Now that Zimbabwe has a new leadership in the form of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa — after 37 long years of Robert Mugabe’s rule — there is a lot of hope and optimism in the air. Many have great expectations that, in a bid to capture the hearts and minds of progressive Zimbabweans, the new president will endeavour to right the wrongs and bring back sanity to the country.
By Chipo Masara
Mugabe’s leadership did not just mastermind the collapse of the economy. Under it, the environment took a beating that will take years to recover from. Under the guise of black empowerment, Mugabe continually gave his cronies the green light to venture into the most environmentally-destructive ventures imaginable. Many close to him knew that they could get away with anything as long as they continued to show loyalty to the old man. And they did.
The haphazardly-executed land reform programme in 2000 was to signal the death of Zimbabwe’s environment as we had known it as lawlessness was to reign supreme. While many agree that the previous white commercial farmers had owned too much land at the expense of the millions of black Zimbabweans, there is now general consensus that they had not only been excellent farmers, but they cared for the environs they managed.
Not long after the “new farmers” had taken over did the outlook of the landscape drastically change. The forest cover in the farming areas got decimated as most of the “new farmers” cut down trees and sold them along the highways as firewood. The fact that the bulk of the new farmers abandoned every other crop, opting for the high-paying tobacco, did not help matters. According to the Forestry Commission, the tobacco farmers have collectively contributed a great deal to the deforestation the country finds itself in as they cut mostly indigenous trees to use in curing their crop.
Under Mugabe’s watch, wildlife reserves and conservancies — that had for years been animal sanctuaries that ensured the precious creatures were safe — were under attack. Save Valley Conservancy in the south eastern lowveld is one such area that came under seige from Mugabe loyalists.
Who can forget the massacre — at one go — of over 300 elephants at Hwange National Park? While that was an ecological crime that shook the whole world, it did not appear to trouble Mugabe’s government much. many were convinced criminal elements in Mugabe’s government had had a hand in the heinous crime. But before the nation could finish mourning the great loss did the government start to export — under controversial conditions — baby elephants to China.
While conservationists have for years been expressing their disapproval at the manner in which Mugabe’s government was abusing the environment, the concerns fell on deaf ears. meanwhile, they continued harassing the conservationists and throwing around the tired “racist” accusations where it involved white conservationists.
Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force had to flee the country following threats on his life as he had ceaselessly exposed the abuse of wildlife in the country by people close of Mugabe.
Under Mugabe’s watch, the ecologically-sensitive wetlands — important water sources for a country like Zimbabwe that has had perennial water shortages — were converted to other uses, mostly construction. One only needs to look at the huge mall near the National Sports Stadium that now stands where a wetland used to be. Many more wetlands suffered the same fate as houses were built on them, mostly to appease the thousands of land-hungry Mugabe supporters.
Chinese mining projects not only greatly decimated the country’s mineral wealth, but also resulted in erosion, formation of sinkholes, great loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from their mining processes.
One would need to write a very thick book to fully capture the beating the environment received under the Mugabe regime.
Under the leadership of Mnangagwa, it is hoped that Zimbabwe will see an end to the abuse of the environment. If Mnangwagwa is a progressive 21st century leader that the country desperately needs, he will ensure that his new government prioritises the restoration of the environment, which will only happen if they stop doing things the way they were done by the Mugabe government. Things need to change.
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