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SOS Rhino : In the News : Hunting barred, chefs told

Hunting barred, chefs told

  Tuesday 16 September, 2003
The Sunational News

The Sunday Mirror (Africa online)
Innocent Chofamba Sithole

THE Department of National Parks and Wildlife has barred influential politicians and businessmen allocated properties in protected wildlife sanctuaries in Matabeleland North province under the A2 resettlement scheme from carrying out any hunting activities, the Sunday Mirror has learnt.

The move comes amidst reports that Matabeleland North governor, Obert Mpofu had sought a hunting licence for his properties, Railway Farm 40 and Farm 41 which accommodate Kanhondo Lodge and Kachana Lodge, respectively, in the greater Sikumi Forest area adjacent to the world-renowned Hwange National Park.

The two lodges are also reportedly under a lease agreement between the previous owners and Touch the Wild Safaris, a subsidiary of Rainbow Tourism Group (RTG), who jointly own it with Island Blythe Limited (IBL) of Mauritius.

The Sunday Mirror is reliably informed that several cabinet ministers, a banker, a tourism industry captain and one Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation bureau chief (names supplied) have allegedly taken over various properties in the large Sikumi Forest area of Hwange National Park which accommodates, inter alia, Sikumi, Kanhondo, Kachana and Sable lodges, all of which are properties of Touch the Wild Safaris.

Both RTG and IBL could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.

Speaking to the Sunday Mirror on Friday, National Parks acting director-general Vitalis Chadenga reiterated that protected areas were dedicated to "the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and as such, hunting [was] not permitted". "We insist that [the area] must be used for non-consumptive activities. Quite clearly, hunting would conflict with this principle," Chadenga said.

The National Parks department, confidential sources said, was aware that the new entrants in the lucrative tourism sector were trying to hunt in the protected areas, hence its reinforcement of the ban.

"ItÍs obviously a very rich area in wildlife and I think they wanted to benefit," a wildlife industry source said.

The South African Mercury newspaper recently reported that influential politicians had entered the Hwange wildlife sanctuary, in the process raising deep concerns over the possible escalation of poaching activities, which only last year claimed more than 300 of the remaining black rhino in the country.

Before the arrival of the new tourism industry players there had been no hunting going on in the sprawling Sikumi forest area, which is also home to the presidential elephant herd. However, wildlife industry insiders say about six elephants and as many lions have been shot dead this year alone.

Environment and tourism minister, Francis Nhema is understood to have issued a statement banning hunting in the protected area in the wake of mounting concerns over the illegal hunting activities. Nhema could not be reached for comment as he was said to be in South Africa for the launch of the "Come to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe" campaign. The fifth World Parks Congress, whose focus is on the worldÍs protected nature areas and how poor countries can make conservation pay for itself, is also currently running in Durban, South Africa.

The Mercury also reported that MpofuÍs Hwange Wildlife Estate, which has in the past been used only for game viewing and photographic safari, is home to a herd of elephants which were given special presidential protection in a decree issued by President Robert Mugabe in 1991. There is no fence separating it from Hwange National Park, ZimbabweÍs biggest game reserve at 14 650km2. Mpofu could not be reached for comment at the weekend. The mobile phone number on which the Sunday Mirror tried to reach him is now out of use, while his wife said her husband was still in Harare when this reporter contacted her on Friday evening.

Speaking to the Mercury, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues expressed fears that allowing hunting in the Hwange Wildlife Estate would literally put "a death sentence on the future heritage of the country and the benefits that wildlife conservation would have had for the people of the country". Ironically, most of the political heavyweights allocated land in the game ranches have been associated with other properties elsewhere, distributed free of charge under the A2 land resettlement model.

Special affairs minister, John Nkomo was recently quoted in The Herald newspaper as saying that the state had to date recovered about 30 000 hectares of commercial farmland from people who had received more than one property in the governmentÍs ongoing land reform programme.

But several weeks after the expiry of President MugabeÍs two-week deadline to multiple farm owners to hand over excess farms, some ruling Zanu PF senior officials still capriciously hold on to their ill-gotten properties.

A local weekly newspaper splashed embarrassing evidence of continued multiple farm ownership on its front-page, eliciting sheepish denials from the named chefs as President Mugabe received the final report of the Charles Utete-led land review committee at State House on Thursday.

Speaking at the presentation of the report, Mugabe said government had tasked the Utete committee with reviewing the land reform programme "so that at the end of the day a report is submitted to government, to me, and that report is studied by us and recommendations naturally taken care of".

Among other anomalies, the issue of multiple farm ownership has stirred great controversy and disquiet within and outside the ruling party. Disgruntled land hungry peasants and aspiring black commercial farmers who were marginalised in the land allocation exercise expressed anger and disgust at senior politicians and influential businessmen who had occupied more than one farm under the A2 scheme, either in their own names or through their spouses and relatives.

A preliminary land audit report, which was prepared by land resettlement minister, Flora Buka and rejected as unauthentic by those it named as having traversed the land reform policy, aptly captured this scenario and recommended thus: "It is very important to take urgent corrective measures, particularly where the leadership is the perpetrator of anomalies as the general public is restive where such cases exist and a multitude of people are still on the waiting list." Mugabe, who expressed confidence in the Utete committee and described its report as "quite comprehensive" and "thorough", is expected to act firmly on his errant subordinates.

"There are certainly very urgent - too urgent Æ matters that bid us to pay attention, prompt attention to them," he told members of his cabinet and ruling party politburo gathered at the presentation ceremony.

"I think all of you are now burning to know whatÍs in the report . . . Please read it when you do get it, go through all of it. We might choose to have one full day (as cabinet) to deal with the report," he said.

The presidential land review committee was appointed on May 14 this year and took three months to complete its mission. It was supported by provincial and district land officers, who carried out field research in the various provinces.

Utete said the report was in two volumes: the first captures findings and contains analyses, conclusions and recommendations, while the second comprises special studies.

He said the report recommends that government adopt measures to conclude the land reform programme as well as redress anomalies therein. The report also recommends specific short to long term measures which, if adopted, have the potential to spur the economy as a whole forward.