There has been a guarded welcome of a decision by the ZANU PF politburo to rescind all offer letters, granted to top party and army officials, for land in the Save Valley Conservancy.
A politburo meeting chaired by Robert Mugabe on Monday also resolved to remove all beneficiaries of the wildlife-based land grab from properties that were meant to be protected under Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs). This reportedly includes the Sango, Sabi, Chishakwe, Masapasi, Makore, Gunundwe and Chamurwe ranches.
Other conservancy land gazetted by the state for takeover will now come under the ownership of the National Parks authority.
During the Monday meeting Mugabe criticised what he called “double dipping” by his officials, who already benefitted during ZANU PF’s commercial farm grab campaign. Party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo reportedly confirmed that this was the politburo position too.
“The issue was if you did not yet have a farm, then government will give you one elsewhere and not in Save Valley. Most of them are multiple land owners which is what the politburo said should not happen. That was the decision, and their removal must be expedited as per the politburo (resolution),” Gumbo said.
National Parks in 2012 issued hunting permits to 25 so-called indigenous ‘farmers’ who were given land in the Conservancy under the government’s ‘Wildlife Best Land Reform Policy’. This was in spite of a damning parliamentary report in 2012, which said that the forced seizure of Save land by top political and military figures with “no interest (or) experience in wildlife conservation” had resulted in massive destruction there.
The officials who benefitted included war vets leader Joseph Chinotimba, Major General Gibson Mashingaidze, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke, then ZANU PF Masvingo provincial chair Lovemore Matuke, then Deputy Health Minister Douglas Mombeshora, ZANU PF’s central committee member Enock Porusingazi, as well as ZANU PF MPs Alois Baloyi, Abraham Sithole, Samson Mukanduri and Noel Mandebvu.
ZANU PF’s Gumbo said that the government has withdrawn all 25-year leases offered to the top officials “with immediate effect.”
“The politburo made a decision to remove all those that had been allocated leases in Save Valley. It does not matter whether you are a politburo member or not, all beneficiaries were ordered out of that place,” Gumbo said.
Johnny Rodrigues, the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said the decision is “overdue,” because local Zimbabweans have not benefitted since top chefs took over the Save land.
“The owners of the conservancies originally came up with an idea that the rural folk would become shareholders, but the big boys didn’t like it and they took over. Now that is being withdrawn and it’s about time. They need to be held accountable for the greed and corruption going on,” Rodrigues said.
He added that the previously gazetted land, now set to be handed over to National Parks, should instead be given back to the original land owners.
“I don’t believe that Parks will be able to do a good job. They should leave the land with the actual owners. They are the best conservationists; they employ professional people to make things work. At the moment National Parks can’t even pay their employees. So it’s doomed to fail,” Rodrigues warned.
He also added that the planned ‘indigenisation’ of conservancy land owned by white Zimbabweans would have a negative impact on Save Valley. Former Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere has said that only white Zimbabweans will be required to comply with ZANU PF’s indigenisation laws in the Conservancy. This is despite the fact that the indigensation policy was originally meant to only target foreign owned investments in Zimbabwe.
“Foreign-owned properties will not be affected as they are protected under investment laws, but those [properties] of local whites will be,” Kasukuwere said.
Rodrigues said: “It doesn’t make any sense. They have to come up with a definite ruling (on indigenisation) because we need the foreign investment.”