THE European Union (EU) has threatened to pull the plug on funding for next year’s United Nations World Tourism Organisation congress over the recent seizure of a local wildlife conservancy by politicians linked to Zanu PF.
Zimbabwe is set to jointly host the event with Zambia at the Victoria Falls resort but EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe Aldo Dell'Ariccia warned Thursday funding four the congress could be withdrawn the prized 3,400 square-kilometre Save Valley Conservancy in the Lowveld.
“In general terms what is happening in Save Valley conservancy is a major blow to the credibility of the country and its image worldwide,” Dell'Ariccia said.
“This is where we find a certain incompatibility given the fact that on one side the country will host the UN tourism general assembly which would of course improve Zimbabwe’s image; but on the other hand it is taking a decision locally which goes against that idea.
“Honestly there is an incompatibility there and since there are European citizens involved in this matter and for us it is an issue which we are taking very seriously and we are very much concerned”.
Environment Minister Francis Nhema drew fire from cabinet colleagues after he handed land and hunting leases to 25 individuals, most of them Zanu PF officials who also benefited from the country’s land reforms.
Nhema argues that the conservancy, which critics claims is run by an exclusively white membership, should comply with the country’s economic empowerment policies but Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi accused his colleague of “promoting greed” and undermining one of the sectors credited with helping the country’s economy recover.
Mzembi charged: "It is wrong to have minority ownership of conservancies, but it is even more unpardonable to replace that minority white with a minority black, in the face of a crisis of expectations and thirst for empowerment from our black majority.
“This business of empowering people who are already empowered severally in other sectors, such as farming, ranching, sugar cane farming, mining, etc, will not pass the moral test nor will it endear us to the people except to ourselves."
The government has been scrambling to resolve the dispute with Vice President Joice Mujuru and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai summoning the two ministers to meetings over the issue this week.
Members of the conservancy deny allegations it is dominated and warn that forcing in new members could imperil wildlife conservation efforts and well as put at risk thousands of jobs.
"Two-thirds of stakeholders of the conservancy are black (But) it is now being threatened by a collection of greedy individuals who are bringing nothing into the conservancy and will destroy it," aid Wilfried Pabst, a German businessman who is vice-chair of the conservancy.
Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party also condemned disturbances at the conservancy.
“The Save Conservancy is home to thousands of animal species, most of which already face extinction due to poaching and hunting. There is need to protect our animals and the indigenous people who have lived in close proximity with these animals, protecting them to make a living,” the party said in a statement Thursday.
“The MDC believes that a genuine broad-based economic upliftment programme, which balances the need to attract investment, grow the economy and create jobs for all, must be developed to protect the country from further Zanu PF plunder.”
Founded in 1991 and running along the Save River, the conservancy is a habitat for elephant, zebra, giraffe, as well as the country’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.