Mugabe's Damascus moment?
Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi, who has fought a protracted two-year battle to save the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy, has welcomed an about-turn by the party on the parcelling out of land to top Zanu-PF officials.
In an unusually candid approach, Mzembi has not hidden his displeasure at the invasion of the conservancy by party officials who in 2012 took over the conservancy, arguing that they were enforcing the 51% local ownership indigenisation law.
Mzembi’s hardline stance drew flak from his peers, who said he was trying to prevent the empowerment programme and the land reform exercise from succeeding.
German nationals and companies have invested hugely in Save. Although it falls under a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement, officials still moved in on it.
Those who had demarcated vast tracts of land for themselves at the conservancy include former war veterans’ leader Joseph Chinotimba, Major General Gibson Mashingaidze, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, former Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke, former Zanu-PF Masvingo provincial chair Lovemore Matuke, former deputy health minister Douglas Mombeshora, Zanu-PF’s central committee member Enock Porusingazi, Zanu-PF legislators Alois Baloyi, Abraham Sithole, Samson Mukanduri and Noel Mandebvu.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Mzembi said his office would once again market the wildlife-rich area intensively.
‘We cannot market conflict’
“Our responsibility as tourism ambassadors is to market products. Once a product generates conflict, we cannot market conflict. As soon as we identify conflict, we raise the alarm for other entities to step in and resolve that conflict. In this case it was the [Zanu-PF] politburo,” said Mzembi.
“I cannot determine who stays where; that is determined at a political level. Whether by actions of commission or omission, my ministry will always be on the lookout to have conflict resolved and has no wish to be sucked into land disputes”.
Mzembi criticised how his peers have interpreted the indigenisation law.
“The 51% to 49% threshold is the aspiration of the law. How we get there should not be counterproductive. It is not an event that can be achieved overnight,” Mzembi said.
“The 51% indigenisation law must never have been packaged belligerently. You can’t have everyone expressing themselves like popcorn on this matter. Even in courtship, if you deploy too many emissaries, some end up putting the woman off or charming for themselves. So there have to be designated people dealing with this so as to avoid misinformation and misrepresentation of an otherwise noble law.”
Mzembi would not say what percentage of local ownership is ideal for tourism.
“The acquisition of hotels is not like farms. It all depends on the product and investors must be given the choice to choose their own partners. I cannot impose partners on any investors. They [investors] must engage black partners who are entrepreneurial, whom they want to dilute their equity,” said Mzembi.
“The tourism sector is a courtship business and you do so with flowers, roses, charm and not through the use of war cries and pangas.”
Under pressure from an economic crisis, President Robert Mugabe has of late softened the government stance on indigenisation and said some sectors will be exempt from the law.
Mugabe last week convened the politburo. There he read the riot act to the invaders. The politburo is Zanu-PF’s highest decision-making body.
This is Zanu-PF’s first move since it vowed to soften its tone on indigenisation last month.
Water, Climate and Environment Affairs Minister Saviour Kasukuwere told the M&G this week that his ministry would be enforcing the politburo resolution and is planning to identify other wildlife-rich areas that had been invaded.
“There is a need to remove this parochial system in favour of the overall wellbeing of our national assets. The politburo’s decision is commendable and dovetails with the plans my ministry already has in its fight against poachers, invaders and land degraders.”
Kasukuwere – a former indigenisation and empowerment minister – has in the past led a crusade against foreign investors. He issued ultimatums to foreign-owned mines and banks, to force their compliance with the law.