from PATRICK CHITONGO in Chiredzi, Zimbabwe
CHIREDZI – AN almost two-decade deadlock between conservancy owners and Zimbabwean villagers that forcibly occupied parts of one of the biggest sanctuaries in the country has at last been resolved, paving way for the establishment of one of the world’s biggest inter-country park.
The resolution of the deadlock this past weekend will enable the creation of the much-anticipated Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park linking major parks in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean villagers that invaded the Gonarezhou National Park at the height of the land invasions in 2000 had failed to vacate the land while the cash-strapped government could not facilitate their relocation.
A resolution has been reached at a hotel in the town of Chiredzi with the conservancy and villagers on standoff issues that includes the relocation of the latter.
It is anticipated the European Union (EU) would release €12 million ($13.45 million) it was withholding after an earlier pledge to spearhead conservation and tourism activities at Save Valley.
The offer was set to expire at the end of this month (July).
Steven Vos, Chief Operation Officer for Save Valley Conservancy, proposed a model that would see the organisation uplift of communities through infrastructure development such as schools, clinics and roads wherever the villagers would be settled.
He said the intended conservancy project would enhance the tourism industry and promote Zimbabwe’s quest for re-engangement with the global community.
“Investors can invest where there are clear policies by government on land tenure. An agreement between our two parties to co-exist is a charm to international investment as well as re-engangement with the international community,” Steven said.
Roy Bhilla, Member of Parliament for Chiredzi North, played a key role in the breakthrough.
He spent the previous week engaging adamant villagers, assuring them they would be relocated in permissible areas around the conservancy. He assured them of the aforementioned benefits.
“I have been having sleepless nights trying to find solutions to this standoff since government is concerned not to let the (EU) money go. My task is now easier because we have agreed to have this project kick off,” Bhila said.
Chief Gudo, who also attended the meeting, hailed the resolution and pledged his support to the initiative.
“I am now in support of the proposal because conservancy owners and government had indicated that none of my people will lose their land permanently since they will be assisted to settle elsewhere. This has been the most sticking issue,” he said.
The agreement between villagers and conservancy owners will clear a path for Save Valley to have 320 000 hectares of conservation land.
Weldon Schenck, Chairman for Save Valley Conservancy, said his organisation would embark on a five-year plan to restore sanity at the conservancy.
“At the moment the conservancy is in shambles,” he said.
Villagers have over the years tempered with some infrastructure such as fencing. There have been rampant poaching.
“Now that we have reached common ground, we are going to plan on how we can make the conservancy great again. We have the knowledge and ideas on how to take conservation and tourism back to normal,” Schenck said.
Save Valley is one the internationally recognised animal sanctuaries.
Its problems created some bad relations between government and the international community.
Most of the facilities in the conservancy are under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) with South Africa.
BIPPA exempts South African investments in Zimbabwe from takeover.
The Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park will link South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou and Mozambique’s Limpopo national parks culminating in 350 000 km2 park.
– CAJ News