MASVINGO — A year after a group of ZANU-PF bigwigs controversially took-over the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy following the irregular issuance of 25-year leases, nothing has been done to reverse the seizure.
Following a public spat between Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi and then environment and natural resources management minister, Francis Nhema, over the parcelling out of hunting permits to nearly 40 ZANU-PF officials, President Robert Mugabe was forced to intervene, raising hopes that the dispute would eventually be resolved.
At one of the meetings of ZANU-PF’s supreme decision-making organ, the Politburo, President Mugabe had proceeded to set up a committee to look into the issue.
Interestingly, the committee only met once, indicative of the divisions within ZANU-PF over the Save Conservancy.
Still, the committee claims to have made recommendations on the way forward for tabling in Cabinet.
But a year down the line, many of the fingered ZANU-PF members have stayed put at the conservancy.
Although some of the new owners have backed down, most of them are holding onto the properties.
Retired Colonel Claudius Makova revealed last week that he had surrendered his conservancy, which he co-owned with Shuvai Mahofa.
“I was in Save Valley at a conservancy with Shuvai Mahofa, but I later surrendered it… I also realised that in the long run, staying put will create problems, you know how it is with politics,” Makova said.
Nearly 40 ZANU-PF heavyweights and securocrats moved into the Save Valley Conservancy last year after getting 25 year-leases from the environment ministry.
Among them is former Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke, the late minister of higher and tertiary education Stan Mudenge, Mahofa, former Chiredzi North Member of Parliament Ronald Ndava, former Chiredzi South MP Alois Baloyi, retired Brigadier Livingstone Chineka, Enock Porusingazi and Makova.
Chairman of the Save Valley Conservancy, Clive Stockhill, said confusion is still reigning supreme at the conservancy.
“There is still confusion over the ownership of Save Valley. However, we hope that the Ministry of Environment will soon finalise on the matter,” he said.
Reports indicate that the new owners are wantonly slaughtering game in the wildlife-rich conservancy and there has been an increase in poaching.
With government taking its sweet time to resolve the saga, former white owners are pulling on one side while the new owners are pulling on the other.
Poachers have therefore capitalised on the confusion, vandalising the security fence surrounding the sanctuary.
Saviour Kasukuwere, the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, told the Financial Gazette last week that he was yet to look into the matter, as did the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs in Masvingo, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti.
Bhasikiti who has vowed to tackle corruption and multiple farm ownership in the province, said he was yet to be appraised about the issue at the next provincial lands committee meeting.
“I am not abreast of the current situation there, I will only be able to answer after the provincial lands committee meeting,” said Bhasikiti.
Save Valley Conservancy spans 3 200 square kilometres in south-eastern Zimbabwe. Before last year’s incident, it used to be run by an association of more than 20 private entrepreneurs that were unaffected by the chaotic land reform.
But upheavals started last year when Nhema handed hunting licences to nearly 40 ZANU-PF and army officials, whom the legitimate owners do not recognise.
The new beneficiaries say that the founding owners cannot lay claim to the wildlife as this was not paid for and they have already received full benefit and should have recouped their costs during the time they operated there.
In a report, the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources condemned the occupation of the conservancy by ZANU-PF leaders and military chiefs, saying the process lacked transparency.
The report said the selection of those who would be involved in that venture should have been based on a demonstration of interest and experience in wildlife conservation, a capacity for business development and an ability to contribute to the asset base, among other things.
The MPs had also recommended that conservancies must not be parceled out to individuals, but rather in the spirit of indigenisation, the natural resources ministry needs to award leases through share transfers, joint ventures and community trusts, positions that have all been disregarded in this instance.