EASTERN NEWS | Rare Vumba habitat under threat

MUTARE - The future existence of Vumba tropical rainforest’s rare habitat — home to the dwarf chameleon, Simango monkey and blue duiker — is increasingly getting threatened due to high vegetation loss.

The forest’s pristine fauna and flora has been ravaged by illegal settlers and poachers.

While the firewood poachers and squatter settlements have caused significant damage to the environment, government’s haphazard relocation programmes have also dealt a blow, as displaced people clear the rainforest to create agricultural land.

The forest, in spite of all its fame, is not a gazetted forest, like Chirinda Forest, exposing it to exploitation by individuals, communities and companies.

Its Msasa woodlands and Montane forests are being cleared and are now retreating further into the misty mountains, limiting the freedom of the rare Simango monkey, while snares littering the forest floors threaten the uncommon little Blue Duiker and the unique dwarf chameleon, among other species.

The forest’s impressive catalogue of insects, birds and animal life is also under threat.

Vumba is key to both neighbouring Mozambique and Zimbabwe’s river systems, as some major water bodies have their sources in the mountains.

The famous Chikamba Dam in neighbouring Mozambique is supplied from the mountain.

The banana crop in Burma Valley is irrigated from rivers whose sources are in the mountain.

It is the source of Mupudzi River, which feeds the aptly named Mupudzi Dam, and goes further to supply Odzi and Save, boosting capacity to supply irrigation schemes dependent on the mighty transnational river.

And loss of vegetation in the Vumba Mountains threatens all this.

Vumba’s unique ecology can be a major attraction for ecotourism, which can offer the entire Eastern Highlands sustainable income, if kept pristine and natural.

Environment Africa’s country director, Barnabas Mawire, said he is at a loss for words on the wanton decimation, which he said was now common country wide.

“It’s very sad. We should be more kind to these life supporting systems,” he said.

Forestry Commission (FC) provincial manager Phillip Tomu told the Daily News that his organisation was worried that the damage was not going to be easily repaired.

“Its recovery is going to be a challenge. It’s different from the Miyombo (dry land forests). It’s a moist forest which doesn’t tolerate openings as it thrives on trapping moisture under its canopy,” Tomu said.

Locals say the introduction of tobacco farming by resettled farmers was another major threat to the area’s vegetation.

“Government was acting irresponsibly by allowing any form of agricultural activities in this region.

“How could they allow tobacco farming in this area?

“The whole country is going to suffer huge environmental losses because of the desire to make money through a few cigarettes,” a local government employee said on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation.

Tobacco farming is notorious for causing the decimation of the country’s forests.

FC reports blame tobacco farming for the loss of 20 percent of the country’s 350 000 hectare of forests annually.

Investigations by this publication also showed that a key stakeholder like FC was not represented in the lands committee that determines allocation of resettlement land.

This has previously seen resettled people disrupting timber plantations in Mutasa at Meikles Eucalyptus Estate and in Chimanimani at Tarka Forest, where a community was settled in the middle of a plantation.

In a previous interview, a local volunteer expressed gloom over efforts to preserve the Vumba Forest as its threat was tied to “basic survival scenarios”.

DB Blaauw, a volunteer consultant for Wildlife Environment Protection Unit, a project under the Vumba Green Fund, which is facilitated by Environment Africa and the Tikki Hywood Trust, said education alone was not enough.

“You get people who are seriously desperate for land… So even with education, it is about survival. That’s the problem,” Blaauw said, adding that animal and fish poaching are a critical source of protein for locals.

“Man is always the top predator but we are just trying to give the other guys a chance,” Blaauw said.



‘HIV eradication miles away’

HEALTH experts are still miles away from eradicating the HIV pandemic in the near future, a top British paediatrician and researcher, Geoff Foster, has said.

Foster, who formed one of Zimbabwe’s first HIV organisations — Family Aids Caring Trust (Fact) — in 1987 after treating an increasing number of infants affected by the deadly virus, said he sees HIV posing challenges decades from now.

“I think that despite the advances that are taking place in vaccine development and more effective anti-retroviral treatment, HIV will continue to be a problem 30 years from now,” Foster said during a Fact function here recently.

Foster has published over 50 research papers on HIV/ Aids, and has led international researches on projects, together with the World Health Organisation, on elimination of paediatric Aids.

He was given an order of merit by Queen Elizabeth for his sterling work in HIV management in Zimbabwe.

However, he expressed optimism that the virus could be kept under check through behaviour change models that emphasise fidelity.

Foster said the approach was the reason why the country managed to drastically reduce HIV prevalence among adults.

“Zimbabwe has seen a remarkable reduction in its HIV epidemic. In year 2000, about a third of adults were HIV-infected, nowadays, going back to the past five or six years, the rate has fallen.

“The main reason for this development, which is supported by research, was changes in sexual behaviour, particularly extra-marital affairs,” Foster said.

He added that churches play a crucial role in the successful implementation of the behavioural change model.

“Churches in Zimbabwe play a major role in promoting marital faithfulness and abstinence,” Foster said, adding that this was clearly revealed by the lack of reduction in the epidemic in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana, which were promoting condom use as their main strategy.

“Zimbabwe’s reduction in HIV infections contrasts sharply with that of South Africa and Botswana...just promoting condom use often promotes extramarital sex,” Foster said.



Boost for Manicaland bodybuilding

THE Manicaland Body Building and Fitness Association (MBBFA) has introduced a new competition — the Manicaland Classic — which it hopes will give local athletes a platform to showcase their talent.

MBBFA secretary-general Sibangani “Siba” Guzha, who runs Body Focus Gym, said the competition is meant to promote the sport right from the grassroots up to senior level.

The contest to be held at the Mutare Holiday Inn on September 2, will have four categories — Junior Men Under-23, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Bikini and Senior Men Open.

“We are trying to elevate our athletes to be appreciated; to turn them into professionals. We can only do this by supporting the sport from the grassroots,” Guzha said.

“We have also invited athletes from across the country to take part in this contest.”

Guzha said he decided to come up with the contest after noticing the vast talent on show in Mutare and surrounding areas.

Some of the athletes that pump iron at his Body Focus Gym include current Mr Ironman Zimbabwe Blessing Saunyama and reigning Mr Zimbabwe Fitness Chamunorwa Marange.

“The first sponsorship in bodybuilding is to find somewhere to train from and that is what my gym has been offering,” Guzha said.

“I have not been getting anything from their participation in national competitions where they have been doing very well but I’ve just been supporting them for the love of the sport.”

Reigning Mr Zimbabwe champion Paul Goredema is expected to be a guest poser at the contest while five-time Mr Mutare champion Brighton Mazikana is also scheduled to take part.

Guzha said he hopes the contest will also get endorsement from corporate sponsors from the province.

“We are trying to reach out to corporate sponsors but we need to be more professional so that they understand us,” he said.

“I believe if we run the sport more professionally we can bring them on board.”



Hoteliers wary of veld fires

HOSPITALITY concerns have expressed concern over the growing number of veld fires in Mutare, with Musangano Lodge saying the dangerous occurrences were threatening the industry’s viability and environment.

Musangano Lodge general manager, Leonard Bwanya, said veld fires were affecting their tourism packages, which include nature walks.

“We are concerned that we may soon be fighting fires all around us at the rate at which people are wantonly burning bushes,” he said.

He said while their property is protected by well-maintained fire guards, their visitors’ experiences were meant to be enhanced by a natural environment.

“Although we try to secure our property with fire guards, our product is enhanced by an intact environment and we often see ourselves battling these wild fires and having perpetrators prosecuted,” the hotelier said.

Bwanya alleged that the recently relocated families in nearby Arda Transau were behind some nasty veld fires, as they torched the indigenous forests to clear the way for poaching expeditions.

“We had some of them prosecuted and last year we didn’t have as many challenges and we are hoping they will give us peace again this year,” he said.

He said the extent of fires in areas around Mutare was the reason for their panicking.

“All areas around Mutare have been on fire in the past week and we are just hoping that the trend does not spread to our area. The full value of our products is fully enjoyed when we have the vegetation cover we have right now.”

He said tourists would often run into wild antelopes, wild pigs and other small game during nature trails around their property, experiences that are now under threat due to the veld fires.

Game population has now been greatly reduced due to the practice, coupled with poaching.



Calls to demilitarise Grand Reef increase

THE chorus to have the Grand Reef Airport (GRA) demilitarised is getting louder, with Mutare business leaders joining tourism players in latest calls demanding the move.

GRA is an airport serving Mutare city. The runway is 20km west of Mutare, which is adjacent to the city.

The community argues that demilitarisation of the aviation facility would end the eastern border city’s isolation and make it easily accessible to tourists — both domestic and local.

Former Inns of Zimbabwe chairperson, Gordon Addams, has been on the forefront in calling for the establishment of a commercial airport in the city to unlock its full economic potential.

The lobbyists have launched a marketing and promotional campaign designed to bring the town at par with other major cities like Harare, Gweru, Bulawayo, Masvingo and even Chiredzi, which have airports.

Mutare businessman John Sanhanga, who is now leading the campaign, said Manicaland’s potential was being hamstrung by its lack of air connectivity, which facilitates ease of doing business.

“Manicaland is endowed with vast business opportunities but the province and the nation cannot grow when Mutare does not have an airport to boost these investment opportunities,” he said.

Although Mutare has an aerodrome, Sanhanga, like Addams, insists GRA must be turned into a commercial airport.

“The availability of this airport will increase tourist inflows, generate employment and improve the stock of infrastructure for the eastern border city,” he argued.

“We are the people and we should now make sure this thing happens. I know there are investors waiting for this opportunity and we should now work together and come up with ideas to have this airport converted.

“The government will also come on board if it sees how serious we are,” said Sanhanga.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries vice president Richard Chiwandire said industry was fully behind the initiative.

“We fully support this initiative and what is needed is that everyone who is involved in this should now be pro-active.

“The availability of the airport will be a key resource to development in Manicaland,” he said.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe Manicaland chapter chairperson Clive Chinwada, said commercialising the airport would unlock the Eastern Highlands’ tourism potential.

“Modern tourists want to fly to a resort. They don’t want to land in Harare and then have to drive to Mutare and Nyanga and face the constant hustles of road travel,” he said.

Affirmative Action Group Manicaland chapter chairperson Fungai Chayeruka challenged government to embrace the call as it would help fulfil its commitment as spelt out in its much taunted socio-economic blue print — Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation document.

“As a business grouping, we know of people in various spheres who are eager to join us on this campaign and we are now calling for the proper implementation of various ideas in as far as the construction of this airport is concerned,” he said.


Hubby faces jail for selling wife’s car

A LOCAL businessman has been ordered by the courts to restitute his wife’s vehicle, which he sold without her consent, or face a five-month jail stint.

Irvin Chinowaita, who resides at Cottage 1, Nyazura, was convicted on his own plea of guilt by magistrate Perseverance Makala.

He was initially sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment, but five months were suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour, with the other five suspended on condition that he restitutes the value of the vehicle.

Chinowaita was charged with unreasonable disposal of household property in violation of Section 4 as read with Section 3(1) (k) of the Domestic Violence Act.

It was the State’s case that Chinowaita drove off with the vehicle on July 10 at around 7am, while she took a bath, and disposed of it.

The vehicle — valued at $4 500 — belonged to his wife.

Nothing was recovered.

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