PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Wednesday fiercely attacked army commanders, including major-generals, and senior Zanu PF officials for grabbing money-spinning safari landholdings in the treasured Save Valley Conservancy, the largest private wildlife sanctuary in the world.
High-level sources told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday Mugabe arrived at the Zanu PF politburo meeting on Wednesday in a "no-nonsense mood" and accused army commanders and top officials of being "greedy" for grabbing conservancies when they already owned farms seized from white commercial farmers evicted during the chaotic and violent land reform programme.
Politburo members said Mugabe quickly set the tone of the meeting, declaring all army commanders and senior party officials who invaded conservancies should move out immediately. He also ordered that to stop the divisive rush for safaris, all conservancies must now be turned into national parks.
This means there would be massive evictions of army commanders, ministers, senior civil servants and top Zanu PF officials from safari areas across the country which they had expropriated and were making a killing through hunting activities and even slaughtering animals to sell meat.
But their presence in conservancies was threatening to decimate flora and fauna, mainly wildlife targeted for minting money for private benefit. There is also a threat of environmental degradation.
Angered by predatory raids and rampages by the military and money-oriented politicians at Save Valley Conservancy, Mugabe reportedly said safari areas would now be controlled by the national parks, which in turn will be owned by local communities and government through the department of National Parks and Wildlife, that will run them.
Sources said Mugabe opened the meeting by emphasising the invasions by a few "greedy" senior army and officials could be damaging and costly to Zanu PF as it prepares for crucial elections next year.
Although the land reform programme and indigenisation might have helped Mugabe and his party to hang onto power, they have also significantly damaged their reputation as they were reduced to looting sprees and plunder.
Referring to the land redistribution which was characterised by racial undercurrents and greed, the late Zanu PF maverick Edison Zvobgo said his party had reduced a "glorious revolution" into an "agrarian racist enterprise".
"President Mugabe opened the politburo meeting with the Save Valley Conservancy issue. After dealing with the issue, he lambasted senior party and army generals recently given concessions in the conservancy, saying these people were driven by pure greed and nothing else. He said they are just interested in killing wildlife and selling the meat," a senior politburo member said.
"Mugabe asked why they were grabbing more land when they were given farms during the land reform programme. He accused them of wanting to take more and more without considering the communities in the valley."
Another official said: "The Save issue was dividing and destroying the party ahead of elections. This, the president said, gives an impression that Zanu PF is full of greedy people who just want to grab everything."
Cabinet ministers have fighting over the issue. Tourism minister Walter Mzembi and his Environment counterpart Francis Nhema are engaged in an ugly public spat over the matter. The Zanu PF Masvingo provincial executive has labelled Mzembi a "sell-out".
Mzembi, pushing for the reversal of the take-overs, has been arguing the parcelling out of conservancies was threatening the successful hosting of next year's United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in Victoria Falls.
Some of the Zanu PF and military elites who have benefitted from the seizures include lieutenant-colonel David Moyo, major-general Gibson Mashingaidze, retired-colonel Claudius Makova, assistant commissioner Connel Dube, Masvingo provincial intelligence officer Chibaya, major-general Engelbert Rugeje, Brigadier-General Livingstone Chineka, Higher Education Minister Stan Mudenge, politburo member Nelson Mawema, Health deputy minister Douglas Mombeshora, Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke, Zanu PF central committee member Enock Porusingazi, Shuvai Mahofa, and MPs Ailess Baloyi, Abraham Sithole, Samson Mukanduri, Noel Mandebvu and Ronald Ndava.
Others include former Tourism secretary Sylvester Maunganidze, Masvingo provincial administrator Felix Chikovo, late Vice-President Simon Muzenda's son Tongai, Elliot Takawira believed to be related to national hero Leopold Takawira, and war veterans' leader Joseph Chinotimba.
Chiredzi South MP Baloyi claimed he had been elected new Save Valley Conservancy chairperson, replacing former Zanu PF Manicaland provincial chairperson Basil Nyabadza, who however argues he remains chair until the politburo ruled on the matter.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said yesterday the politburo has set up a committee which includes Tourism and Natural Resources minister Francis Nhema, Mzembi, Lands minister Herbert Murerwa and Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo to look into the feasibility of turning the conservancies into national parks and also to propose models that ensure communities also benefit.
"Conservancies have created a lot of problems. There may be need to do away with conservancies and create national parks," Gumbo said. "We want to find a way forward that ends the wrangle that is taking place and also bring harmony in the community. Everyone was supportive of the proposal to turn the conservancies into national parks."
Other senior party officials set to lose their conservancies are Mines minister Obert Mpofu, Bulawayo governor Cain Mathema, Matabeleland North governor Thokozile Mathuthu and Vice-President John Nkomo.
While speakers took turns to slate beneficiaries of the conservancy confiscations, politburo sources said former Masvingo governor Josiah Hungwe, one of the beneficiaries, said it was a "win-win" situation because the whites were also set to lose their land.
The politburo decision came after chiefs in Chiredzi issued a statement recently accusing the party leadership of grabbing all opportunities presented by the party's indigenisation programme.
"The same people now being allocated our conservancies are multiple beneficiaries of sugarcane plots, as well as ranches and farms. The option that the governor and his clique have adopted, under which they partner sitting tenants, has caused a lot of destruction to wildlife. For example, Mrs Shuvai Mahofa and company are harvesting game meat for sale without hunting permits," the chiefs said.
"Three months ago Souter Zvinavashe, a protégée of the governor was arrested, but released without charge after he was caught with tonnes of game meat he was selling to the public in Mukwasine, Gutu, Bikita and Mutare."
The Save Valley Conservancy was founded in 1991 and has drawn support from the World Wildlife Fund and investors from Europe and the United States who are protected under bilateral investment protection agreements.