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Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy, Indigenisation And ‘The Lie Of The Land — By Takura Zhangazha

Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy, Indigenisation And ‘The Lie Of The Land — By Takura Zhangazha

http://africanarguments.org

September 6, 2012

On the surface of it, it would appear that the political dispute over the 
Save Valley Conservancy in South Eastern Zimbabwe is yet another story of 
‘illegal land-grabs’. It must however be said at the onset that this is an 
understandable perception given the controversy and violence that has come 
to be associated with our government’s land reform policies since the year 
2000. The fault for such a perception resides with the same said government 
and I do not hold a brief to assist it in changing how its policies are 
viewed globally or domestically. It is however important that the issue of 
the Save Conservancy not be lost in the conundrum of typical debate about 
land conflict and/or reform in Zimbabwe. This is because it is more 
complicated than what is currently being placed in the public domain.
Evidently, and as has been reported in the media, there are four points of 
conflict over and about this safari area. The first being that of the broad 
policy of the Zimbabwean government to pursue indigenisation of the national 
economy. In this, the government has insisted that all sectors of the 
economy must be placed into indigenous ownership. Given the fact that parts 
of the conservancy are managed by some local state and private entities in 
partnership with foreign nationals, it appears that the Zimbabwe Community 
Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) is not immune 
from indigenisation . In response, the European Union has issued a warning 
that it may renew sanctions on Zimbabwe over this matter. This of course is 
in keeping with the contemporary narrative of our government’s international 
relations and domestic policies.
The second point of conflict over the Save Conservancy has been between the 
political parties in the inclusive government. The two MDCs in government 
have denounced not only the broader methodology of economic empowerment but 
also specifically the takeover of the conservancy through the same policy 
and by persons perceived to be functionaries of Zanu Pf.
This also leads us to the third and rather surprising node of conflict 
surrounding this matter. This being that of the Zanu Pf intra-party 
divisions over the allocation of parts of the conservancy that have 
reportedly required the intervention of Vice President Mujuru. The fourth 
and perhaps most important point of dispute over the Save Valley Conservancy 
has now been reported as coming from traditional chiefs who are arguing that 
any redistribution of the land there must not be only for the bigwigs but 
must benefit the community.
This claim by the chiefs should however be accepted with caution as it is 
not clear whom and whose interests they are representing. Fundamentally 
however, all of the four nodes of disagreement have some sort of tentative 
acknowledgement that whatever happens, the conservancy must benefit the 
‘community’ and this is a point that must be debated honestly.
The general narrative about conservancies has been about preserving wildlife 
both for environmental reasons or alternatively touristic and game hunting 
profitable endeavors. As akin to our forestry protection policies,which are 
largely a carry over of colonial policy, conservancies are protected 
particularly from what have been perceived to be the ‘marauding’ locals who 
are deemed to have a limited understanding of either the environment or the 
wildlife that they live in close proximity with. (Hence some of the 
statements from the incumbents at the Save Conservancy that some of those 
that wish to take over do not understand a thing about running safaris).
Further still, even those that have been in partnerships or those that 
intend to politically take over the conservancy have not shifted in their 
approach to the same ‘local community’. As it was in the beginning of the 
laying of the boundaries between villages and the wildlife/forestry areas 
before independence, so it has remained. This even in the aftermath of the 
once much celebrated Campfire which has demonstrated the patent ineptitude 
of many a rural district council since its inception in 1989. In effect, all 
players in this new environmental/safari tourism cum political contest have 
essentially become part players in what is referred to in some academic 
circles as the lie of the land ( an unquestioning acceptance of statistical 
data from environmental and other NGOs that Africa’s rural poor damage their 
own environment). This has been the underlying reason why local communities 
are barely in with a chance of benefiting from such projects. This is 
especially so when one looks at the example of displacements of people from 
Matopos to the Gwaai Shangani forests and their subsequent placement under 
another Campfire project in their new locations after independence 
(ostensibly to protect the elephants and other wildlife).
In extending its indigenisation programme to conservancies, the government 
has not demonstrated a thorough re-examination of its Campfire programmes 
thus far and is not necessarily seeking to depart from ‘colonial’ policy 
understanding of the interaction between environmental/natural resources and 
the country’s citizens. The Save Conservancy debacle is the latest proof of 
this. To seek to merely want to replace existing owners of the wildlife 
sanctuary and assume that is ‘progress’ is thoroughly inadequate. 
Simultaneously to talk of community share ownership trusts without a 
thorough re-examination of Campfire’s successes and failures is to give 
false hope (if any) to communities in the vicinity of the area.
The primary challenge is now not only about managing the narrative of 
investor confidence ahead of the Untied Nations World Tourism Organisation 
conference. Instead, it is of the urgent need for the country and government 
to depart from the exclusionary policies of the colonial past not by way of 
displacement or replacement but by wholesale democratic reform of the manner 
in which our natural resources are managed in the best public interest. This 
would begin with an evident understanding that what is happening in Save is 
a proverbial case of the grass suffering while the elephants fight in order 
for things to remain the same.
^ Phrase ‘Lie of the land’ title taken from the title of the book by 
Melissa Leach and Robin Mearns, eds. The Lie of the Land: Challenging 
Received Wisdom on the African Environment Oxford: James Currey and 
Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1996.
* Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity. 
(takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

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