5 September 2012

Zimbabwe: Save Conservancy, Zim Shoots Self in Foot

THE Zimbabwean political scene is like a tainted tiara. While the country is blessed with vast natural resources, bickering and looting has seen the majority of the country's population benefiting very little in a sea of abundance.

The Save Valley Conservancy is the latest among a growing list of political war zones unravelling in the country under the guise of black economic empowerment aka indigenisation.

The move by government to issue hunting permits to 25 black "aspiring" ZANU-PF safari operators at the Save Valley Conserv-ancy in the Lowveld has torched a storm among the local community, conservationists as well as political foes.

Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Francis Nhe-ma, has come under fire for awarding the permits that would allow ZANU-PF bigwigs to bring rich clients to hunt down the game, particularly exposing the endangered rhino, sparking a bitter war of words among cabinet colleagues.

Tourism Minister, Walter Mzembi and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) have come out guns blazing accusing Nhema of parcelling out plots at Save Conservancy without regard to the bigger picture: threats to Zimbabwe's co-hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UN-WTO) Congress with neighbouring Zambia next year.

The beneficiaries, among them, senior ZANU-PF poli-ticians Shuvai Mahofa, Stan Mudenge, Titus Maluleke and other top military officials were granted the leases at Save Valley Conservancy, a prime wildlife sanctuary in the Lowveld, four months after a report by the Parlia-mentary Committee on Natural Resources had condemned the occupation of the conservancy.

The legislators, drawn from the three political parties, signatories to the Global Political Agreement, had recommended that conservancies must not be allocated to individuals at the expense of whole communities who were earmarked to benefit in the spirit of indigenisation.

They recommended that the Natural Resources Ministry should award leases through share transfers, joint ventures and community trusts in a move reminiscent of the Campfire projects.

But this did not happen.

Instead, Nhema's move made a mockery of the parliamentary committee that sort to bring sanity to the chaotic land reform programme in the wildlife sector.

The committee had concluded that: "These beneficiaries were merely imposed to conservators despite assurances from the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment that there was a transparent system in place to identify indigenous partners through the Zimbabwe Investment Authority's independent board using the databases for both foreign and local investors."

Yet in some circles, the debate has since assumed racial overtones where white farmers are seen as resisting the coming in of black farmers in the sector.

Such reports have been consistent with the land ref-orm exercise.

A Chegutu district lands officer had to resign after being labelled a "white sympathiser" when he gave evidence in court that tended to support a white farmer.

Charges of double dipping, aiding and abetting poaching against the black licence holders by the white farmers were met with counter-accusations of unwillingness to work with indigenous people and outright greed levelled against the white farmers.

Yet, the beneficiaries of Nhema's benevolence have also received farms under the land reform exercise.

One reader who left a comment on The Financial Gaz-ette website, Progress Mupopoti, has lambasted Nhema and labelled politicians as being "greedy" for mus-cling into the Save Valley Conservancy

"Why do you give greedy politicians the opportunity to plunder our natural resources in the name of indigenisation?

"A wise man should have co-opted communities around Save Cons-ervancy into wild life conservation through forming trusts with direct interest into companies of conservators."

Mupopoti said for many years locals have wat-ched with envy, while politicians harvested rich rewards from the land reform programme, leaving locals in abject poverty.

"We therefore don't see much of a difference, when it comes to empowerment, between the former and new conservators. The communities are the biggest losers in this stand-off and will remain losers until such time governance restores the power to communities and when environmental issues become governance issues," added Mupopoti.

In a recent interview with this paper, vice-chairperson of the Save Valley Conservancy, Wilfred Pabst, also labelled Nhema's move as an enrichment exercise that had nothing to do with indigenisation.

"We were not consulted. Everyone, including our chairman (Basil Nyabadza) was taken aback. It has nothing to do with indigenisation. There is a lot more going on," said Pabst.

Now, there are revelations that the country risks a ban from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, emanating from the chaos in the Save Valley Conserv-ancy saga, a move set to cost the country US$30 million in safari business.

Trophy exports to the US constitute 80 percent of the hunting industry's total exports.

The hunting season runs from April to November each year and some critics have questioned the wisdom of awarding hunting permits in the middle of the hunting season.

Some analysts have said the country's image has been dented ahead of the co-hosting of the UNWTO general assembly next year.

The tourism indaba is also under threat from revelations that officials in the Ministry had doctored information in their bid document with the effect of misrepresenting facts on the ground.

All this has raised the question why the country is constantly shooting itself in the foot.

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