CHIREDZI chiefs have demanded that the government reverse the controversial indigenisation of Save Valley Conservancy which has sparked public clashes between cabinet ministers and drawn threats of aid cuts by the European Union.
Environment minister Francis Nhema recently directed that owners of the prized 3,400 square-kilometre wildlife reserve in the south-east Lowveld region take on some 25 individuals, most of them senior Zanu PF officials, as partners in order to comply with the country’s indigenisation policies.
The beneficiaries include higher education minister Stan Mudenge, Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke, senator Josiah Hungwe, MPs Ronald Ndava, Alois Baloyi, Abraham Sithole and former legislator Shuvai Mahofa.
But the decision appeared to cause divisions in the cabinet with Tourism minister, Walter Mzembi, accusing his party and cabinet colleague of promoting greed by “empowering people who are already empowered severally in other sectors, such as farming, ranching, sugar cane farming, mining”.
And on Monday, traditional leaders from the area, Chief Gudo, Chief Tshovani and Chief Sengwe, called on the government to reverse the decision, accusing Nhema of empowering a few individuals at the expense of their communities.
“The adopted programme, which sadly prioritises a few individuals is against the concept of broad-based economic empowerment of communities,” the chiefs told reporters at a press conference in Harare.
“It has allocated vast resources in Chiredzi to a few individuals. The option that the governor and his clique have adopted, under which they partner the sitting tenants, has caused a lot of destruction to the wildlife.
“The option we had proposed would, instead, see the owners teaming up with local communities who would own 51 percent of the project in line with the country's indigenisation programme.”
The conservancy’s owners deny allegations that the project is controlled by foreigners and warn that Nhema’s decision could lead to its complete collapse.
"Two-thirds of the stakeholders of the conservancy are black,” Wilfried Pabst, a German businessman who is vice-chair of the conservancy said recently.
"(The park) 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.”
Still, the new partners have since vowed to stay put and dismissed claims their involvement would threaten wildlife and leave thousands of jobs at risk.
“What we are trying to do is correct the historic imbalances caused by colonialism and opening up opportunities for blacks in Zimbabwe,” said Baloyi.
“We are the rightful players in the Save Valley Conservancy because we have the leases and the other guys do not have anything.”