To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
Formation of Federation
A preliminary conference on the proposed unification of Southern and Northern Rhodesia together with Nyasaland (now independent Malawi) was held at Victoria Falls in 1947. A series of conferences were held in London during 1952/3, where the three African governments, with negotiators from the British government, agreed a complicated federal structure. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, also known as Central African Federation (CAF), came into effect on 1st August 1953.
Under the Federation, Northern Rhodesia, and Livingstone in particular, benefited from the experienced publicity knowledge of their Southern Rhodesian counterparts. Unified tourism information brochures publicised both sides of the Falls, and the services available on each side of the River. Published by the Southern Rhodesian Public Relations Department the booklet promotes the Federal Tourist Centre in Livingstone, where “the Federal Tourist Officer and a competent staff are available to give assistance to visitors” (Southern Rhodesia Public Relations Department, c1955).
Tourism infrastructure on both sides of the river had been developed to cater for independent travellers arriving by road.
“The standard of accommodation and cuisine at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel, which overlooks the Falls themselves, is extremely high, and hotel accommodation of good standard is also obtainable in the town of Livingstone. But many people, especially those with families, may prefer the more free and easy life of the Rest Camps which have been established on both the Southern and Northern banks of the Falls.” (Southern Rhodesia Public Relations Department, c1955)
Victoria Falls Trust
Another significant development on the northern bank was the formation of the Victoria Falls Trust, intended to preserve the physical environment of the Victoria Falls from ecological damage and to encourage tourism, on 15th March 1954. Members were from the Livingstone community and appointed by the Governor. The area was degazetted as a National Monument but several separate cultural sites were declared National Monuments. The Commission continued to provide the professional conservation of the falls and its features whilst the Trust concentrated on Tourism Management.
The work of the Trust included the development of tourism infrastructure and attractions, including the overseeing the development and management of Rest Camp and Camping Site tourism facilities on a site close to the river above the Falls. The number of chalets was increased to 36.
“The Rest Huts in this Camp are equipped with electric light and adequate furniture, with separate bathrooms and outside fireplaces for cooking. Accommodation costs 3s per person per day (children under 12, 1s 6d) but tenants are expected to supply their own food and cooking utensils. Bedding is supplied, if required, at an extra charge of 2s 6d for the first night and 1s per night thereafter. A tearoom which is open until 10 pm where full meals are served and tinned goods stocked, is situated near the camp. It is advisable to book bungalows in advance, especially from May to August and over the Easter, Christmas and Rhodes and Founders holiday periods.” (Southern Rhodesia Public Relations Department, c1955)
In addition the Trust oversaw the development of tourism attractions such as the Maramba Cultural Village, and the Livingstone Zoological Park (later the Mosi-oa-tunya National Park) in 1955. The period saw rising tourism arrivals to the region, with over 43,000 tourism arrivals recorded for Livingstone in 1955 and over 47,000 in 1956, a fifty percent increase since 1953 (Economic Survey of Livingstone, 1957).
On 16 November 1955, a ceremony was held to commemorate the centenary of David Livingstone’s first arrival at the Falls. In attendance at the ceremony, and staying at the Hotel, was Dr. Hubert Wilson, Livingstone’s grandson, and Miss Livingstone Bruce, his great grand-daughter.
A second plaque was unveiled at the Livingstone Statue on the southern bank by Lord Llewellin, Governor-General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In attendance at the ceremony was Doctor Hubert Wilson, grandson of David Livingstone, and Miss Dianna Livingstone Bruce, great grand-daughter of David Livingstone.
The dedication reads:
“On the occasion of the centenary of David Livingstone’s discovery of the Victoria Falls men and women of all races in, and from all parts of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland assembled solemnly to dedicate themselves and their country to carry on the high Christian aims and ideals which inspired David Livingstone in his mission here.
“Unveiled by his Excellency the right honourable the Lord Llewellin, GBE, MC, TD, DL Governor-General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and dedicated by his grace the Lord Archbishop of Central Africa, Edward Frances Paget, on 16 November 1955.”
Boat trips to Livingstone Island took tourists to the very spot where David Livingstone first saw the Falls, and some still claimed to know the tree upon which he carved his initials:
“The African paddlers will point out to you a towering tree round which has been placed a circle of stones and will tell you this is the tree on which the famous explorer cut his initials, but there is now no proof that this is so and searches by the Museum authorities and others have so far failed to reveal a tree still bearing the initials.” (Woods, 1960)
The Falls in the Fifties
Federation tourism brochures celebrated that one hundred years after Livingstone first reached the Falls tourists could still witness them in their full natural wonder, promoting the Falls as the ‘greatest river wonder of the world.’
“When you see the Victoria Falls today you see them as Dr Livingstone first saw them on November 16, 1855. With the exception of the great rail and road cantilever bridge which links Southern and Northern Rhodesia, nothing has been added to or taken from Nature.”
A chain-assisted path (known as the Chain Walk) descending one-third of the way down the side of the gorge, enables the visitor to see the final lunge of the Devil’s Cataract and, along the full length of the gorge, a vista of the rest of the Falls.
From the south bank a canoe could be taken to Cataract Island, for the fee of one shilling, return.
When you wish to return to the mainland go back to the landing stage where a rail will be seen hanging from a tree near the water. Striking this several times will call the canoe boys.
Or the visitor could walk further along the riverbank to the Hotel Boat House, where tea was served on the banks of the Zambezi. The trolley service ran back to the Hotel, where scenic flights over the Falls could be booked for the price of 25 shillings.
“To see the Falls in proper relation to the river and surrounding country, see them from the air. For a charge of 25s you are assured of 20 minutes of glorious views. Not only is the river very picturesque but the Gorges are seen at their best from the air.”
Whilst the period saw declining arrivals at the Falls Hotel from the railway, there were growing overall visitor totals to the Hotel. In 1957 the Hotel recorded over 21,000 visitors, staying an average of just over two nights, at the time a record for the Hotel.
Trolley Service Terminated
The growth of motorised transport and development of local road infrastructure paved the way for a more convenient method of transport.
“In 1957, the Southern Rhodesia Government built a road to the Boat House, and in December of that year the hotel replaced the hand-pushed trolley by a service of nine-seat minibuses.” (Price, 1966)
Under the shade of the mango trees in the Hotel courtyard stands a reminder of days past, with one of the original trolleys used to transport guests to the Falls preserved and displayed, and offering a shady seat for quiet contemplation. A plaque records:
“The Victoria Falls Hotel trolley service, which operated from the Hotel to the Bridge and the Boat House, was introduced in 1920. Before this date the Hotel guests were conveyed to various points of interest by means of rickshaws. During their life the trolleys were used by some 2 million guests, and were replaced by motor coaches in December, 1957, after 37 years of romantic, yet reliable service.”
Falls in Flood
In 1957 and 1958 the middle Zambezi experienced unprecedented floods, including at the Victoria Falls. In March 1957 the rising waters flooded part of the Power Station in the Gorge.
“In 1957, however, the river rose higher than ever known before and reached, on the surge, a height of about 11 feet above the level of the floor of the power station. All the windows by that time had been bricked in and practically all the main doorway was bricked in and reinforced with sandbags. No one knew how long the building could withstand the tremendous buffeting of the high waves of the Zambezi in spate and the power station staff with pumps going night and day cleared the building of water as it seeped in through many places in the walls. Access was gained by a temporary bridge of two steel pipes which swayed and swung as the mighty surges of water swept around the building like gigantic rollers on the sea shore.
A protecting wall was constructed against a possible repetition but was still incomplete when the 1958 floods came, and the station was again seriously flooded.
“Profiting by the experience gained during this drama of man against nature, protective measures were taken and a reinforced concrete wall set in 2-3 feet of solid rock now surrounds the building to a height of 20 feet above the floor level inside. An access bridge on concrete pillars now leads to an emergency doorway and the main entrance has been fitted with watertight doors... Again the Zambezi turned to fury in February and March 1958 and rose to an unprecedented high level, surging up to 15 feet above the level of the floor inside the building with occasional waves splashing over the roof on the down-stream side. The power station staff were, however, the victors once again and marked yet another score against the Zambezi on the painted post at the side of the main entrance marking the highest levels reached by the turbulent water... It is estimated that with the heavy concrete protection now completed the building can withstand a river level of up to 10 inches more than the 1958 record flood.” (Woods, 1960)
Above the Falls on the northern bank of the Zambezi a stone monument erected by the National Monuments Commission marks the highest recorded level of the Zambezi in March 1958.
The barrel boom across a small section of the river above the Falls, installed to reassure passengers and act as a safety net to protect the launches operating from the Hotel landing stage and boat house, was washed away in the floods. (Woods, 1960)
In November 1957 the Northern Rhodesia Government announced the lease of the old Rest Camp site above the Falls for a new Hotel development, almost ten years after initially touting for investors.
In 1961 it was reported that an American investor had been found for the £1,500,000 development.
“Senator Rendell Mabey, a millionaire from Utah, has suggested that he might provide about £750,000 for a “millionaires’ playground” a few hundred yards from the Victoria Falls... An official spokesman has said that “the hotel would be the lap of luxury and a great attraction. It might be opened next year”.
Fortunately the plans for the ten-storey ‘millionaire’s playground’ with rooftop gardens overlooking the Falls, came to nothing.
Ripples at the Landing Stage
In the early 1960s the Falls Hotel had looked at expanding its development at the landing stage. The site, a short distance upstream from the Falls along what is now known as Zambezi Drive, was leased from the government. Over the years the landing stage facilities had developed to include a boat shed, launch slipway and an open-air tearoom for waiting passengers, serving ‘the best tea and cream buns in the Falls.’ The Hotel management considered developing this into a fully-fledged restaurant with car-parking facilities. An internal Hotel report in 1963 concluded:
“After considering very carefully the provision of a restaurant at the boat house on the south bank of the Zambezi it was decided, that in view of the shortage of capital funds together with the fact that we were only able to obtain a very restricted liquor licence, the project should be abandoned.” (Rhodesia Railways correspondence, 26 March 1963).
Management Committee reports record that numerous delays were encountered in negotiations over the potential sublease of the landing stage site, and that during these delays, the launches and boat house were totally destroyed by fire. Documents do not detail the cause of the fire and the site was abandoned. The Railway Company duly terminated the leases, held on behalf of the Hotel, for the landing stage site and the picnic-site on Kandahar Island, bringing to an end the Hotel’s long association operating river launches and tours.
Requiring an immediate replacement for their launch services, the Hotel management turned to Livingstone based Greenway Launches & Taxi Services, operated by Mr L Sussens from the north bank, the only operator with the capacity to deliver an adequate service for the Hotel. Whilst appreciating Mr Sussens cooperation in ensuring that the Hotel suffered no disruption to its launch services for its guests, the Hotel Management initially considered it unwise to pass all their clientele to a single operator, preferring to share their business among two or more companies and encourage competition.
In 1964 the Hotel’s transport and booking desk services were contracted to the United Touring Company, who were to manage and operate the Hotel’s river cruises and local tours for many years. The old crossing site originally established by Geise was abandoned, and new jetty sites developed further upstream.
In 1962 the Falls were visited by an organised party of American and Canadian tourists on a luxury world cruise, travelling to the Cape on the S.S. Brasil. Instead of travelling by train to the Falls, the group toured South Africa before flying to the Falls via Livingstone, reflecting shifting travel preferences as aviation arrivals overtook those travelling to the Falls by train.
“The passengers left the ship at Cape Town, and after touring the Republic they flew by charter ‘plane to Livingstone. One party arrived on the Wednesday morning and left again on Thursday afternoon ..., while the other party arrived on the Friday afternoon and left the next morning.”
“Many of them had recently visited the Iguaçu [Iguazú] Falls in South America, and they said that although these falls could boast greater volume of water, they were not so impressive as the Victoria Falls.”
“Mrs Bernice Lynn, of Los Angeles, California, said that although her friends had often told her about the Victoria Falls, no one had told that there was a first-class hotel right on the spot. “Now I am going to tell all my friends what a fine hotel you have here”, she said. “It is unique; it is well managed, clean and the food is excellent. As a rule when one goes to see a natural wonder like the falls, the hotels do not bother too much about tourists. Mr William Schaff, of New Jersey, said that the Falls Hotel could compare very favourably with most of the hotels in the United States.” (Rhodesia Railway Magazine, July 1962)
In response to an increasingly diverse tourism travel sector, the Railway Company had introduced Rainbow Tours in 1962, special packaged deals including rail and accommodation at the Falls Hotel.
“The colonial-style Victoria Falls Hotel, with its 120 bedrooms, also has a bank, hairdressing salons and shops, as well as a conference room. The national airline and United Touring Company (offering cars for hire) have their offices here. The hotel is famous for its multi-course table d’hoite menu. Many visitors come by rail, and there are all-exclusive Rainbow tours (by rail) from all centres in Rhodesia.” (Rhodesian National Tourism Board, 1967)
The 1962 census recorded the population of the small town as 1,601 (CSO, 1964)
Increasing African nationalism, particularly in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, persuaded Britain to agree to the organised dissolution of the Federation. The ‘break-up’ negotiations, known as the Central Africa Conference, involving delegates from five governments, were hosted in the Pullman Suite at the Falls Hotel over several days in July 1963. The Federation was officially dissolved on the 31st December 1963.
After the collapse of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1963, Northern Rhodesia was granted independence on 24th October 1964, becoming the Republic of Zambia. Earlier in the same year Nyasaland also gained independence as the Republic of Malawi.
The period of the Federation saw increased integration of tourism operations from opposite sides of the river. Even after independence Livingstone residents still patronised the Falls Hotel for social events, and the Hotel’s boating and tour services were managed by the United Touring Company based in Livingstone. Even the Hotel’s resident band was comprised of railway employees resident on the north bank.
“It was a bumper New Year’s Eve at the Victoria Falls Hotel when some 650 people thronged the main lounge and verandas to see the Old Year out and the New Year in. Customs barriers certainly did not seem to have deterred the many merrymakers who had come over from Livingstone for celebrations.
The enquiry counter in the foyer of the Victoria Falls Hotel has been taken over by the United Touring Company which has acquired one of the two tourist and safari businesses in Livingstone...
A new band is now in attendance at the hotel and is proving very popular. Known as the ‘Rainbow Trio’, it was started by Mr Bob Webb, who was transferred to Livingstone some four months ago.” (Rhodesia Railway Magazine, Jan 1965)
Livingstone on the Offensive
A June 1965 press release from the Zambia Information Department outlined a determined push to develop tourism in Livingstone.
“The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, in close co-operation with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Victoria Falls Trust, are going on to the offensive in their efforts to develop the Victoria Falls Trust Area and build up the tourist industry in competition with Rhodesia. To this end active steps are being taken to include in the proposed Four Year Development Plan extensive and co-ordinated projects to provide considerably greater facilities for tourists in the Falls area. At the same time, as the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources – Mr Kalulu – told a meeting of the Victoria Falls Trust in Livingstone last month, “We must beware of the general mania for development of this area which would be at the expense of the natural beauty of the Victoria Falls Trust region.”
”..He suggested that to most people development meant putting up wonderful buildings near and around the Falls, and said that it would be a sad thing if such a policy was implemented without discretion because once we lost our natural heritage it would be impossible to regain it… However, he was convinced that these matters need not militate against each other if properly planned and executed.” (Zambia Information Services Press Release, June 1965)
With independence the National Museums Board was created in 1966 and the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum renamed the Livingstone Museum.
In 1965 an experiment was held with floodlighting of the Falls from the northern bank, initially for a month only, but extended to two.
“The floodlighting of the Eastern Cataract of the Victoria Falls is proving a great attraction to residents and visitors alike, for a strange new beauty is being revealed in the delicately tinted rainbows which the floodlights throw into the heavy spray... People who wondered whether artificial light would produce the lunar rainbows for which the falls are famous have been agreeably surprised, and since the lights were first switched on it is estimated that some thousands of people have made the nightly pilgrimage to view the fascinating spectacle.” (Rhodesia Railway Magazine, Vol 13 No 10, Feb 1965, p23)
The experiment was, however, suspended after this, and the Falls returned to their natural nocturnal aspect. Woods, writing five years earlier in 1960, summarised the unspoilt magic of the Falls:
“The great appeal of the Victoria Falls is its unspoilt beauty and natural surroundings. There are no peanut vendors, no grim rows of iron railings, no artificial floodlighting and no toll gates.” (Woods, 1960)