By Kevin Heath
Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe Minister for Tourism and Hospitality, has made many high-ranking enemies recently as he tries to make Zimbabwe an important wildlife tourism destination. His opposition to on-going repatriation of lands to high-ranking officials, especially in the Lowveld region, has led to some calling him traitorous to the Zanu-PF cause.
Others such as Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere were more lenient in their opposition to his stance and claimed he was being childish in his attitude to the re-allocation of land in places such as the Save Valley Conservancy. Now in an unexpected move it seems that Mzembi has not just made high-ranking enemies but he has made some even more powerful friends.
The ruling committee of the Zanu-PF is set to announce that party officials, military generals and politicians who have seized land in the conservancy should move out and no more land in the conservancy is to be seized.
With wildlife conservancies and sanctuaries in Zimbabwe offering high returns for party officials – especially by turning a blind eye to illegal hunting of wildlife by wealthy foreign hunter – it remains to be seen if those who have received land in the conservancy will be prepared to hand it back over.
The move is a major coup though for Mzembi who has pushed for greater protection for wildlife in the country and who was controversially made the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Commission for Africa (CAF)chairman late last year.
Mzembi said the election of Zimbabwe to chair CAF was a vote of confidence in the country’s leadership and diplomatic skills in the tourism sector “demonstrated during executive membership of the UNWTO in the last four years. It’s a global endorsement of brand Zimbabwe.”
Mzembi seemed to be a lone voice in Zimbawe’s Zanu-PF party in calling for a less ‘invasive’ land management and re-allocation in the Lowveld in order to protect the growing tourism industry in the country. Now that he has the backing of the ruling committee he is in a much stronger position to put in place a broad-based land and sustainable land-management policy that offers a better deal for wildlife and fairer access to the resources that the conservancy can offer to people.