ZIMBABWE United Passenger Company (Zupco) chairman and Chinhoyi Technical College vice-chancellor Dr Charles Nherera has taken over a bird sanctuary in the Mutorashanga
area in Mashonaland West Province, the Zimbabwe Independent heard this week.
Pinefarm Conservancy, popularly known as Cannonkopje Crane Centre, is protected under a bilateral agreement between Zimbabwe and Switzerland. It specialises in bio-diversity conservancy including breeding endangered wattled cranes.
A visit to the conservancy over the weekend showed that Nherera has deployed five of his workers to occupy one third of the 1 145-hectare conservancy which he wants to convert into farmland. Nherera’s workers have allegedly occupied staff houses and have barred caretakers from watering and feeding the cranes.
Conservancy owner Rolf Hangartner said Nherera first approached him in July with a letter purportedly from the Ministry of Lands for the subdivision of the farm.
“Arex Chinhoyi denied the existence of any such subdivision at Pinefarm or knowledge of Nherera’s allocation,” Hangartner said. “Arex suspected the offer letter was a fraud.”
Hangartner said on November 8, Chinhoyi provincial administrator Christopher Shumba arrived in the company of Mutorashanga police and Nherera to claim ownership of the conservancy. Nherera left his five workers on the farm.
“Shumba imposed Nherera and his employees on the conservancy premises to the exclusion of owners and staff,” Hangartner said.
“The illegal occupants don’t allow caretakers to water and feed the cranes. The sole water supply for birds and staff has since broken down, and is outside our control,” he said.
Hangartner, a Swiss national, bought the farm in 1993 with the support of Zvimba rural district council, the South Ayrshire Natural Resources Sub-committee and the Department of National Parks to establish a breeding centre for the endangered wattled cranes.
“We have invested over US$20 million to be where we are now,” Hangartner said.
“This investment is protected by the agreement between the Swiss Confederation and the Republic of Zimbabwe on the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments,” he said “The centre is acclaimed by the International Crane Foundation in America as a vital African contribution to saving Zimbabwe’s wattled cranes, a unique venture in Africa.”
Hangartner said Nherera’s move was a clear violation of land redistribution criteria which exclude conservancies and properties protected under country to country agreements.
“Government had reconsidered its shortsighted intention to acquire the conservancy and accepted Zvimba land committee’s recommendation to delist the conservancy,” he said. “The property is however still listed.”
Hangartner said he had pursued dialogue and had also taken the case to court to spare the bird sanctuary from occupation.
He said letters written to Vice-President Msika, provincial governor Peter Chanetsa, Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge by the Embassy of Switzerland and the International Crane Foundation had not moved government to delist the conservancy.
“Court action by our lawyers is unopposed by the commissioner of police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but determination has been delayed for months,” he said
The cranes had ceased breeding in the northern Great Dyke as a result of human disturbances to the nesting sites.
The conservancy currently has 13 cranes plus 24 other different bird species. It also has up to 27 species of animals.