GOVERNMENT’S delay in finalising the modalities of its controversial indigenisation programme in the Save Conservancy is affecting the lucrative tourism and trophy hunting business operations.
Widely regarded as the richest and largest private wildlife sanctuary in the world, Save Conservancy is a huge attraction for tourists and professional hunters, especially from western countries who pay thousands of dollars for trophy hunting.
Wilfried Pabst, a German investor who is also vice-chairperson of the conservancy said that the long-drawn out negotiations over the modalities of implementing the indigenisation programme is negatively impacting operations.
“The pace of the talks is far too slow and as a result we have been forced to cancel safari tours until the issue is resolved. Foreign-owned businesses are protected but we are talking about safari operators who are white Zimbabweans. They are being forced to turn away foreign visitors who want to hunt,” said Pabst.
He said the issuance of hunting licences was tied up with the resolution of the indigenisation issue.
The conservancy is located in Masvingo and covers 845 044 acres (342 123 square kms). It was founded in 1991 and is co-owned by groups of foreign and local whites as well as black Zimbabweans who control hunting and manage it to protect the endangered wildlife that includes elephants, rhinos and buffalo.
Since its establishment, the conservancy has been run in partnership with the Agriculture and Rural Development Authority.
The indigenisation of the conservancy is targeted at properties owned by white Zimbabweans as foreign owned properties are protected under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas) signed by Zimbabwe and various European Union governments.
Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere said government is looking at “finalising the matter very soon because the Save Conservancy has been an issue for too long.”
He said that it was the government’s intention to see the conservancy running as smoothly as before.
Kasukuwere said the indigenisation plans were targeting white Zimbabweans only. He said the plan was to ensure black Zimbabweans acquire at least 51% stake in the conservancy.
“The indigenisation is going ahead,” said Kasukuwere, adding that, “the on-going discussions are basically about the inclusion of the rural communities who live in the areas surrounding the conservancy. Foreign owned properties will not be affected as they are protected under investment laws but those of local whites will be. We want to develop the conservancies into first class facilities that the whole world can enjoy.”
Kasukuwere said that apart from economically empowering black Zimbabweans involving them will also boost wildlife conservation efforts as they will have an incentive to protect animals rather than hunt them down.
There has been a stand-off between government and property owners in the conservancy since 2012 when senior Zanu PF heavyweights and military officials invaded and took over safari properties.
President Robert Mugabe condemned the invasions, describing his officials as “greedy” but they still remain on the properties.
Among the officials who invaded the conservancy were the late former Minister of Higher Education Stan Mudenge, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, former deputy minister Shuvai Mahofa and former Masvingo provincial governor Titus Maluleke.
In a brief emailed response EU ambassador to Zimbabwe Aldo Del ariccia said “the Save Conservancy issue is a very long story, still far from being solved.”