IWMC Forum - Zimbabwe's Tragedy - Johnny Rodrigues

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Johnny Rodrigues
Zimbabwe's Tragedy






Chairman for the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force

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 the hearing.

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.

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