Zimbabwe: Looters Defy Mugabe

SENSING the end could be nigh before sanity prevails at Save Valley Conservancy in Masvingo Province, ZANU-PF bigwigs have heightened poaching activities at the animal sanctuary in disregard of a directive by President Robert Mugabe to cease illegal activities there pending a decision on the saga by the party's supreme decision-making body in between congresses -- the Politburo.

The illegal hunting frenzy is threatening to wipe out game in the conservancy, hitherto of interest only to safari operators until controversy set in after it was allocated to ZANU-PF heavyweights from the politically restive province, some of who have no clue about hunting.

The primitive accumulation of wealth through rampant poaching ahead of a decision on the matter by ZANU-PF's Soviet-style Politburo has alarmed conservationists who fear that the animal population at Save Valley could decline rapidly if nothing is done to restore order.

Villagers around the conservancy were left shell-shocked recently after a senior ZANU-PF official pledged two buffalo bulls as relish to a constituency of a political friend in the province on the day reports from South Africa indicated that a buffalo had been auctioned for a whooping 26 million rands.

The incident alarmed the powers-that-be who now fear that uncontrolled hunting in the area could compound the country's foreign currency woes.

Hunting and safari has been a significant contributor to Zimbabwe's foreign currency earnings.

The issuance of hunting leases to ZANU-PF members at the game refuge has opened a new front for disharmony in President Mugabe's party, forcing the incumbent to direct Environment Minister Francis Nhema to revisit his decision, compelling existing ranchers to partner the so-called "Masvingo Group".

Resultantly, the party's politburo appointed a four-member panel consisting Nhema; Tourism and Hospitality Minister, Walter Mzembi; the party's secretary for lands, Ignatius Chombo as well as Land Reform and Resettlement Minister, Herbert Murerwa to recommend the course of action to take.

The committee, which is still to meet as some of its members are out of the country on business, was tasked to look into the possibility of turning the conservancy into a national park, among other available options, effectively reversing the issuance of the leases.

Those who were handed leases at Save Valley include war veterans leader, Joseph Chinotimba; Major General Gibson Mashin-gaidze; Major General Engelbert Rugeje; Masvingo Governor and Resident Minister Titus Maluleke; ZANU-PF Masvingo provincial chairperson Lovemore Matuke; Higher Education Minister Stan Mudenge; Health Deputy Minister Douglas Mombeshora; ZANU-PF central committee member Enock Porusingazi and Members of Parliament Ailess Baloyi, Abraham Sithole, Samson Mukanduri and Noel Mandebvu.

Former lawmaker, Shuvai Mahofa was also handed a conservancy in the area.

Ever since the allocation of the hunting quotas was announced last month, fierce resistance against the new order has emerged from the conservators, Mzembi, Chiredzi chiefs and members of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources.

On Tuesday, Chino-timba, confirmed there was poaching at Save, but blamed it on white ranchers, adding that even though he has not yet set his foot at the animal sanctuary since the Politburo meeting, it was worth noting that any decision by ZANU-PF was not the end in itself as whatever the party decides still needed to be endorsed by Cabinet to have any effect.

Chinotimba, who spearheaded the chaotic land seizures in 2000, said the new beneficiaries still have a right to continue hunting animals as they have legally binding leases issued by the Environment Minister.To my knowledge those whites are the ones who are poaching, despite the fact that they don't have quotas. If you want to know who is poaching ask Karikoga Kaseke (the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive officer), I took him there and he saw for himself," he said.

"The Politburo decision is not the end of the story. The government has its own resolution, which gave us quotas through the Ministry of Environment, which is headed by Nhema. We have the right to be hunting."

Chinotimba said his partners at Save have refused to meet him and so far he has only managed to hold meetings with the managers.

Mzembi also confirmed receiving reports about rampant poaching activities at Save Valley Conservancy.

In an earlier interview with The Financial Gazette, Mzembi said while it takes one gunshot to eliminate an animal for individual benefit, the same can pose danger for hundreds of photographic shots, whose income can sustain a community for a lengthy period.

He said the continued lawlessness at the animal haven has a deeper meaning politically, saying the Save saga was symbolic of the greatest test to ideological correctness and aptitude by those who should be discharging the values that ZANU-PF stood for at independence in 1980.

"That behaviour smacks of a psychology-driven by the 'last harvest' mentality before a drought. Political, in this sense: It is very dangerous for us who still want to serve the party for the next 30 years. That's what makes our fight and defence of old ZANU-PF values now more generational than ever. And on this even if I remain in the majority of one, it's the principles and values that I am prepared to defend. People first!" said Mzembi.

This week, Nhema said he could not comment on poaching reports because if they were any they should have been dealt with administratively by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

Parks spokesperson, Caroline Washaya, could not respond immediately to a request for statistics on poaching at the animal sanctuary.

Former ZANU-PF Manicaland provincial chairperson and leader of Save Valley Conservancy, Basil Nyabadza, who attempted to use his political clout to have the 25-year leases reversed, said he would be getting statistics on poaching activities in the area in due course.

"The people doing this are taking the law into their own hands. The brand Zimbabwe must not suffer because of the pursuit of selfish gains. Those that do not respect the will of our leadership must bear the consequences," said Nyabadza.

The forced imposition of partners on Save Valley, some of whom have no knowledge of the safari industry also exposes the dangers faced as a result of the white farmers' failure to share resources in their possession with disadvantaged groups, leaving the door open to opportunists.

Prior to the year 2000 when the land reforms started, most white farmers clung to their properties when the majority of people were landless only to suffer from a process they had no input or control over, resulting in disastrous consequences not only to them, but to the entire country.

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