OVER 30 000 hectares of timber plantations in Chimanimani have been destroyed by thousands of villagers who were illegally settled there by Zanu PF politicians during the election period.
Environment minister and top Zanu PF politician, Saviour Kasukuwere admitted during a recent tour of the timber plantations, illegal settlements have had their toll on the commercially viable produce.
"To date 30 000 hectares of plantations have been lost to illegal settlements," Kasukuwere said while commissioning the Allied Timbers' $1 million Gwindingwe Sawmill Plant.
"The challenge has been coupled with uncontrolled fires which destroy vast tracks of plantations as settlers try to clear land for agricultural purposes."
Allied Timbers CEO, Joseph Kanyekanye, told Kasukuwere his company has failed to recover its land from the invaders who have strong backing from local top politicians.
"We have been battling with these people but it did not bear any fruits. When we try to evict them, it generates a lot controversy," said Kanyekanye.
"The only way we can solve this is when government finds alternative land somewhere in Middle Sabi and the foresters will fund the relocation exercise."
But Timber Producers Federation (TPF) CEO, Johnson Mhungu, felt they could not carry the burden of finding land and relocating the settlers.
"Where do we get land to settle people? We are the ones who have been invaded and then where are we expected to get alternative land to settle these people?" Mhungu said.
The settlers claimed they were resettled by Zanu-PF politicians during the run-up to the 2008 elections where they were made to vote for Chimanimani East MP, Samuel Undenge.
Apart from living at the suspicious generosity of the Zanu PF politicians, the villagers said they did not have any offer letters.
A local Zanu-PF politician, Joshua Saco, blamed the crisis on the district lands committee he said has not been giving the matter any serious attention, right from its beginning some four years ago.
"This is a sensitive matter minister (Kasukuwere). It needs people to sit down and find a long lasting solution," he said.
The villagers further denied burning the plantations through veld fires, insisting the timber producers were lying.
Kasukuwere however failed to commit himself to any tangible solution to the crisis although he pledged government assistance towards capacitating producers of timber, which has potential to earn the country scarce foreign currency.
"As government, we are aware of the challenges facing the timber industry and we are ready to help revive it. We are serious about it," he said.
He also urged the companies to play their part in meeting their own corporate social responsibility end.
This is after the villagers in the area had accused the companies of exploiting the wealth generated by the land at the expense of their health, education, water and sanitation needs in timber producing areas.
Kasukuwere was accompanied during the tour by his deputy minister Simon Masamvu and ministry secretary Prince Mupazviriho.