Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi says the decision by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to ban elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe required Zimbabwe to assess its empowerment policies.
Mzembi, who urged a soft stance approach to the parcelling of wildlife conservancies to indigenous blacks, said the issue needed “very sober introspection from all those involved” for the benefit of the country.
His approach contradicts Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who in his capacity as the wildlife authority is pushing to indigenise the sector especially the controversial Save Valley Conservancy, which was allocated to top Zanu PF officials last year.
This could have led to the USFWS ban on elephant trophies, according to officials.
But, Mzembi believes instead of being combative, Kasukuwere needed to adopt an all-inclusive approach to develop the industry.
He said the ban gave Zimbabwe an opportunity to assess its empowerment policies and see whether they were beneficial to the country or powerful individuals.
In an interview, Mzembi said: “There is need for self-introspection. Tourism is a peace industry. We want to manage wildlife for posterity. Every sector should work together with others. No ministry can do everything by it self unilaterally.
“This ban did not happen when (previous Environment minister Francis) Nhema was at the ministry. So one would want to ask: Is there something we are now not doing right? While we need to de-racialise the wildlife industry, it must be done methodically. No need not to antagonise anyone.
We must learn, understand the industry first. I support empowerment of individuals, but not the same old faces.”
Mzembi added there was need to maintain zero tolerance on poaching across the country’s parks’ estates.
“Most of the offer letters for conservancies in Masvingo were nullified, and so everything must start afresh. As much as we know, no one holds a valid offer letter in that province no matter their station in society,” Mzembi said.
“If they bulldoze their way, we will stand up to them. No matter what clothing the minister puts on, in this $66 million safari industry we will stand up against them, against unilateralism.”
Last year, top Zanu PF officials were reportedly awarded offer letters for Save Valley Conservancy at the expense of the communities living alongside the largest man-made wildlife sanctuary in the country.
Mzembi said: “The Zanu PF politburo cancelled all the offer letters. If anyone still pushes their way, it is illegal. We believe in collective responsibility, so no one holds a valid offer letter vis-à-vis Save Valley Conservancy. We must come up with a business model that promotes development – not to destroy. Tourism is sensitive, let us keep it that way.
“The issue was discussed in Cabinet and in the politburo. An inter-ministerial committee was formed and we went to Save Valley. We are very mindful of unilateral decisions in Masvingo, and we will scuttle that. It doesn’t matter what clothing the minister is putting on, we do not allow that.”
Although Kasukuwere was not available for comment yesterday, last week he blasted the US ban saying he continue to push to de-racialise the wildlife industry.
“It’s completely unreasonable for communities that have been surviving on Campfire projects as the hunting proceeds benefited communities living alongside the wildlife resource,” Kasukuwere said.
Safari Club International (SCI) – a not-for-profit international organisation that promotes sustainable utilisation of wildlife resource through sport hunting – has piled pressure on the USFWS to review its ban on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.
In response to the USFWS’ decision last week to unilaterally ban the importation of sport-hunted elephants from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, SCI president Craig Kauffman wrote USFWS director Dan Ashe requesting that they immediately rescind the decision or risk losing elephants forever.
Kauffman urged the 55 000-strong members to oppose the ban by declaring May 8, as SCI congressional lobby day on Capitol Hill so that the hunter voices could be heard.
He said SCI was also looking at every legal and legislative venue to force the USFWS to rescind its decision to ban sport-hunted elephant imports from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
Sport hunting employs an estimated 3 700 people and supports over 88 000 families in the country.