By Garikai Mafirakureva
THE European Union (EU) has reportedly withdrawn its €16 million offer for development of infrastructure for protection of wildlife in the vast Save Valley Conservancy over Zimbabwe government’s reluctance to end land invasions and respect property rights.
The EU extended the offer three years ago in a bid to make the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) project a success, but government could not guarantee protection of property rights in order to access the fund.
Environment, Tourism and Hospitality permanent secretary Munesu Munodawafa confirmed the development in a recent interview, but was quick to say that government has since resumed talks with EU to consider using the money for related projects in the country.
He was at pains to explain why government was not willing to take up the offer at a time President Emmerson Mnangagwa was pushing the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra at almost every international platform he is invited to address.
“The situation at the moment is that the European Union has officially decommissioned the fund for Save Valley Conservancy after the three-year period of offer lapsed. What this means is that we can no longer access that fund for Save Valley projects unless we re-engage EU.
“The government is continuing to engage the EU to see if we can agree whether to use the money for other projects or to reconsider the Save Valley project. The money has not yet been withdrawn from the country. We are hoping that by February next year (this year) talks between the government and the EU will be complete,” Munodawafa said.
The main purpose of the fund was to erect a perimeter fence along the GLTP corridor that would enable wild animals from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique to move freely across the borders in the giant park.
Some properties in Save Valley are owned by investors from EU member countries under Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs), but the government of Zimbabwe failed to respect the agreements and property rights after it turned a blind eye on the invasion of the properties in the conservancy during the land reform, leading to the conservancy losing over 30% of its prime land to newly-settled farmers.
The conservancy was forced to relocate over 500 elephants, 1 500 impalas, lions and wild dogs to Chizarira National Park in Gokwe’s Sengwa Gorge area and two other privately-owned game parks in Mashonaland West and Central provinces due to overpopulation.
However, it remains to be seen if the re-engagement efforts will yield any positive results as government policies on land and property ownership rights remain unclear. Just recently, Vice-President Kembo Mohadi told a Zanu PF national conference in Goromonzi that government would intensify its land grab for the benefit of landless youths.
Efforts to get comments from EU head of delegation in Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen proved fruitless as his phone was not reachable.
GLTP is a 35 000km² peace park that links the Limpopo National Park (formerly known as Coutada 16) in Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe, as well as the area between Kruger and Gonarezhou, the Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe and the Makuleke region in South Africa.