The fight over the Save Valley Conservancy pitting Zanu PF heavyweights in Masvingo against a “small boy” minister seems to be escalating by the day.
Report by Nevanji Madanhire
Observers including me have been left wondering whether this is a fight over principle on both sides, or just another factional fight over resources and political space in the province.
On the one hand are senior politicians whose voice is now represented by that of the controversial dame of Masvingo politics, Shuvai Mahofa, while on the other is, almost single-handedly, Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi.
Mahofa and others argue, as Zanu PF has argued over the past decade or so for the indigenisation of the country’s resources by grabbing important assets such as land from those formerly favoured by the colonial system. They see the Save Conservancy as the latest frontier in this war. Mzembi argues that this indigenisation process can go ahead but it must benefit not only the heavyweights from the province but also the common people. He argues that the heavyweights have already got their fair share from the land reform programme launched in 2000.
Analysts say both camps are being insincere. Mahofa and her camp just want to grab what they can to enrich themselves, while Mzembi is trying to build his political career by touting rationality and good sense as the cornerstone of good governance. They say he has in sight the success of the United Nations World Tourism Conference set for August next year as his greatest coup de main, a victory which would undoubtedly make him the politician of the future.
But in this fight, whatever reasons drive the camps, it would seem Mzembi emerges the better devil. Recently Mahofa’s mercenary side was revealed in interviews she gave to the press. Below is an interview she gave to one publication:
“Asked to answer allegations that she lacks requisite wildlife management and hunting skills, Mahofa laughed loudly saying, ‘We cannot let the whites enjoy riches in our country. We also want blacks in this sector. It is unacceptable that these few whites are allowed to harvest the money there.
“In fact, I am realising that farming is a waste of time, there is a lot of money to be made in hunting. I am in there and I now know that. I am very happy with my hunting business and I have made hundreds of thousands of dollars.’”
She is also quoted saying: “Business is very good and there is free money to be made out there and Mzembi must leave me to make money and get old and die well.”
She alleges Mzembi is standing in their way because she and her colleagues voted against him in an election for the post of provincial Zanu PF chairman.
But what are the real issues surrounding the invasion of the Save Conservancy?
Why is Mahofa wrong for the right reasons and Mzembi right for the wrong reasons? Mahofa is right that there should be some rectification of historical imbalances but is wrong that invading conservancies and engaging in wanton hunting for personal enrichment is the way to do it.
Mzembi is right that any indigenisation process should benefit the majority of the people but is wrong that parcelling out the conservancies to the majority of the people is the way to go.
What many people have failed to appreciate is the important role wildlife plays in the economic wellbeing of any country. In an African traditional setting, animals were either a nuisance to be got rid of or a source of food to be hunted for meat. There was really nothing wrong with this thinking because such hunting and elimination was done at such a small scale that wildlife populations were never really threatened.
But with the increase in population and the integration of the country into the world economy, wildlife took a very powerful economic dimension as it became a source of tourism revenue. To ensure that the business of tourism contributed to the national kitty the government came up with policies that protected wildlife and ensured that it was exploited in a manner that ensured that not only the present generation but also future generations benefited from it.
To ensure this happened, government set aside about 28% of the country’s landmass as wildlife areas of which about 14% was for National Parks, about 12% for Campfire and Forestry and 1,9% for Conservancies.
National parks were meant for recreation for both local and foreign visitors, Campfire projects were meant to be managed by local people so they could benefit from the wildlife in their areas in a sustainable manner that ensured the wildlife was harvested properly without completely decimating it.
Conservancies were meant for the regeneration of animal herds.
Hunting is not supposed to take place in national parks, the nation only deriving income from gate-takings from visitors. But hunting is taking place without much control in the parks leading to the depletion of animals. As a result of this, fewer tourists are visiting because there is little to see. Sadly, poaching has also had an immense toll on the country’s wildlife. It has emerged that the poaching menace is no longer just about a few ragtag gangs of individual who just happened to lay their hands on an AK47 rifle; but that it is big business managed by big fish, some of whom are in government or well-connected to those in government.
In the past 15 years during the political turmoil, and because of it, the country has lost 80% of its wildlife. Conservancies had remained the only wildlife areas where animals were safe because of proactive game.
Like all business, conservancies need huge investment and an environment conducive to doing the business. When such an environment is created government should then earn money from them through legitimate taxes, which money can then be used to empower the majority. The more money the conservancies make, the more will find its way to the national purse. Mahofa’s model works against this; so does Mzembi’s, for he forgets that these wildlife areas are largely situated in arid parts of the country, marked by unreliable rainfalls and poor soils. The areas are mostly unsuitable for sustainable agriculture or cattle ranching.
Like all other sectors of the economy, the government’s role ought to be to create and sustain an enabling environment that ensures more money flows into the fiscus for the benefit of the majority. Politics should only play a background role.