ZANU PF officials accused of trying to seize the vast Save Valley Conservancy vowed to stay put Wednesday as Vice President Joice Mujuru and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai summoned the Environment and Tourism ministers in a bid to resolve the dispute.
Environment Minister Francis Nhema is backing “indigenisation” of the prized 3,400 square-kilometre wildlife reserve in the south-east Lowveld of Zimbabwe, but Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi accuses his colleague of “promoting greed” by parcelling the park out to 25 individuals, most of them Zanu PF officials who also benefitted from the country's land reforms.
Tsvangirai and Mujuru met both ministers Tuesday as the government scrambled for s solution to the saga amid threats of aid withdrawal by the European Union.
“We have been advised to go and look into the matter. We will bring all parties involved together to find a lasting solution,” Nhema said after the meetings.
“All I can say is the matter has been resolved amicably and Minister Nhema will make an appropriate statement at the right time,” Mzembi added.
But Zanu PF legislators Ailess Baloyi (Chiredzi South), Ronald Ndama (Chiredzi North) and the party’s provincial chairman for Masvingo, Lovemore Matuke, who are leading the 25 individuals given land and hunting leases on the reserve, vowed to stay put.
Baloyi charged: “What we are trying to do is correct the historic imbalances caused by colonialism and opening up opportunities for blacks in Zimbabwe.
“We are the rightful players in the Save Valley Conservancy because we have the leases and the other guys do not have anything.”
He denied allegations that their involvement in the project would threaten wildlife, put thousands of jobs at risk and negatively impact efforts to successfully host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly next year.
“We are seeing a replay of the kind of propaganda that was used by the Ian Smith regime. We have tried to engage our partners with little joy. They were adamant that they do not want to see us,” he said.
“No one will lose their jobs and no one will be chased off the land. We want to engage them to find a solution to the impasse.”
Matuke said local communities have not benefited from the project and blasted Minister Mzembi for resisting their involvement.
“The surrounding communities have not benefited anything except meat and the people would not benefit from the 10 percent the farmers are offering,” he said.
“They are trying to reverse the gains of independence. We are unhappy with the minister; maybe he has a different agenda but he should listen to what the people on the ground are saying.”
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 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," he said.