Saturday, November 12, 2011
Oscar Nkala Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Early this month, parks director-general Vitalis Chadenga had a field day telling a sleepy assemblage of British, French and local journalists that the local independent media has been peddling lies and falsehoods to the effect that Zanu PF politicians, of which he is one, are part of the poaching syndicates responsible for the ongoing plunder of Zimbabwe's dwindled rhino population.
According to Chadenga, the poaching crisis is not an inside job but the work of sophisticated foreign syndicates, and allegations that most Zanu PF bigwigs are smart poachers are a callous lie told over and over by an independent media bent on destroying what remains of the tattered image of the country and by extension, reverse the gains of the reverred liberation struggle.
While Chadenga was busy searching for scapegoats, whistle-blowing site Wikileaks released an insightful cable in which American officials qouted ex-parks official and professional hunter Don Heath naming Zanu PF ministers and associates who are making a 'killing' from conservancies abandoned in haste by white farmers as they ran for life since 2000.
The US officials interviewed Heath to find the best ways of curtailing the safari businesses of Zanu PF leaders placed on the US and European Union sanctions list without causing a collapse of the hunting industry and at the same time, avoiding negative impacts on conservation efforts which include the survival of such endangered species as the African rhino.
The cable reveals as follows: "Establishing a connection between Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) and their safari interests is difficult as these individuals are often careful to hide their direct involvement in the business.
According to Heath, the following Office of Foreign Accountant Control-sanctioned individuals are known to have a stake in a safari area concession, safari operator and private land/ private hunting reserve: former environment and tourism minister Edward Chindori-Chininga (Gwaai Valley Conservancy); Jocelyn Chiwenga, the wife of army commander Constantine Chiwenga (Matetsi Unit 6 Safari Area); local government minister Ignatius Chombo (Chiredzi River Conservancy) and agriculture minister Joseph Made (Gwaai Valley Conservancy."
"The others are former mines minister Amos Midzi (Gwaai Valley Conservancy); home affairs minister Kembo Mohadi (Gwaai Valley Conservancy); Zanu PF national chairman, also former ambassador to South Africa, Simon Khaya Moyo (Gwaai Valley Conservancy); mines and mining development minister Obert Mpofu (Gwaai Valley Conservancy), information minister Webster Shamu (Chirisa Safari Area and a 51 percent stake in Famba Safaris).
"His (Shamu's) wife also has a separate interest in the Chete Safari Area, but she is not on the sanctions list, Charles Utete (Gwaai Valley Conservancy); former CIO director-general Paradzai Zimondi (Charara Safari Area), Lovemore Chihota (Matetsi Unit 7) brother of Specially Designated National Phineas Chihota; Thandi Nkomo-Ibrahim, the daughter of former vice-president Joshua Nkomo (Tuli Safari Area), a sister to Specially Designated National Louise Nkomo who is the spouse of Specially Designated National Francis Nhema, the minister of environment."
The rhino conservation lobby is worried that unlike the political cables which appear to have altered inter-and intra-party relations for good due to the explosive disclosures made by some politicians who used the most descriptive terms to question the presidential qualities of their party leaders in secret meetings with the Americans, this environmentally friendly salvo from Wikileaks has been ignored - simply.
Unlike the politically sensitive Wikileaks disclosures which have sparked witch-hunts in both Zanu PF and the MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, no one in this country seems worried about the wholesale plunder of wildlife in the conservancies despite mounting evidence.
Week in week out, we are confronted by news reports or network alerts of Zanu PF supporters invading one conservancy after another with encouragement from senior politicians, some being the same cabinet ministers who are supposed to ensure that normalcy prevails. Each time, the rhino and elephant population is always the first on the firing line because of the high value attached to ivory.
We know of many conservancies in the southern Gwanda and Beitbridge districts where poachers have now finished the rhinos and are now going for zebra and leopard for their skins, which we understand are bought for R800 by a very rogue South African taxidermist based at All Days, 100 km west of Musina across the border in South Africa.
We of the rhino lobby in Zimbabwe are deeply concerned and fear that the attitude displayed by Zanu PF proves that unlike the deeply embarassing and humiliating political satire that came out of Wikileaks which is being investigated quite furiously by the parties in government, the same people see no need for a parallel investigation into the poaching scandals exposed in the same way.
One reason could be that top Zanu PF officials are named as the lead plunderers, but all Zimbabwean leaders owe the worldwide rhino lobby a better explanation than sheer impunity and egoism for failing to deal as decisively with the rhino poaching crisis just as they pursue the so-called 'political issues' with energetic zealotry.
We posit that in countries where the rule of law is respected and not frowned upon like in ours, such allegations would have by now led to a high-level commission of inquiry into the operations of the concerned individuals and safari operators regardless of whether they are the chairpersons of village burial societies or the national chairpersons of the dominant political Mafioso.
However, we do so at the same time acknowledging that Zimbabwe may not be in a position to do so because the rule of law was the first to die of the ravages of the Third Chimurenga in which conservancies were invaded and the owners fled leaving rhinos and elephants wondering at the mercy of poachers who could not be arrested simply because they belong to Zanu PF, the president's party.
The cable also reveals wholesale corruption in the awarding of lucrative safari concessions in Gwayi, Hwange and the Matetsi safari areas with most concessions awarded without going to public tender. In some cases, Zanu PF regime insiders are known to have used their political links to bulldoze their way in to grab concessions at below market prices.
Zimbabwe needs a thorough audit of the concession holders, especially in the Hwange and Matetsi areas where some have held on to concessions since 1985 and the leases are renewed annually without ever going to tender.
Zimbabwe also needs a commission of inquiry into how the most lucrative hunting concessions in Gwayi, Hwange and Matetsi were, and continue to be allocated only to Zanu PF officials, their wives and close relatives. This country needs an honest parks and wildlife management authority led by professionals and not political party representatives as is the case now.
Instead of making a career out of denialism, Chadenga will be doing the nation proud if he tells the truth because from our own investigative sources inside the parks authority, we know that the department is fully aware of the who is who among the Zanu PF poaching elite.