Save Valley chaos: Mutambara drags feet

HARARE - Zimbabwe’s conservation and tourism sector has entered a “New Dark Age,” and its crown jewel, the Save Valley Conservancy (SVC), could shut down any moment from now, a leading conservationist and investor has said.

Fingers are pointing at Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, whom stakeholders and even fellow Cabinet members accuse of dragging his feet.

Problems in Save started when Zanu PF officials and military personnel invaded some conservancies owned by foreign nationals, resulting in confusion regarding hunting licences at a critical time of the hunting season.

Wilfried Pabst, a German national with extensive interests in the SVC, told the Daily News the wildlife sanctuary, known in conservation circles globally as the Gold Standard, is on the verge of collapse.

“Each day no permit is issued, tourist visits and hunting safaris are cancelled, deposits have to be repaid and the country’s tourism reputation has entered a new dark age,” Pabst said.

He accused Mutambara of using the country’s precious wildlife to ingratiate himself with Zanu PF hardliners. Mutambara heads a Cabinet committee appointed by President Robert Mugabe to ressolve the conservation debacle.

“Mutambara is looking for a political home and can do anything to make hardliners in Zanu PF now known as the “Masvingo 37” happy by agreeing to the issuing of hunting permits to party activists and military personnel who have been forced on us.

“He is looking for acceptance and as chairperson of a Cabinet committee mandated with finding a lasting solution to the problems in the SVC, he is now very much part of the problem,” said Pabst.

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi, a member of the Cabinet committee headed by Mutambara seemed clueless as to why there has not been a solution.

“I cannot understand why the chairperson (Mutambara) has not brought the report with recommendations from the committee to Cabinet five months later.

“He had promised to bring the report within a fortnight,” said Mzembi.

“The irony is that, we all seemed to have agreed on a solution and the agreement we thought at the time had been accepted by the supposed two protagonists myself and Environment and Natural Resources minister Francis Nhema,” Mzembi told the Daily News yesterday, adding that he was attending a tourism indaba in Durban, South Africa where the issue of SVC was cropping up.

“I am here at Africa’s Best Tourism Expo defending the issue of Save which seems even more contentious than the timing of our elections. It is bleeding my sector.

“It is dangerous for leaders to take inter-ministerial resolutions back to contesting stakeholders before cabinet deliberates on them, which seem to have been the case in this matter. This is what is stalling progress,” said Mzembi.

Mutambara refused to give a detailed response, saying he would release a full statement at the end of the week.

“We will talk to you at the end of the week,” he said before hanging up.

The committee includes Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, Nhema, Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere and co-Home Affairs ministers Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone.

Pabst’s sentiments were echoed by German ambassador to Zimbabwe Hans Gunter Gnodkte, who had no kind words for Mutambara.

“We have talked to everyone in the Zimbabwean government but received no satisfactory reply. I tried to talk to DPM Mutambara and he was just yelling at me. He is a pretty sick personality,” Gnodkte told the Daily News.

“We still hope though that people with a sense of responsibility will prevail and save the country’s wildlife. A lot of people in Zimbabwe want to destroy the wildlife but I think the State president is not one of them.

“I have spoken to Didymus Mutasa and he has given me the impression that Mugabe is sympathetic,” Gnodkte said.

Early this year, Mutambara threw Gnodkte out of his office after the German envoy had sought audience with him.

Pabst said apart from Gnodkte’s efforts, he had also sought to engage Vice President Joice Mujuru with no success.

“Instead of assisting, she dragged Nhema into a meeting we were having with her. The minister berated me in front of a senior German minister and Mujuru just sat there watching,” Pabst claimed.

Pabst claimed that in previous years, the SVC was issued with permits each year in November ahead of the following year’s hunting season.

“Tourism Hunting Safaris are often pre-sold to influential and high-net-worth individuals overseas.

“Deposits are lodged in advance and the National Parks not issuing permits for 2012 is like defrauding these prospective tourists, hunters and guests to Zimbabwe.

“The closure of the venture will render 1 000 people jobless and bring starvation to over 10 000 others. It will also deny the traditional chiefs any cash generation for their subjects from the SVC. SVC will shortly seize to exist,” Pabst said.

Parks and Wildlife Management Authority public relations manager Caroline Washaya-Moyo refused to say much.

“It is an issue that is now within the confines of the ministry of Natural resources and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara’s office. We are not commenting on this matter because it is out of our hands,” Washaya-Moyo said.

Washaya-Moyo referred further questions to an official identified as Samuriwo from the ministry of Environment and Natural Resources who also refused to comment.

“It is a Cabinet issue and I am not allowed to talk about it,” Samuriwo said.

But Pabst described Mutambara’s actions as economic sabotage because they were a threat to the successful hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly to be co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia in August.

“Why then is the malicious and intentional destruction of the wildlife and tourism asset by Mutambara and his group not considered economic sabotage?

“How can international investors and foreign governments support a government some of whose members are destroying the very tourism destination that the UNWTO is supposed to promote and foster?” he queried.

“As an investor I can clearly state that investing in good faith after being encouraged by the highest office in the country in 1992 was a grave mistake,” said Pabst.

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi.Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

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