Save Conservancy: Myths, realities

HARARE - Celebrated globally as a model of wildlife conservationism, Zimbabwe’s 6000-hectare Save wildlife sanctuary has of late attracted unsavory visitors under the guise of indigenisation.

Following an investigation and interviews with a cross-section of individuals the Weekend Post today reveals that the companies in the Save Conservancy have current levels of up to 32 percent indigenous participation.

These are private corporations facing expropriation from a greedy few.

The sanctuary is home to a diversity of flora and fauna that has been politicised by a rogue group bent on creating an elite clique of citizens that may prove difficult to deal with in the future of this country.

Myth: The Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975 was a “colonial” tool used to benefit only white people.

Truth: The present Parks and Wildlife Act was promulgated in 1975.

Its impact was that it encouraged the private conservation of wildlife; it gave appropriate authority status to the land holders (irrespective of colour, of course) who could now have user rights on wildlife that was on the land they occupied.

The wildlife had and has today the legal status, Res Nullius i.e. the wildlife belongs to nobody.

However, user rights accrue legally and automatically to those “exercising control over wildlife areas”.
 
A landmass that is fenced and managed allows those responsible the rights to use the wildlife within the area.

Globally, Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Act is recognised as one of the most modern and progressive acts of its kind.

The present government was wise to continue with this act and construing some racial discrimination into it is factually unfounded and insulting to the Zimbabwean Government.

Myth: The Save Valley Conservancy (SVC) is made up of the last vestige of white”Rhodesians” in Zimbabwe.
Truth: The Save Valley Conservancy is made up of International investors, local investors (of all races), on the ground investors, government and some local communities.

The Conservancy was created in l992, 12 years after independence, with the involvement of the National Parks and Wildlife Authority as well as the Beit Trust, WWF and the department of Veterinary Services.

Almost all the properties within SVC changed hands at around this time and were bought with a certificate of no current interest from government.

A large part of the SVC was converted to resettlement area during the land reform process.

During the course of this process over 160 kilometres of expensive double-fencing was destroyed or stolen; a fact which has subsequently led to difficulties in terms of animals leaving the conservancy and going into near by rural areas.

As things stand right now the Save Valley Conservancy can accurately say and prove that the conservancy is indigenised to the extent of 32 percent.

An observation is that whenever something is disliked in certain parts of the Zimbabwean society reference to the past, to Rhodesia and to race are made.

After 23 years of independence that seems immature way of looking at modern and current life in Zimbabwe.

Myth: There is only one German owned property to which Bippa’s can be applied.

Truth: South African, Italian and Dutch Bippa’s are applicable and the American investment is guaranteed by the international law of cross border investment which Zimbabwe acknowledges as a member of the United Nations.

Myth: The Save Valley Conservancy is closed to black investors.

Truth: On the contrary the Save Valley Conservancy welcomes (and always has) business investment irrespective of race,nationality, creed or gender.

It is key for any partner/investor in the wildlife industry to understand that the wildlife business is one of high capital intensity, with slow and low returns.

The Conservancy has a constitution which provides for responsible land and wildlife management.

All members and investors (irrespective of race or origin) are bound to work within the boundaries of the constitution.

Myth: No investment was needed by members of the Save Valley Conservancy because the bush and animals were just there.

Truth: Members of the Save Valley Conservancy invested heavily in re-stocking exercises to bring most species including elephant, rhino, giraffe and numerous others to the conservancy.

White rhinos were brought in under an endowment policy by the Save Valley Conservancy Trust.

The Conservancy took out a million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation with the approval (but not assistance) of the government of Zimbabwe and with members underwriting it.

In addition to the stocking of animals considerable investment in the infrastructure of camps, pumps, piping, roads, electricity, fencing, housing and staff facilities and vehicles was necessary.
 
Further ongoing investment has been necessary over the last two decades in order to ensure the growth and maintenance of conservancy assets.

Myth: Wild animals require no ongoing investment.

Truth: Managing a wildlife ranch involves more than sitting back and watching the animals move around.

Wild animals have the same requirements as any other living thing, such as provision of clean water and good quality food, protection, assistance in times of stress and general good management.  

Maintaining wildlife habitat and populations requires continual and ongoing investment in terms of expert monitoring and anti poaching.

Myth: The wildlife industry is a very lucrative one in which shareholders are reaping huge dividends for little financial input.

Truth: Hunting takes place maybe four to six out of 12 months a year.

Whilst charging overseas clients at comparatively high rates the income generated during the hunting season is often insufficient to cover the full year’s expenses.

Hence, any partner/investor in conservancy and wildlife management needs to have philanthropic leanings and understand that this business is of high capital intensity, with slow and low returns.

SVC members have many times offered financials for review to enlighten those who claim that huge profits are generated, nobody has come forward to educate themselves on this issue.

The ongoing costs of wildlife management added to the costs of maintaining properties in a condition suitable for safari tourists are substantial.

The current lack of non-hunting tourists visiting Zimbabwe means that members have to rely solely on income from hunting and are underconsiderable pressure to cover increasing operating costs.

Any money earned is invested straight back into the wildlife venture.

In addition to these costs there are money other levies and statutory costs such as rural district rates, Save Valley Conservancy levies, ZTA levies, SOAZ levies etc that eat up a significant portion of the income.
Members also foot a considerable social cost receiving and accommodating as far as possible and sustainable a continual flow of requests from local government, police,national government and surrounding local communities for donations and contributions and assistance.

The myth of wildlife being very lucrative comes from those who invest nothing in the animals, their habitat or their management, and merely harvest; an attitude which is clearly unsustainable.

Myth: The Save Valley Conservancy is part of a government or presidential approved land redistribution policy.

Truth: Around 25 individuals from the Masvingo Province are trying to gain access to the wildlife assets of the Save Valley Conservancy by using leases issued in the name of an act (the Wildlife-Based Reform Act) that does not exist in Zimbabwean law.

In fact it has yet to be discussed in parliament, let alone promulgated! Over 300 000 acres of land, that was already Conservancy wildlife land, including one property purchased under ZIC approval has been taken for resettlement.

Most of the wildlife that was resident on those properties was killed by the new settlers.

To date no member of the Save Valley Conservancy has ever been presented with an original stamped and signed lease document, despite repeated requests to be given one.

Photo copies have been shown around and many members of cabinet as well as legal experts consider that these documents cannot be deemed to be a legal form of notification.

Myth: The Save Valley Conservancy has refused to engage on the issue of indigenisation.

Truth: The Save Valley Conservancy has long held the view that indigenisation should take the form of community involvement and benefit and to this end formed and finalised the Save Valley Conservancy Community Trust, incorporating five neighbouring Rural District Councils.

This was achieved between 1996 and 1998; pre-dating the current indigenisation act by some margin.

More recently the Save Valley Conservancy has engaged with the ministry of Environment and the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority over a period of three years between 2006 and 2009 with plans to bring increased benefit to neighbouring communities as well as to increase indigenous shareholding in the Save Valley Conservancy.

Requested documentation has been supplied by the Conservancy to the ministry on many occasions without any formal or directional feedback being supplied by either ministry of Environment or National Parks.

In March 2010 the late director general of National Parks, Vitalis Chadenga suggested that the Save Valley Conservancy take a look at the draft of a Wildlife-Based Land Reform Policy.

It was clear to everyone concerned (including the director general) that the draft policy was impractical, would need the broad support of stakeholders and would prove to be unenforceable.

Members of the Save Valley Conservancy enlisted the help of lawyers, economists and a number of experts from the wildlife and environment industry and an all embracing workshop was scheduled for November 15 and 16 of the same year, with funding from the EU.

The following participants were scheduled to attend: seven ministers,12 permanent secretaries, five ambassadors from potential donor nations,ecologists, an economist, lawyers and stakeholders from Masvingo and the conservancy sector.

Some 70 people were to debate and find a basis for a reasonable and all embracing policy governing wildlife, indigenous participation and sustainable value exploitation for the country.

Four days before the start of the event the minister of Environment cancelled the workshop and to this day has never offered an explanation.

Had this workshop occurred as planned none of the conflict that we have today would exist.

At the beginning of 2011 members of the Conservancy agreed to consider additional indigenisation possibilities through investment.

A steering committee comprising members of would be investors and members of the Save Valley Conservancy was formed to guide the legal, accounting and business processes that would be necessary to ensure smooth transactions.

This process ran aground in July 2011 when would-be partners stated they had no intention of investing but wanted “cash on the table”.

Despite this the Save Valley Conservancy and its members continue to seek to implement a viable indigenisation plan which incorporates communities.

Additionally the door remains open to genuine indigenous investment.

Myth: The forced implementation of shareholders on members of the Save Valley Conservancy is part of a National Indigenisation policy.

Truth: The indigenisation law as it currently stands means that affected businesses will be served a letter asking them to submit an indigenisation plan for the approval of the minister within 45 days.

Once a plan is agreed upon then businesses have five years to implement the plan.

Exactly how this is done is not stipulated by the law but presumably the period is given to phase in the plan.

To date no member of the Conservancy (or the Conservancy itself) has received any letter requesting them to indigenise.

Nevertheless, the Conservancy has submitted several versions of a plan for discussion (pre-dating indigenisation laws by quite a margin and therefore demonstrating genuine intent).

Plans would have long ago been implemented had the necessary engagement by the authorities involved occurred.

Current indigenisation laws stipulate that realistic investment must form a part of any agreement and yet proposed partners to SVC members have publicly and repeatedly stated that they have no intention of paying anything and want “cash on the table” for themselves.

The laws further stipulate that businesses can choose their own partners and yet members of the SVC have been supplied with multiple names without any consultation and instructed that these are their partners and that there will be no option other than to accept them.

The official indigenisation policy allows for a period of implementation.
 
In this case it is proposed that current business owners sign over 51 percent of their businesses and assets to the proposed partners immediately and without compensation.

In conclusion due process has not in any way been applied to the Save Valley Conservancy with regards to indigenisation.

Genuine attempts by the Save Valley Conservancy to create and implement a viable plan which will benefit communities have run a ground in favour of benefitting a few apparently self nominated individuals who enjoy the support of the ministry of Environment and National Parks.

Whatever is going on with the Save Valley Conservancy and proposed partners cannot be called indigenisation.

Myth: Forcing a relatively small group of pre-selected partners on members of the Conservancy is an act of “empowerment”

Truth: The Conservancy’s plan to include communities would empower a much bigger group of people who are far more in need of empowerment.

The groups in question which have been selected to partner members of the Conservancy are all relatively affluent and many of them are already recipients of multiple properties and advantages through previous “empowerment” benefits.

Myth: Members of the Conservancy use air-strips within the Conservancy to conduct nefarious (and undefined) business dealings with their private jets.

Truth: No aircraft can fly within the airspace of Zimbabwe without detailed approval and control of the Civil Aviation Authority, this naturally includes landing in or taking off from the Save Valley Conservancy.  — Weekend Post

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