HARARE – With the world agonising on whether to attend the United Nations World Tourism Authority (UNWTO) jamboree slated for August in Zimbabwe and Zambia, operators say the country’s wildlife sector stands at the precipice.
In a statement last week the Save Conservancy Trust (SVC)said the world is unsure whether to smile, look away or cry.
“With January being the most important month of the year for the marketing of hunting safaris the current impasse is a recipe for disaster: no hunting permits, no overseas clients, no SVC income, collapse of the SVC, no community benefits now or ever — huge diplomatic fallout, dire consequences for Zimbabwe’s tourism,” the Trust said.
“The world is in dismay as Zimbabwe allows the destruction of its tourism jewel.”
Whilst the political will for the solution has been repeatedly expressed, the actual progress on the ground is non-existent.
The SVC is simply being blackmailed into submission by National Parks who have since refused to issue hunting permits for 2012 and now also for 2013,” the statement added.
Following the failure by a Zanu PF politburo committee to resolve the impasse, government has since moved and formed a committee headed by deputy premier Arthur Mutambara to find a solution to the troubles bedevilling one of the world’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries.
The SVC said the failure by tourism authorities particularly the department of parks and wildlife to act or its negative actions, have often been to the detriment of private and national wildlife.
Natural Resources minister Francis Nhema and his Tourism counterpart Walter Mzembi both from Zanu PF have been at each other’s throat over the wildlife sanctuary saga.
Mzembi, fronting Zimbabwe’s quest for a successful co-hosting of the tourism extravaganza with Zambia has argued that the negative reports being generated by the so called indigenisation drive in the wildlife sector are working against his efforts.
Zanu PF factional fights pitting vice president Joice Mujuru and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa fighting to succeed Mugabe have also been blamed for the chaos in the Save Valley.
Nhema is reported to belong to the Mnangagwa faction while Mzembi is said to side with Mujuru.
“Conservancies at large have suffered from actions of the department of parks rather than enjoyed its support, whilst the ministry of Environment (under Nhema) manoeuvres in the background.
“How does a willing SVC engage on its many community participation proposals with unresponsive government departments?” the Trust queried.
Two weeks ago, Germany ambassador to Zimbabwe, Hans Gnodtke warned that his country and other European countries may boycott the UNWTO summit in protest over the decimation of the SVC some of whose properties are protected by Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs).
SVC said a Zanu PF-aligned group now known as the “Masvingo 37” is on the rampage while government watches.
“What is the goal for refusing hunting permits for the SVC and other conservancies?
“A group called the “Masvingo 37”, already multiple beneficiaries from the land redistribution programme, are holding investors to ransom and demanding a stake under a murky policy called “Wildlife-based land reform.”
“The “Masvingo 37” has stated that their interest is not in conservation or active participation “we want cash” is the recorded demand.
They are actively engaged in poaching and bush meat trade as we write,” the statement said.