The gaping cavity in dense forests and plantations in Chimanimani is one of thousands being gouged today in the Eastern Highlands at the base of Chimanimani mountains — a region that is among the most bio-diverse and until recently, pristine environments in the country.
All told, the Eastern highlands basin holds perhaps a quarter of the country’s terrestrial species; its trees are the engine of perhaps 7% of photosynthesis occurring on landmasses; and countless species, including plants and insects, have yet to be identified.
In the area alone while no one knows for certain the total acreage that has been ravaged, thousands, possibly much more, have been razed.
The destruction is more absolute than that caused by ranching or logging, which accounts, at least for now, for vastly more forest loss.
Allied Timbers chief executive Joseph Kanyekanye argued they have lost over $200million in timber due to uncoordinated harvests and environment damage to the plantations. It takes over 25 years for thickets to mature.
Said Kanyekanye, who is fighting a lone battle: “We need to protect our forests so that Zimbabwe doesn’t import timber. All our forests here are government property covered under the Forest Act. This is corruption of the highest order. This is stealing away from the coming generation. From a logical point of view, what these politicians, war veterans and chiefs are doing is corruption because they are not doing this out of shortage of land, but greed. They are literally coming here to steal.”
Kanyekanye last week accused politicians and traditional chiefs of stealing, and castigated them for settling communities in the forests destroying the wooded area at the expense of the country’s economy. No one has responded to him.
Furthermore, police have reportedly refused to assist in evicting “trespassers” because it is too hot a political issue. But the reality on the ground is the settlers are plundering what they did not work for.
With huge Stihl chain saws they are cutting down trees that may be thousands of years old and not re-greening the forests, effectively stealing from the future generations.
They have also established makeshift sawmills and harvest timber worth millions in the forests.
The chain saw crews also set fires, making way for more pits and shifting cultivation. Not only are the settlers, gold or diamond miners burning the forest, they are stripping away the surface of the earth.
The number of settlers in plantations has swelled to over 3 000. But these settlers reportedly have the blessings of war veterans and traditional chiefs.
Traditional chiefs who have allocated land in the plantations include Chief Ngorima and Chief Chikukwa.
At the same time, they are contaminating rivers and streams, as mercury, used in separating gold, leaches into the watershed. Ultimately, the potent toxin, taken up by fish, enters the food chain.
Systemically, pollution, population growth and climate change are not in the distant future, they are occurring now and hitting the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.
And environmental degradation in forms such as desertification, resource depletion and demographic pressure exacerbates tensions and instability.
This saliently captures resources variables that define and cumulatively make up much of the natural resources conflict phenomenon in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular.
Natural resources have perhaps played a major role in defining much of our public arena including power politics, resource distribution and gerrymandering strategies in much of the country’s public administration domain.
The tiff in Chimanimani comes hot on the hills of yet another fight by the Marange community over the diamond-rich Chiadzwa. The community is being resettled somewhere in Arda Transau.
Traditional chiefs in Chimanimani are arguing their forefathers were relocated from the plantations hence their move back into the forests where they are now pillaging the forest resource for selfish gains.
Should this be allowed going forward? Natural resources have in many parts of Africa motivated and fuelled armed conflicts and this has proved to be a hurdle in effective statecraft, while in times of full-scale conflict it has been a hindrance to peace processes from the negotiation stage all the way through to the mediation stage and post-conflict reconstruction or peace-making stages.
These can also be connected to the acquisition, use and proliferation of small arms and little weapons a situation that has exploited the negative opportunities provided by globalisation.
As a result natural resources have provided a
parallel political economy fuelling wars and conflicts.
This is true of the illegal exploitation of diamonds in Sierra Leone and the use of the profits from illicit diamond sales to procure small arms and light weapons and thus sustain the conflict across the border in Liberia’s insurgence.
While Chiadzwa diamonds may not be classified as conflict gems, environmental crimes have therefore essentially taken place in geopolitical spaces where the state’s legitimacy as the supreme authority over the natural resource is challenged.
From another perspective climate change which is a major independent variable in the whole debate of natural resources conflicts in Africa is another burden on the continent.
It expands purviews of environmental security, threatens the very basis of national security and escalates social conflicts.
However it is important to note that the phenomenon of natural resources is extremely complex, and just like any social conflict debate, a mono-casual link of natural resources conflicts to climate change would not provide the basis for either a thorough conflict analysis or a proper understanding of natural resources conflict and peace management.
It is clear natural resources conflicts are an intrinsic part of larger social conflicts and seeks to provide a link between natural resources and social conflicts.