AS if the chaotic land reform programme of the last decade blamed for decimating the country’s agricultural sector and the current contentious indigenisation policy have not ruined the economy enough, Zanu PF has now added the country’s wildlife conservancies to its national destruction manual.
Vast tracts of once very productive farmland have been reduced to wasteland after being parcelled out to mostly high-ranking Zanu PF officials and those closely connected to the former ruling party, resulting in Zimbabwe facing year-on-year food deficits.
The country, which used to be a bread basket of the region even though it experienced shortages sometimes, is now largely relying on countries in the region, including South Africa, Zambia and Malawi, for food imports.
Displaced farmers, mainly those now in Zambia, are currently feeding the nation, while donors have been increasingly bailing out the poor since the land reform programme.
However, Zanu PF has not stopped its scorched earth policies. The party’s officials and supporters are now grabbing wildlife conservancies in a move which threatens the country’s flora and fauna in unprecedented ways.
Besides, the ravages on land and wildlife areas, Zanu PF’s discredited indigenisation policy, deeply divisive in the unity government and widely viewed as a vote-buying ploy ahead of the next elections, has scared off potential investors and led to massive capital flight, robbing the country of much-needed foreign direct investment and inflows to resuscitate an economy in intensive care since the turn of the millennium.
Foreign-owned mining companies have been forced to cede 51% of their shares to locals, while banks continue to operate under threat as Zanu PF’s indigenisation crusade sweeps across the country’s key economic sectors.
London-based policy analyst Clifford Mashiri has described indigenisation in its present form as “the most harmful, partisan and counter-productive policy ever adopted in post-Independent Zimbabwe”. Mashiri wrote that selfish political expediency and greed rather than sound economic principles are the driving force in the implementation of this controversial policy.
Mashiri said the on-going programme of threatening takeovers of other people’s businesses, investments, and valuable assets would not help the empowerment and transformation agenda as it would only lead to further damage to the economy, with very serious implications for the future of the country still slowly recovering from recent near implosion.
A fortnight ago Zanu PF heavyweights converged in Masvingo to launch the party’s latest economic assault dubbed “Wildlife-based land reform”.
At the gathering, National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Vitalis Chadenga issued licences to Zanu PF bigwigs for the Save Conservancy in the province, and chillingly declared the exercise would shortly expand to the rest of the country.
Chadenga said the exercise was not aimed at expelling incumbent white owners in a manner similar to the chaotic fast track land reform but they (whites) were “only being requested to accommodate blacks as partners in the conservancies”.
However, the list of beneficiaries exposes the programme as a party exercise as only Zanu PF officials were granted 25-year leases to game parks in the conservancy.
Masvingo provincial governor Titus Maluleke got the 3 388 hectare Hammond ranch in Chiredzi district, Higher Education minister Stan Mudenge was given a lease to the 16 507 hectare Senuko 2 ranch and former Gutu South MP Shuvai Mahofa the 5 526 hectare Savuli ranch in the same district. Chiredzi North MP Ronald Ndava got the 11 736 hectare Bedford ranch in Bikita district while his Chiredzi South counterpart Ailess Baloyi was given the 6 886 hectare Humani ranch in Chiredzi district.
MDC-T Masvingo provincial secretary Tongai Matutu described the granting of the leases as “a continuation of the land-grab process”.
“Zanu PF realised that in Masvingo there was no more arable land that could be taken and so they simply moved into the conservancies with their potential for high earnings,” said Matutu.
“Other provinces have diamonds, chrome, platinum and gold, but here we don’t have much except for the conservancies. If these are destroyed there will be nothing left which is why it is important for a non-partisan approach to be found to manage these resources.”
Apart from concerns over Zanu PF leaders’ propensity for self-enrichment, there are also fears that the latest developments would have harmful repercussions on wildlife resources, the environment, ecological systems and tourism, not to mention Zimbabwe’s already battered image.
Mindful of the disastrous land reform, Chadenga pleaded for co-operation between black and white farmers saying government had initially balked at compulsory acquisition of conservancies after realising their importance.
“They (whites) are also Zimbabweans and have the necessary skills in the conservancy business,” said Chadenga.
However, his sentiments were contradicted by a belligerent Maluleke who described the granting of the leases as a “red letter day” for the province in the prosecution of wildlife-based land reform. Maluleke accused white farmers of stalling implementation of the programme for the past five years because “they did not want to work with their black counterparts who had been issued 25-year leases by Environment minister Francis Nhema”.
“They (white farmers) have been doing everything possible to resist new farmers and harvesting wildlife illegally but now a new era is beginning that will see the latter get on with the job they have been assigned,” Maluleke said.
Vice-chairman of the Save Valley Conservancy Wilfried Pabst has described the granting of hunting permits as “highly illegal and criminal”.
Even the usually diplomatic EU ambassador Aldo Dell’Ariccia condemned the programme as “totally unexpected from a country that is preparing to host such an important function connected with tourism in addition to having bilateral agreements enjoining it to protect investments of EU nationals”.
Zimbabwe will co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly with Zambia in August 2012.
“While we respect Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, it is clear they have violated their bilateral agreements with EU member states and this week I will be engaging ministers Nhema and (Tourism and Hospitality minister Walter) Mzembi because these actions are a danger to property rights and tourism,” said Dell’Ariccia.
With the high levels of unemployment in the country estimated at above 85%, indigenisation seem to be increasingly a problem rather than part of the solution and given the current seizure of conservancies it appears we have not seen the last of Zanu PF’s campaign of plunder.