ZIMBABWE'S troubled preparations for the co-hosting of the 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) conference with Zambia have been thrown into fresh turmoil after revelations that the European Union (EU) is considering a boycott of the Victoria Falls proceedings because of government's violation of bilateral investment protection agreements.
The threats pertain to the granting of hunting licences in the Save Conservancy to Zanu PF cronies, with government claiming this was part of wildlife-based "land reform".
Government last week issued hunting permits to 25 "indigenous farmers" who were given land in the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy in the Lowveld. National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Vitalis Chadenga said this was part of government's "wildlife-based land reform" exercise, in which beneficiaries had been allocated 25-year land leases in conservancies throughout Masvingo province.
The list of beneficiaries reads like a who's who of top Zanu PF officials in the province such as Maluleke, former Gutu South legislator Shuvai Mahofa and Higher Education minister Stanislus Mudenge. Mudenge holds the lease to a 16 507 hectare property, Senuko 2 Ranch in Chiredzi district, while Mahofa has the 5 526 hectare Savuli Ranch in the same district.
The Zimbabwe Independent saw a copy of an e-mail written by Wilfried Pabst, the vice chairman of the Save Valley Conservancy and a German citizen, alleging that EU countries, particularly France and Germany, would boycott the Zimbabwean side of UNTWO proceedings due to the long-running conflict in the Save Conservancy exacerbated by the granting of the hunting licences.
Pabst, who could not be drawn into discussing details of his email which suggested EU countries could boycott the UNTWO Assembly meeting in Zimbabwe, described the granting of the hunting permits as "highly illegal and criminal".
EU ambassador Aldo Dell'Ariccia stopped just short of confirming the boycott when he told the Independent a firm decision would only be made after a meeting with Environment minister Francis Nhema and his Lands and Land Resettlement counterpart, Herbert Murerwa.
He however described the government's actions as "totally unexpected from a country preparing to host such an important function connected with tourism, in addition to having bilateral agreements enjoining it to protect investments of EU nationals".
"While we respect Zimbabwe's sovereignty, it is clear they have violated their bilateral agreements with EU member states and next week I will be engaging ministers Nhema and Mzembi because these actions are a danger to property rights and tourism," said Dell'Ariccia on Wednesday.
Speaking at a function to hand over the hunting permits at the government complex in Masvingo, Chadenga said the exercise would be carried out in other conservancies in the province and extended throughout the country. He said government would not push out white farmers as had been the case in the chaotic fast track land reform, but was merely requesting them to accommodate blacks as partners in conservancies.
"After all they are also Zimbabweans and they have the skills in the conservancy business," said Chadenga of white farmers.
Speaking at the same function Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke described the handover ceremony as a "red letter day" for the province in terms of Wildlife-based land reform which he said had been stalled for the past five years due to resistance from white farmers.
"For five years white farmers have been doing everything possible to resist new farmers and harvesting wildlife illegally but now a new era is beginning," said Maluleke.
Chiredzi South MP Ailess Baloyi, one of the beneficiaries at the 6 886-hectare Humani Ranch, complaining the issue of hunting licences said "our empowerment is more important than UNTWO conference."