Zimbabwe’s south eastern Lowveld features a number of intensive natural conservation areas and the Gonarezhou National Park, a wildness region destined to form part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The domain of the Transfrontier Park is expected to see its international boundaries (between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe) rubbed off the map in a way, allowing free migration of its wildlife and encouraging an influx of tourism. It is an area blessed with abundant beauty and some unique flora and fauna.
While fences along these political boundaries may fall, other political boundaries are being overstepped and perverted by a provincial ‘ruling elite’. The south east has become a war zone, yet again, with hapless wildlife being the victims of the onslaught and enduring politics of jealousy. Are we experiencing the last desperate struggle of a party which has lost its way?
For several months now, self-styled, lackey war veterans, most of whom have never fired a weapon in anger, and grass root, crooked politicians have been gnawing away at the Save Valley and Chiredzi River Conservancies; and nearby national parks, principally Gonarezhou. They are making claims for the landless, knocking down game fences, bush clearing, burning and looting the nation’s natural posterity. Along the trail of this destruction have come the poachers and wood looters, under the umbrella of political confusion, demolishing both beast and woodland in an orgy of greed and destruction.
Trade in precious hardwoods for fuel is brisk. Glorious elephant are slain for their ivory tusks, magnificent rhino slaughtered for horn, and several fine feline species destroyed for their skins. Delicate vegetation is being burnt out and replaced with huts, tillage and domestic livestock, in areas which will not support sustained cropping without irrigation. Zimbabweans are devastating their own assets in a narrow minded frenzy of rapacity, but politics is very much at its base. It is African anarchy at its worst.
Zimbabwe has long suffered an era of lawlessness in the name of felonious change aimed mostly at commercial (or white) agriculture. The land grab of the last decade was carried out with impunity by these same dullard, if not misguided, war veterans who now pillage the conservancies and national parks. The land grab reduced foreign agricultural revenues and turned the nation into a net importer of food.
No one is learning the lessons here and most are actually denying they exist. Dim politicians, with no long term perspective, are turning their xenophobic attention to foreign (rather white owned) business, but their victims are no longer just white folk. The nation’s unparalleled wildlife heritage is being pillaged in the process too. It is very much a case of ‘cutting off the nose to spite the face’ (or perhaps better put, ‘line the pocket’).
Die hard conservationists have been distraught at the damage being caused, not because they own the land, or have a stake in the business conducted thereon, but because the very core of conservation is under attack by reckless politicians who, clearly, lack morale fibre. Land claims may arguably manifest a cause, but Zimbabwe has been through that disastrous process already. Much of the land acquired (some suggest stolen) now lays fallow in once richly yielding intensive farming areas, so why the initiative against national parks and conservancies in lesser viable areas?
The answer may not lie with land hunger, but rather with more sinister political objectives of individuals garnering for political influence and, of course, greater wealth. Zimbabweans well know this. It is a protraction of the ethos of reaping where one has not sewn which has saturated certain elements of society.
While the destruction of wildlife is a great tragedy for the nation, there is perhaps a greater catastrophe unfolding, apathy. Zimbabweans just do not seem to care or wish to react. As much as conservationists holler about the despicable fate of Zimbabwe’s marvellous national parks and conservancies, it is only the conservationists who seem to be hearing this. They have been crying out about the south eastern crisis for several months now, and everyone who may have a remote interest or some influence in political or executive circles is turning their head the other way.
Government ministers merely indicate they have not authorised land grabs in the conservancies, yet do not react. Directors of National Parks seem hamstrung and unable to enter the fray, the police re-act slowly and ineffectively, and non-governmental organisations are powerless, while all these little empires emerge in the name of what is really an injudicious revolution. Worse still, fully appraised opposition politicians seem ludicrously meek in the face of it all.
Zimbabwe’s national heritage is at stake here. Few Zimbabweans would remain modest in the face of say the Great Zimbabwe monument being pillaged for its wonderful stone, so what is the difference? Has ‘the party’ lost control of its minions to the extent that Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage should suffer in an unscrupulous wave of gluttony and devastation, seeing the demise of ethical conservation… is this what Zimbabweans want?
This is all absurdly myopic. It is a gloomy failure by Zimbabweans to protect their wildlife. It is surely time to deploy a real police force or army urgently alongside National Parks to redefine the boundaries and protect what is left. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is seriously at stake. Mozambicans and South Africans will hardly wish to see their wildlife being ushered across baron land to the slaughter on the altar of petty power hungry politics. It is all quite shameful.