Uncertainty lingers in wildlife sanctuaries

WHILE stakeholders in the wildlife industry cautiously welcomed President Robert Mugabe’s resolve to deal with the invasion of the Save Valley Conservancy in Masvingo, security chiefs have remained defiant almost two years later, creating an atmosphere of apprehension and uncertainty at the world’s richest and largest private wildlife sanctuary.

Elias Mambo

There was a palpable sense of fear in the Save Valley Conservancy when the Zimbabwe Independent visited the area a fortnight ago.
Upon arrival at the boom gate leading into the sanctuary, the Independent team was treated with suspicion.

Journalists were subjected to a thorough search of their vehicle and their press cards were checked against their national identity card documents.

The security officers manning the gate into Hammond Conservancy and those patrolling the area were constantly radioing each other every time they bumped into the journalists who were touring the conservancy, asking them the same questions like “where are you from?”, “why are you here?” and “who sent you?”

The news team was refused entry into a guest lodge at Hammond when it tried to make booking. It was also barred from taking photos of the lodge.

A security officer who preferred anonymity said: “The situation here is tense. People are afraid of more invasions that is why we are asking all these questions. We just don’t know what is going to happen next.”

Security chiefs and senior Zanu PF officials, who invaded Save in 2012, defied two politburo directives to move out of the wildlife sanctuary.

At a politburo meeting in September 2012, Mugabe accused army commanders and top party officials of being “greedy” for grabbing the conservancies when they already owned farms seized from white commercial farmers evicted during the chaotic land reform programme.

Mugabe ordered all security chiefs and senior party officials should move out immediately and stop the divisive rush for safaris.

However, 20 months later in May this year, the politburo at another meeting, once again resolved to boot out the invaders.

Darryl Collett, who owns Mjingwe Ranch and is in partnership with a South African investor Alastair Forsyth and local communities through Chiefs Mazetese and Maranda, reportedly fled to Bulawayo after a group including Police Assistant Commissioner Elliot Muswita and Brigadier-General Josphat Kudumba threatened to evict him.

Another wildlife farm owner Chantal Coannie was also reported to have gone into hiding following threats of a similar invasion by security chiefs and war veterans.

In an interview on Tuesday, Save Valley Conservancy general manager David Goosen said there were problems which his organisation was still sorting out.

“We are busy sorting out those issues and we are sure very soon all the problems will be resolved,” said Goosen. “We remain optimistic that if the rule of law is followed, everything will be alright.”

Fearing a surge in attacks on its members, the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) recently urged Zimbabwe’s remaining white farmers to maintain a low profile and avoid igniting a political storm that could lead to further persecution.

In a statement, CFU president Charles Taffs warned of escalating incidents of violence.

“The Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe has warned there are escalating incidents of violence, intimidation and farm take-overs across the country and called for an immediate moratorium on any land grabs,” read part of the statement.

Taffs also said the recent deaths of a white Guruve farmer and his daughter have added to rising fears about the safety of the remaining farming community.

Malcolm Francis and his daughter, Catherine, were brutally beaten up near their Guruve farm.

Political analyst Alexander Rusero said the fear being experienced by the wildlife owners reflects the uncertainties at the national level.

“The fear reflects the uncertainty at the highest level where policies change according to the politics of the day,” Rusero said. “National policies with regards to land ownership are being changed as long as they benefit the few bigwigs in the Zanu PF government.”

Rusero said farmers have every reason to be afraid because government has never attempted to protect the few white farmers left in the country.



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