ZANU PF on Monday moved to rein-in 25 of its members who planned to parcel out the 3,400 square-kilometer Save Conservancy among themselves, amid threats of aid withdrawal by the European Union.
The planned seizure of the massive, prized wildlife reserve in the south-east Lowveld of Zimbabwe could spark a targeted withdrawal of Western aid, diplomats warned.
On Monday, Zanu PF national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo met Environment Minister Francis Nhema and Save Valley Conservancy chairman Basil Nyabadza in a bid to defuse growing tensions.
The Zanu PF-leaning state-run Herald newspaper signaled that there was no appetite among senior figures in the party for the implementation of the “wildlife-based land reform policy”.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed senior government official saying the “indigenisation” of nature reserves was “not government policy” – a rebuke to the 25 senior Zanu PF figures including Higher Education Minister Stan Mudenge, Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke and former lawmaker, Shuvai Mahofa.
The official told the Herald: “You cannot take individuals and argue that this is empowerment.”
Khaya Moyo said he had made a “lot of progress” in his meeting with Nyabadza and Nhema, who has crossed swords with his Tourism counterpart, Walter Mzembi, over his advocacy for the enforcement of equity laws even in wildlife sanctuaries.
The Zanu PF chairman is expected to make recommendations to the party’s politburo which meets on Wednesday. He is expected to warn that a take-over of the Save Conservancy could threaten Zimbabwe’s hosting of the United Nations' World Tourism Organisation congress next year and undermine the tourism sector.
Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency quoted a European Union diplomat saying there was serious concern over the threatened take-over of the Save Conservancy.
"We are considering appropriate reactions. It's a very serious situation,” the diplomat said.
One measure could be the withdrawal of support for a world tourism congress next year, being hosted jointly by Zimbabwe and Zambia at Victoria Falls.
"Zimbabwe depends entirely on international support for the congress," the diplomat added. "It cannot go ahead without us."
The idea will be discussed in Berlin this week, during a meeting of German officials, the diplomats said.
Running along the banks of the Save River, the conservancy – respected as a leader in wildlife management and research – is collectively controlled by international investors, white ranchers who formerly ran cattle on the land, local black businessmen and hundreds of rural farmers.
"It is a working example of how something really special can be a success, by including all sectors of the community, especially the rural poor who have previously got nothing out of wildlife," said Wilfried Pabst, a German businessman who is vice-chair of the conservancy.
Pabst rejected accusations by the government that the reserve is opposed to ensuring a fair deal for blacks.
"Two-thirds of stakeholders of the conservancy are black. It is now being threatened by a collection of greedy individuals who are bringing nothing into the conservancy and will destroy it," Pabst said.
The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, under Nhema’s ministry, announced August 9 it was granting 25 top officials from Zanu PF control over most of the Save (pronounced Sa-Veh) reserve, which covers 3,400 square kilometres in the country's arid south-east – 150km south of Mutare.
But the Save Valley Conservancy took out newspaper adverts on Sunday with a strongly-worded statement claiming thousands of people's livelihoods are threatened by the issuance of hunting permits and land leases to members of President Robert Mugabe’s party.
"When humans behave like animals, we destroy not only each other but generations to come," the group said.
The advertisements said politicians "want to destroy agreements and policies that have made Save the world leader in conservation management".
Save is a habitat for elephant, zebra, giraffe, as well as the nation's second largest surviving population of endangered black rhinoceros. The area also supports an array of African antelope and most species of birds and small animals.
"We as humans can help stop using colour as a racial tool to destroy the very people who are working for our common good," said the advertisements, under the heading: ‘Animals don't see in colour’.
The land reform programme championed by Mugabe was meant to rectify colonial-era imbalances which heavily favoured the white minority. However, critics say prime land has been seized by the politically-connected elites from Zanu PF.