Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Photo: Mike Hutchings

Harare - Victoria Falls is massively overbooked for the weekend’s SADC summit, with about a dozen regional heads of state – including President Jacob Zuma – due to attend.

They are expected to give an unprecedented show of approval to the region’s prodigal son President Robert Mugabe, who has survived over four years of power-sharing and a crumbling economy to return to the fold as SADC chairman for the next year.

Even private houses in the Falls are taking in guests for the event, and some will ve staying next door, in Livingstone, and in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, a good hour’s drive from the conference centre within the Elephant Hills hotel.

Mugabe, 90, has had a busy few weeks with national “heroes holidays” and elections within his Zanu-PF party.

The summit has not attracted much media attention in Zimbabwe because of intense activity within Zanu-PF. Last weekend Mugabe attended the party’s youth congress where many delegates fell asleep during the all-night final session as they had no food.

Mugabe, according to media reports, stayed up till 4am on the final morning of the congress and criticised organisers for failing to provide meals for hundreds of delegates.

The Zanu-PF women’s congress starts in Harare today, the same day SADC’s council of ministers begins its meeting in the Falls.

The Herald newspaper said preparations for the 4 000 female delegates meeting in Harare were “shambolic”.

Surprisingly, Zambian leader Michael Sata will not attend the summit, said foreign minister Harry Kalaba, who is attending in his place. It has been speculated that Sata is ill.

Victoria Falls made unfortunate headlines recently. In early July an American visitor died after a goods train smashed into a tourist tram taking a wedding party around the town.

Earlier this week a small plane crashed shortly after take-off from Victoria Falls airport, seriously injuring the German pilot and three Australian tourists.

Zimbabwe is no longer on the SADC agenda after Mugabe and his Zanu-PF won massive victories at last year’s elections, held shortly before the previous summit in Lilongwe which was chaired by Malawi’s former president, Joyce Banda.

Zimbabwe’s economy continues to decline although tourist arrivals, particularly at Victoria Falls, have improved dramatically in the last two years.

Independent Foreign Service