stand and the application was approved.

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