Hollywood star Will Smith has just been to Victoria Falls – but did he stay on the Zimbabwe side or the Zambian side of the natural wonder?
A row over whether the popular US actor actually overnighted in Zimbabwe on Thursday is showing just how touchy locals are on the subject of shared tourist hot-spot, which lies to the extreme west of Zimbabwe.
The Chronicle newspaper said Smith had “sneaked unnoticed” into Zimbabwe. “But the word on the street is that the Men in Black star is sleeping in Zambia,” the paper admitted. The state ZBC broadcaster claimed the star had done a bungee-jump from Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe but was booked into an exclusive hotel across the border in Livingstone, Zambia.
Said @The_Mos_Native: “Lol, Will Smith has ‘torched a storm’ in Vic Falls, Is he in Zambia oro Zimbabwe?”
Tweeted @normandhliwayo: “We need people to come and spend money. Everything was paid for in Zambia. So we benefit nothing from his visit. Non event.”
There’s little doubt that once-sleepy Livingstone town has profited from Zimbabwe’s economic and political woes post-2000. Foreigners now often arrive in Zambia, cross to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe where they spend a few hours and then cross back to Zambia for accommodation.
As it struggles a worsening cash crunch, President Robert Mugabe’s government would love to have the hard currency that tourists bring when they stay. Last month Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said tourism was a “low-hanging fruit” and urged more investment in the sector.
Insiders say police roadblocks put off travellers who might have considered road-trips in Zimbabwe. The relatively high prices of some tourism facilities in Zimbabwe can also prove a deterrent, as happened when the South African rand fell in value last year. Tourism arrivals in Vic Falls were reported to be five percent down in the first quarter of 2016 for precisely that reason.
Some Zambians have responded to Zimbabweans’ urgent questions over Will Smith’s whereabouts with perhaps a touch of triumph..
@Wika_ThatGurl, from Lusaka, tweeted: “Zimbabweans already claiming that Will Smith is visiting the Vic Falls in Zim. Will Smith is in Zambia.”
Said @Edward_Mwale, also in Lusaka: “Ahem Zimbabweans, please note Will Smith came to the ZAMBIAN side.”
Retorted Zimbabwe’s @bmusonza: “Zimbabwe and Zambia could go to war in 24 hrs as both sides argue over where US actor Will Smith was when he visited the border town.”
Smith is reported to have already visited Egypt, Morocco and Tanzania on this tour with his family.