THE illegal occupation of Gonarezhou National Park by the Chitsa people threaten the implementation of the Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park agreement.
This comes amid reports that the illegal settlers continue to destroy the wildlife population in the park through rampant poaching activities.
In a report tabled in parliament last week, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines, Energy, Environment and Tourism, accused Chiredzi South MP Aaron Baloyi of encouraging the occupation of the park.
“The chief lands officer and the local MP for the area, during oral evidence, clearly showed that they are backing the occupation of the Chitsa community in the park,” the committee said.
Committee chairman Joel Gabhuza told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Baloyi said the Chitsa people’s occupation of Gonarezhou was justified.
“Baloyi himself told us that the Department of National Parks should leave the Chitsa people alone and instead extend Gonarezhou into the Ngwenyeni area towards Mozambique,” Gabhuza said.
He said poaching of wildlife was rampant in the park.
“People are poaching game for commercial use and subsistence, and the illegal settlers have destroyed a 10km stretch of the park’s perimeter fence,” he said.
The Chitsa people invaded about a third of Gonarezhou at the start of countrywide farm invasions in 1999 claiming it was their ancestral lands taken from them in the 1960s.
The committee said the occupation was scaring away investors and threatened the implementation of the tri-nation megapark involving Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“It sends bad signals to other parties to the agreement and investors as well as setting a bad precedent to other communities adjacent to national parks,” the committee said.
“Great strides have been made in South Africa and Mozambique in implementing the project due to donor support,” the committee said.
“However, in Zimbabwe donor support has been virtually withdrawn due to negative sentiments held by donors on the implementation of the fast track land resettlement programme.”
The three countries signed a treaty in December 2002 formalising an earlier agreement to implement the project.
The park includes Limpopo, Kruger and Gonarezhou national parks in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively.
The committee said Zimbabwe was lagging behind in implementing the project.
“A lot has been documented by NGOs interested in the area on the implementation of the project and very little seems to be happening on the Zimbabwean side,” the committee said.
The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is the implementing agency for Zimbabwe.
The committee said National Parks operations director Vitalis Chadenga conceded that infrastructure in Gonarezhou was far from ideal.
“The National Parks director informed us that the park has very poor infrastructure in terms of road networks within and linking the park to other areas of the transfrontier park,” the committee said.
The committee said the $300 million budgeted for the rehabilitation of the park’s roads was not enough.
It added that the authority had no funds to repair the Runde bridge damaged by cyclone Eline in 2000 and that there was no electricity.
Under the Public Sector Investment Programme, $35 million was provided in the 2004 budget for the installation of power lines in Gonarezhou.