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Save Conservancy: Mzembi pleading for the masses

There has been much controversy surrounding the forced takeover of the Save Conservancy by mostly Zanu PF politicians who want to displace the local communities and their white partners.
The politicians, among them Higher Education Minister, Stan Mudenge and Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke, were recently granted 25-year leases and hunting permits in a development that threatens efforts to rebuild Zimbabwe’s tourism sector.

Standard Political Editor, Patrice Makova (PM) spoke to Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi (WM) on wide-ranging issues, including the Save Valley Conservancy controversy, Zanu PF factionalism and the country’s preparedness to jointly host next year’s United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly with Zambia.


PM: You have been publicly quoted as opposing the forced takeover of the Save Conservancy. What is the outcome of discussions following the invasion of the conservancy?
WM: This issue has been escalated to higher offices, and it would be folly to pre-empt their resolution of this matter.


PM: The Parliamentary Portfolio committee on natural resources and tourism recently said the forced seizure of the conservancy by people with no interest or experience in wildlife conservation has resulted in the destruction of one of the world’s largest wildlife sanctuaries with rampant poaching especially of the rhino now evident. Do you think the new beneficiaries have the capacity to run these conservancies?
WM: It is not about capacity. I have not questioned the capacity of those aspiring to take over or partner existing players in the conservancies. They may as well be competent but the current thrust on empowerment is broad-based and equity-driven. I am simply pleading for an opportunity on behalf of the masses.

PM: What is the implication of this forced takeover of the Save Conservancy?
WM: Conflict.

PM: How much is the country realising from its wildlife sector?
WM: Wildlife has the legal status Res Nullius. It belongs to nobody. User rights accrue legally and automatically to those exercising control over wildlife areas. Fence it off on landmass reposes responsible rights.The land reform programme reposed these rights to the beneficiaries across the country. Unfortunately we have not in recent times really had a wildlife census to show the impact on the economy. The preoccupation with Save Conservancy should alert authorities that the wildlife we inherited on our farms may already be depleted and should save this nucleus project through a more pragmatic approach.

PM: Zimbabwe is hosting the UNWTO next year. Are you convinced that adequate preparations are adequate and that financial support is being rendered to ensure that the general assembly is a success?
WM: The UNWTO executive council which sits twice a year, the next time being in October in Mexico, will authoritatively pass a resolution on our state of preparedness as it did at its 93rd session in Madrid, Spain, in June this year when they judged our preparedness and collaboration with Zambia as excellent. You are free to visit Victoria Falls and make observations on progress. For us in government, it is time for action.

PM: What of the Zambian side. Are they really providing the necessary support as a co-host nation?
WM: We are working as one country and host so the assessment is done on us as a single entity. I can say so far so good.

PM: In view of the fact that Zimbabwe did not benefit from the 2010 World Cup held in neighbouring South Africa as earlier anticipated, of what economic value to the country is the hosting of the UNWTO?
WM: There are tangible and intangible benefits that accrue to any hosting nation. You author your own benefits as a nation. World Cup 2010 is a case in point. South Africa set up new infrastructure in new airports, roads, Gautrains, hotels, acquired a new fleet of buses and vehicles which are serving their people now. These are legacy benefits as what the Rainbow Towers and HICC stands for today, a legacy of CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting) in 1992. Beyond its hospitality and conferencing function, the HICC is one of the most popular church venues in the country today. Go there on Sunday.

Benefits do not mean “searching” the delegate in terms of service provision because that is very temporary and limited. It is the life of the assets you plant in the venue and the sustainable revenue generation accruing from them ad infinitum. On the intangible side, it is the global endorsement of “Brand Zimbabwe” with all its associated political and socio-economic benefits. This vision is not yet shared fully and it is our responsibility to present a business case that will secure the buy-in. I do not believe it is government’s responsibility alone, but a national obligation involving all stakeholders who see not with their eyes, but with their visions. The greatest gift to mankind is not the gift of sight but that of vision.

PM: The problems at Air Zimbabwe are affecting the distribution of tourists to various destinations thus undermining your efforts to lure tourists. What are your recommendations for the airline to resume flights?
WM: The problems you highlight at Air Zimbabwe are an opportunity to privately licence our entrepreneurial operators.

PM: You are one of the few Zanu PF ministers, if not the only one, praised by some senior MDC-T party officials for doing a good job as tourism minister. You have even accompanied Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to the United States and Europe at a time most of your colleagues in Zanu PF are banned from travelling there because of sanctions. Some of your colleagues in Zanu PF were now suspicious of your relationship with the rival party. Is this a case of jealousy or what?
WM: President Mugabe has praised Nelson Chamisa (MDC-T Minister of ICT) a couple of times, but has the leopard changed its spots?

PM: You have been linked to a faction led by Vice President Joice Mujuru, but in Masvingo it is reported that the provincial executive and most Zanu PF leaders from there support the rival faction led by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Are you loyal to any of these faction leaders in Zanu PF who are positioning themselves to succeed Mugabe?
WM. I belong to Zanu PF as epitomised by the leadership of President Mugabe. I respect both names you have mentioned and I am humbled to serve side by side with them in the Cabinet of Zimbabwe. These are legendary names that in 1980, at Independence, when I was doing Form 4, I never imagined that we could serve collectively and comradely under the First Republic.

PM: You are also considered as one of the “Young Turks” in Zanu  PF. Do you think your generation is now ready to take over top leadership positions, including the presidium?
WM: I will serve as deployed by the party.

PM: Lastly, are you confident your party is going to win the next elections?
WM: We will win by a landslide, as long as we remain with the people. People first.


Mzembi speaks on sellout tag

PM: Lovemore Matuke, the Zanu PF provincial chairman for Masvingo where you come from recently called you a “sellout.”  What did you do to earn such a label?
WM: Well I do not want to give credence to comments from a loser. He lost his constituency in the last election. He led the party into defeat in Masvingo province, losing 14 House of Assembly seats to the MDC-T out of 26. The party also lost four senatorial seats. So who is a practical sell-out? Notwithstanding,  his sell-out tag is  born out of my principle and conscience to say we cannot harvest and repeat the (Biblical) 70 X7 empowerment opportunities on ourselves while our people watch helplessly. If that qualifies me as a sell-out, so be it.


PM: What is your relationship with the Zanu PF Masvingo provincial executive? Do you think you still have a political future in the province, considering that you do not hold any post in your party?
WM: Provincial executives are only relevant if they still represent the people’s aspirations. As to my ordinary membership, well I am proud to serve as part of the Cabinet, coming straight from the party’s cell. It shows how democratic Zanu PF is. Well, as for my political future in the province, why would I aspire to go to the province when I am already serving nationally? I am a national leader.

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