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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Destruction of the last bastion of teaming wildlife in Zimbabwe

Destruction of the last bastion of teaming wildlife in Zimbabwe after over 60% of the National Heard of wildlife was eliminated in the last 10 years

A blatant attempt to expropriate foreign and locally owned properties in all private Wildlife Conservancies

Issuing 25 year leases to anyone but existing owners is expropriation and flies in the face of current law and the GPA

High profile International Court cases will not follow

Cabinet Ministers are directly involved in handing out leases to people other than title holders. Minister Nehma, Mudenge and Governor Maluleke are orchestrating the "land grab"

Mudenge and Maluleke have both forced themselves into such `partnerships' with ZIC approved and foreign owned properties, another leading example of a corrupt Government in disregard of local law, International Law and ZIC approved investments

Foreign investors will finally have lost faith in the promises of Zimbabwe's Government

The President, Prime Minster, deputy Prime Ministers and Ministers making statements at recent investment conference are made a laughing stock with total loss of credibility locally and globally

The GNU is seen to have no control over rogue members of Cabinet or adherence to law and order

"eye witness report":

The meeting started at 10:55am. It was attended by about 40 persons. It was difficult for me to keep account of who was representing the Government or who was a "new partner" forced on to the Conservancies. Few people representation the Conservancies were present on such short notice.

It was interesting to note that UNDP funded the workshop, their representative was present but we were unable to confirm his name. These funds would have been negotiated by Vitalis Chadenga, deputy director of National Parks. What a gross misuse of overseas Investors' tax moneys!

This "workshop" is clearly a Masvingo initiative, planned over a longer period of time, meant to overwhelm us with extremely short notice. However, Minister Nhema, Minister Murewha, the two ministries responsible to central government for the implementation of government policy in this regard, were absent, although Minister Muzembi who is from Masvingo and was invited to address the meeting sent a junior representative to deliver his speech, which focused mainly on the important roll the tourism industry can have in the recovery of Zimbabwe, but that it needed to maintain investor confidence.

The meeting followed the usual pattern where each person had to introduce themselves. As most of them spoke very quietly, it was difficult for me to establish, who was who.

The Provincial Manager for National Parks, a Mr. Gotosa, Director of National Parks Vitalis Chidenga, Minister Stan Mudenge, Ministry of Tourism Mr. Mavavhombu, Provincial Administrator Chikovo, and Masvingo's Governor Mululeke, sat at the main table.

Chidenga opened the meeting by saying that some people had been given leases and that this Workshop was to discuss how to run wildlife businesses between the old and new partners. Wild life needed protection and understanding and that with no wild life there was nothing to do business with.

Col. Mokova, (new partner, Savuli, southern neighbour to Sango in the Save Valley Conservancy), wanted to know when they could move on and start business. Chidenga replied that they must have an agreement with the present operator first.

Minister Mudenge then opened the meeting. He said that this was the second meeting of the old and new partners, together they must discuss conservancies. No mention made of these partners being forced onto existing owners and the effect this would have on foreign owned properties (about 70% across the Conservancies). This was part and parcel of the land reform process, he said. Government did not rush this. New partners wanted to do this quickly. Government was aware of the delicacy and complexity, but stated that, we now have a new wild life policy.

Old and New operators would have 25 year leases. They would be partners in business and would need to provide the Ministry of Environment with a business plan. New partners should bring something to the table (referring to paying for their part of the business). Business principles should be adhered to. Government has learnt from the Land Reform Program and realize that this type of partnership has the best chance of working. Zimbabwe is part of the Trans Frontier Conservation Area, and making these partnerships work would show the rest of the world that we can work together. Again, no mention was made of the fact that the Wild Life and Tourism Industry is indigenised well above 80% across the whole country.

The Tourism representative, Mr. Mavavhombu (his name sounded Mazombu), read a speech on behalf of the Minister Walter Mazembi. The speech was positive and he pointed out all the good tourism can do for the country, the need to protect wildlife, encourage business and investors'
confidence, etc.

National Parks then gave a brief slide presentation. Issues, concerns and expectations of Wild Life Management. It covered topics of more equity, maintaining investors' confidence etc. Their concerns were, poaching, habitat destruction, gold panning, lack of skills, illegal settlement, negative publicity, etc. (They have promised to let me have the presentations by email).

Mr. Chibere, National Parks, then presented a business prospective, hunting administration, presentation. He pointed out the decline in hunting revenues over the last few years, that tourism was driven by consumptive and non consumptive business. He gave an example of the value of elephant. He then presented a typical hunting concession quota.
He demonstrated the value and then showed the costs pertaining to running a hunting business, very little profit left yet some costs as to fence maintenance and anti-poaching control were not even included. His point came across very well in that new entrants should not expect huge profits and that there were serious responsibilities to wild life management.

There was then a lunch break.

The meeting resumed with four questions for discussion.

How do we ensure business viability (it was agreed that this was a vast/complex topic and would need more time than available to come up with complete answers)

How to ensure adherence to indigenization and wild life land reform implementation policy options.

Strategies for seamless entries of new partners and communities into the wild life business. (What strategies do we adopt to ensure the smooth introduction of the WLRP.)

What measures to be taken to address settlers on wild life land. I.e. how do we address the illegal settlement in the conservancies?

Mudenge was quick to say that we (his side of the political arena) should not enter in to areas where angels fear to tread and told the Governor and the attending MP's to sort out. Therefore, this sensitive issue was not his mandate but he placed it on the governor's desk. We see a cynical strategy here in that this is going to be left for the incoming governor to deal with. It will put this emotional land issue squarely on the shoulders of the new MDC governor, which could be a strategy to build an alliance with the 50 or 60 new partners and the 10,000 illegal settlers to challenge the GNU.

These questions caused much discussion. Your email had been read by some members from the floor and MP Ndava. (New partner Bedford Block) wanted to know what rights foreign investors had to tell Zimbabwe what to do, they impose sanctions and want to be protected, etc. ? Minister Mudenge told him that a way had to be found, that the Government was committed to the land reform and that leases had been issued (at this point the provincial administrator put a pile of envelopes on the table).

The meeting also recognized that the new partners/operators needed Government assistance to empower them. Mudenge discussed them receiving animals, buffalo or elephant to pay for partnerships irrespective of the fact that National Parks have lost most of their animals through mismanagement and Conservancies having an overabundance of elephants and planes game. Again, reality was not the topic of the day.

Closing remarks were then given by Governor Mulaleke. He said that today was a land mark meeting of old and new safari operators. This, the second meeting, now made formal the wild life business with new partners.
All land was now State Property. Existing partners must now recognize new partners. New partners must now be prepared to invest before generating income. He was happy with the Government donating wild life to business. Government wants viability and profitability. He had been working towards this for a long time.

Most new partners are keen to proceed with haste and although a little disappointed from the viability presented by Chipere from National Parks, they are relaxed due to the fact that they believe Government will assist in their cost of buy in. This will give them a seat on the board so they can understand how the industry works, and may get something out in the process, if government puts up all the equity, what is there to lose.

The new partners were then told to step forward to collect and sign for their new leases.

I was not able to get a list of who these leases were given to, or to see a lease. One of the new partners confirmed on my questioning that the lease was from the Ministry of Environment, signed by Minister Nhema.

We have spoken to Chadenga on the need for a small technical group to meet as soon as possible to discuss the technical aspects of, and, the international implications of this move. Such as, companies have "sanctioned" partners, BIPA and ZIA agreements, the conservancy's indigenization plan, which has not been commented on, etc. Chadenga did not appear very concerned about these issues.

The tone of the meeting was very friendly and cordial. None of the previous underlying threats were felt. Everybody seemed very confident with governments' ability to make the process happen. It is difficult to pick up the tone of a meeting from somebody else's minutes, but Chadenga, Minister Mudenge, the Governor, were all almost jovial and any negative comments coming from the floor were quickly commented on and brushed aside. They know exactly what they are doing and will not be deterred.

Government is very aware that the farm disruptions have made international news and also more importantly have been a complete failure. This new type of "friendly" "land-grab"
is their mark 2 version of land reform. This appeases the party faithful, who need the extra properties to add to their portfolio of business and from a distance looks reasonable to the uninformed. They feel that it is their right to indigenize the business and this way of doing it will supposedly keep tourism working and make them wealthy participants.

Our feeling is that no reasonable discussion, sanctions lists, diplomatic intervention, etc. will persuade them not to do this. They already clearly know that this is against the agreement made for the Government of National Unity, but that very Government is seen powerless to stop them. Minister Nhema signing these leases means that he is confident in the support which he has, so although this has not been discussed in parliament, he understands that he is protected and has the backing needed.

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