|Just three short years ago, Zimbabwe was a prime
tourist destination for international photographers and hunters and the
tourism industry was flourishing. It was a well know fact that Zimbabwe
enforced strong wildlife and environmental management policies and there
were many successful sustainable development projects in progress. Sadly,
because of the chaotic land reform programme, this is no longer the case.
The environment is ravaged, the people are starving and the wildlife is
being slaughtered indiscriminately.
When the "fast track" land
redistribution programme started three years ago, the government stated
that only the agricultural farms were going to be designated for land
redistribution and that the game ranches and conservancies were going to be
left alone. However, this was just another one of a long list of broken
promises because today, only a small handful of ranch owners still live on
their properties. The rest have been driven off and most of their animals
have been slaughtered. It is estimated that 100% of wildlife on game
ranches has been slaughtered, 80% on the larger conservancies and 40% in
National Parks areas.
Wildlife management is a specialized field
and the people who were qualified to care for the wildlife have been driven
off their properties to make way for people who, in some cases can't even
read or write. The first thing these people do, having been told by the
government that the land now belongs to them, is chop down the trees so
they can build huts and plant crops and then they cut wire from the game
fencing to make snares which they lay extensively within the area. Now,
three years later, these same people are starving because the land they
have been given is not suitable for agriculture, so the crops they planted
have failed and in addition to this, they have killed all the animals and
there is nothing left for them to eat.
This has been the fate of game ranches and
conservancies throughout the length and breadth of Zimbabwe. An example of
this is the Gwaai Valley Conservancy which once stood as an outstanding
example of sustainable development in a wildlife area. Today, not one of
the conservancy members remains in this area. Its game has been reduced to
about 20% of its previous glory and the people left there are all on the
verge of starvation.
There is now the added problem of
unscrupulous hunters and safari operators from South Africa and Botswana
who are coming into Zimbabwe and hunting the very few animals we have left
here. They are buying hunts from the new settlers who have no idea what
hunts are really worth so they are paying a very small sum and making a
huge profit out of the chaotic situation here.
It is not only private, white owned land
which has been given to the settlers; plots of land within National Parks
areas such as Gonerezou, have also been designated for resettlement.
National Parks are not able to control the poaching because they are
bankrupt and cannot afford to maintain their vehicles and buy fuel to do
anti poaching patrols. They can't even afford to pay their employees' wages
and have authorized them to kill wildlife in lieu of wages.
It now seems that the Zimbabwean
government is not going to rest until there is nothing left because they
have just recently implemented "Operation Clean Sweep" whereby
any properties which were previously overlooked in the land distribution
programme, are now going to be confiscated. One game ranch that has been
targeted is Halglen Conservancy. This a new conservancy which was formed
fairly recently by a group of game ranchers whose properties had been
confiscated from them. They managed to relocate 3200 animals which remained
from their confiscated ranches to another area which they have called
Halglen Conservancy. They went to great expense to fence the area properly,
put in adequate water points and hire 12 game scouts who patrol the
conservancy 24 hours a day to ensure the safety of the animals. The war
veterans and settlers are now demanding that they hand the property and the
animals over to them. The police won't get involved in a situation like
this because they claim it is a "political" problem and there is
nothing they can do about it. The only time they will get involved is if
people try to take the law into their own hands. There have been instances
where ranch owners have tried to fight the war vets and settlers off and
without exception, the ranch owners have been arrested and charged with
attempted murder or assault.
Another such case happened on the 14th
September this year. Two ZANU FP army commanders accompanied by a group of
war veterans and ZANU PF Youth Militia invaded the Lion and Cheetah Park
just outside Harare, claiming that it now belonged to them. 19 employees of
the Lion and Cheetah Park engaged in a physical battle to try and drive the
invaders off. The police were called in and they arrested the 19 employees
and charged them with assault. They spent the night in prison and were
released the following morning because the invaders failed to turn up for
Many of the war veterans and landless
peasants who were allocated land before the last elections are now
realizing that they have been used as pawns because government officials
are now claiming the land for themselves and evicting them so they are,
once again, landless.
The governor of Matabeleland, Orbert Mpofu
has been allocated land in Hwange Estate which borders Hwange National
Park. This state land has always been utilized for photographic and game
viewing safaris only and is home to a herd of 500 elephant. These are not
ordinary elephant. They are semi - tame and game viewers are able to drive
a vehicle right into the middle of the herd to get a really close up look
at them. In 1991 President Mugabe gave his word that these particular
elephant would never become the victims of hunters and he agreed to take
them under his wing and ensure their protection. Thus, they became known as
the "Presidential Herd" and tourists from all over the world have
been to Zimbabwe to see these magnificent animals. Now, however, Orbert
Mpofu has managed to obtain a hunting permit to enable him to conduct
hunting safaris on his newly acquired property in Hwange Estate.
Due the huge outcry about this, the
government has now stated that hunting in the Hwange area is banned but it
is not clear how this ban will be enforced when there is no law and order
in Zimbabwe. Only time will tell whether or not it is just another promise
made to be broken.
In three short years, Zimbabwe, a wildlife
paradise, has been reduced to a bloody killing field.