Zanu-PF criticises tourist site invasion
The invasion on January 21 of lakeside resorts around Chivero, Harare’s most popular weekend retreat and the city’s main water source, has been a major embarrassment to a country still trying to convince the world it is moving away from its violent past.
But the invasions also reveal how simmering tension among the poor, frustrated by how fast the gap between rich and poor has widened under the unity government, can easily be exploited by political figures.
More than 100 people arrived at the Kuimba Shiri bird sanctuary on the shores of the lake, barricading entrances to the property and to dozens of other resorts on the banks of the lake.
The attacks were a further knock to Zimbabwe’s already tattered international image and raised fears of similar invasions elsewhere. Owner Gary Stafford said the group was not violent but demanded to take an inventory of all the resort’s assets, supposedly in preparation for a takeover under black empowerment laws. Stafford’s resort is home to a world-renowned bird sanctuary.
The invasion provided yet another example of Zimbabwe’s many contrasting faces. Just as it began, tourism minister Walter Mzembi, seen as a Zanu-PF reformer, was in Madrid, Spain, launching a new marketing campaign to try to convince wary European tour operators that the image of Zimbabwe as a lawless wasteland is exaggerated.
The campaign, under the motto “Zimbabwe, World of Wonder”, would be taken to “every tourism fair around the world this year”, said Tesa Chikaponya, marketing manager of the state tourism promotion agency. Tourism has been one of the key industries to see some recovery under the unity government, so the invasions were a major setback.
Agreement between SA and Zimbabwe
Stafford, a South African, should be protected from such takeovers under an investment protection agreement between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Even Zanu-PF acknowledged how bad the invasions look and criticised them. Police, who have traditionally refused to intervene in farm invasions, drove the invaders off the properties on Sunday.
The obvious economic disparities in the area provide a ripe breeding ground for further conflict. The clubs and resorts around Chivero are a favourite haunt for Harare’s jet set, who often host wild open-air parties that go on well into the night.
From the banks of the lake several clubs host waterskiing and jet ski tournaments and regattas. On an overlooking hill large mansions have sweeping views of the lake.
But a short distance away from the resorts and exclusive clubs impoverished fishing communities live off the lake, casting out daily in rusty dugout canoes on illegal fishing trips, chased by park warders and arrested for poaching. They are required to have special fishing licences to be allowed to fish, but few can afford the fees. Their catch is sold on the sides of highways and in Harare’s poor townships.
Aaron Mazvi, the war veteran and local community organiser who led the invasion, argued that the action was taken on behalf of nearby communities. Among Mazvi’s comrades were local fishmongers and vendors, including some women carrying babies.
In line with the country’s empowerment laws Mazvi argued, the clubs and resorts in the area should be seized and handed over to local communities and run by traditional leaders. He said he wrote a letter last week on behalf of the “Zvimba community at large” to the minister of lands, Herbert Murerwa, notifying him of his group’s intention to “take over properties along the lower and upper reaches of Lake Chivero”.
Poor communities are easy fodder for local bigwigs eyeing a piece of the lucrative tourism concessions in the area. Some claim the mob was driven by Patrick Zhuwawo, Robert Mugabe’s nephew and the MP in the area, but he and his party denied any involvement.
The invasions were the work of “criminal elements”, Ignatius Chombo, the local government minister, said. But there was little doubt about who the invaders themselves support—they wore Zanu-PF regalia and chanted party slogans as they entered the facilities.
The Chivero invasions are the second such attack on a tourist site. A week earlier a mob invaded tourist lodges in Nyanga, in the eastern highlands, popular for their mountain views and hiking trails.