Conservancy land invaders defy Zanu-PF

Senior Zanu-PF officials and military chiefs have yet to vacate properties they invaded in the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy, defying two eviction orders issued by President Robert Mugabe and the Zanu-PF politburo, the de facto supreme decision-making body of the party, outside of its congress.

The officials invaded the conservancy, one of the largest in Africa, in 2011, arguing their actions were justified in terms of what they claimed to be “wildlife-based land reform” to empower indigenous black Zimbabweans. The invaders include the former Masvingo provincial governor Titus Maluleke, who got the 3 388-hectare Hammond Ranch in the Chiredzi district, the former higher education minister Stan Mudenge (now dead), who got the 16 507-hectare Senuko 2 Ranch, and the former Gutu South legislator Shuvai Mahofa, who got the 5 526-hectare Savuli Ranch in the same district.

The former Chiredzi North legislator Ronald Ndava received the 11 736-hectare Bedford Ranch in the Bikita district and his Chiredzi South counterpart, Ailess Baloyi, took the 6 886-hectare Humani Ranch in the Chiredzi district. Retired Colonel Claudius Makova, Lieutenant Colonel David Moyo, Major General Gibson Mashingaidze, Assistant Commissioner Connel Dube, Major General Engelbert Rugeje and Brigadier General Livingstone Chineka also forcibly took land.

The land seizures have disrupted conservation efforts, resulting in increased poaching, and big-game hunting has also been affected.

The Zanu-PF politburo met in May and directed that the party officials had to vacate the conservancy as their actions were tantamount to greed, given that they had already benefited from the controversial land reform programme in 2000 when they took previously white-owned farms.

The politburo also directed the cancellation of the 25-year leases the officials received from the environment ministry when they invaded the properties in 2012.

But the officials have stayed put.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo told the Mail & Guard­ian this week that the party was still addressing the issue.

“There is a committee that was set up to work out the logistics of implementing the politburo’s resolution but it is still to report back.”

He said this week he did not know when that would happen.

In May, at the time of the resolution, Gumbo said: “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.

“The issue was, if you did not yet have a farm, then government would give you one elsewhere and not in Save Valley. This is about greed. Most of them are multiple landowners, which is what the politburo said should not happen. That was the decision and their removal must be expedited as per the politburo resolution.”

Zanu-PF also tried to remove the officials from the conservancy in 2012, following an outcry from conservationists, but failed.

In September 2012, during a politburo meeting, Mugabe attacked the army commanders and party officials who had seized land in the conservancy. He ruled that they should move out immediately.

Despite the two directives, the invasions have not stopped since the May ruling. Another property, the Mjingwe Ranch, was recently invaded by army and police officers who reportedly demanded $500 000 from the white owner, failing which, they warned, they would evict him.

According to them, the money is supposed to be part of their “shareholding dividends” from the wildlife farm.

Mjingwe is owned by Darryl Collett and a South African investor, Alastair Forsyth.

The failure to implement the eviction orders has drawn the ire of Jabulani Sibanda, the leader of the militant war veterans, who are strong supporters of Zanu-PF.

Sibanda said that, although it was regrettable, the politburo’s failure to implement its own resolution was not surprising, considering that the “same people who sit in the politburo are the same people who are engaged in multiple farm ownership and even engaged in other corrupt activities.

“The problem in Zimbabwe, particularly in the [poor] performance of government, is caused by the politburo,” Sibanda said. “The same people who sit in the politburo are the same people who sit in government as ministers. They are the same people who can order the police to evict the multiple farm owners but they are the same people who have properties in the conservancy. You read in the paper thatthe politburo has condemned corruption but they are the same people who are corrupt. This is nonsense.”

Tourist attraction, hunters’ choice
The Save Valley Conservancy is a major tourist attraction and destination for professional hunters, who pay thousands of dollars for the chance to see – or hunt – the animals. Some of the high-profile tourists who have visited the conservancy include Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the Colombian pop musician Shakira.

Situated in the arid Masvingo province, the sanctuary covers about 340 000 hectares.

The conservancy was founded in 1991. It is co-owned by foreign and local whites and black Zimbabweans, who regulate the hunting and protect endangered wildlife. 

Since its establishment, the conservancy has been managed in partnership with Zimbabwe’s state-run Agriculture and Rural Development Authority. Among the property owners are German, Danish, Dutch and South African nationals.

Despite Mugabe publicly condemning multiple farm ownership, his wife Grace is guilty of grabbing farms in the fertile Mazowe district of Mashonaland Central.

Last year, she received more than 1 600 hectares of the Mazoe Citrus Estate, the makers of the world-famous Mazoe brand of beverages, and, in January, she seized an additional 800 hectares.

Her occupation of part of Mazoe Citrus was the second time she has displaced resettled farmers in the Mazowe area. She left more than 50 families homeless after occupying the Manzou Game Reserve two years ago.

The latest occupation is in keeping with the Mugabes’ reputation for acquiring farms, contrary to Zanu-PF’s land redistribution policy. Therefore, some officials believe that Mugabe may not be sincere about evicting the invaders of the Save Valley Conservancy.

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