THE picturesque Mananje Conservancy on Denlynian Farm, 36 kilometres west Beitbridge along the Bulawayo Road, which is home to a variety of animals including the zebra, impala, giraffe, eland, leopard and a variety of bird species, faces an uncertain future after being hit by a series of invasions which have negatively affected operations on the once-thriving game ranch.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
The 17 500 hectare conservancy, bought by Ian Ferguson in 1985 after government indicated it had no interest in acquiring the land, has been invaded four times since 2000 with the most recent being in October 2013.
The damage and havoc wreaked by each invasion has been substantial with that of 2013 resulting in the theft of fencing equipment stretching 57 kilometres, the ransacking of lodges and the wanton killing of wildlife by the invaders.
The destruction wrought by the invasions and attendant chaos left in its trail is a case study in plunder.
Some of the lodges at the conservancy have been ransacked with the invaders stripping the properties bare as window panes, door frames and other fittings have been stolen. Even electrical sockets in the lodges have been ripped out of the rooms in the various properties.
Despite being served with eviction orders, the invaders have set up residential structures and have even brought goats, sheep and cattle on the ranch threatening the wildlife and the ecosystem on Mananje. One of the invaders, a police officer, has 100 goats and 250 cattle on the ranch.
Some of the projects that were underway such as the building of the manager’s residence have been halted as a result of the invasions.
Workers at the conservancy still bear scars of the 2013 invasion in which they were beaten up and forcibly evicted from their homes.
“The invaders stormed the conservancy in 13 cars initially and started harassing us,” one of the workers recalls. “I was severely beaten by the invaders who used sticks to assault us and force us out of our homes. Since then intimidation and harassment have been the order of the day.”
The workers were not the only ones to bear the brunt of the invaders. Tourists from Poland who were staying at the ranch at the time were chased out of the lodge. They were later evacuated to safety.
An affidavit by Parks and Wildlife Authority senior investigations and security officer, Felix Matanda, on the disturbances at the conservancy makes grim reading.
“In addition to the hunting party disturbance, further reports were coming more often than not to the effect that people were poaching on the property using firearms and motor vehicles, some of which included police vehicles,” Matanda wrote. “One such police vehicle was photographed with blood stains in the back to suggest that the vehicle had a load of meat as the blood was fresh.”
He further observed: “It was on my way from the area of Beitbridge at the time that I came through Denlynian Farm to check on the reports at hand. I was surprised to note that the farm employees had been kicked out of their living quarters and buildings that include the hunting camp had been invaded. All the camp facilities looted included the bedding and kitchen facilities.”
“For the benefit of any doubt, Denlynian Farm never had any settlements established by July 2012. At the time the animal population estimate assessment was done and this is reflected in the Comprehensive Ecological Report that was compiled by the ecologist,” Matanda wrote in his affidavit dated July 22 2016.
Mananje owner Ian Ferguson estimates that the four invasions have cost him millions of dollars.
“The invasions at the conservancy have set us back by 25 years,” Ferguson said.
“The invasions really cost us. If you include lost revenue from tourists who used to frequent the lodge we have lost at least US$2 million because of the disturbances.”
The eviction orders served upon the invaders have been ignored. Ferguson said despite assurances from government nine months ago that the invaders will be removed, no action has been taken. His meetings with both Vice-Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko late last year have not yielded any positive results.
Last month Ferguson took his appeal to Tourism minister Walter Mzembi who asked him to give him details.
The invasion of Mananje conservancy reflects the devastating effects of the chaotic and sometimes violent nature of the land reform which began in 2000.
Apart from the once-thriving commercial farms which made Zimbabwe a bread basket of the region, wildlife conservancies such as Mananje and Save Conservancy — the richest and largest private wildlife sanctuary in the world — have not been spared by invasions.
Save Conservancy hit the headlines in 2012 after the invasion by Zanu PF heavyweights and state security service chiefs parcelled out land among themselves before embarking on an orgy of poaching, sparking local and international outrage.
The Gwayi Valley conservancy in Matabeleland North was also invaded and their cronies.
Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce chairman Johnny Rodrigues said political bigwigs have played a major role in the pillaging of conservancies in Zimbabwe.
“The thing is that the conservancies have been trying to form partnerships with the locals so that they can benefit but there has been interference from the big chefs,” Rodrigues pointed out.
“The first thing these chefs demand is money that they have never worked for. There is a lot of greed and corruption. The biggest problem is that who live around the conservancies have never been allowed to benefit. And politics have played a big part in that.”
He said “very powerful people” were involved in the killing and dehorning of rhinos that has decimated the conservancies in the country.
“Conservancies used to be a big industry in Zimbabwe but it has all been destroyed,” Rodrigues lamented.
Wildlife on farms occupied during the land reform programme have not been spared either.
All these things are a manifestation of the breakdown in the rule of laws, trampling on property rights and chaos engulfing Zimbabwe as well as the resultant economic ruin.