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Feature: Sadc loses iconic conservationist

Local News
The late director of Zimbabwe Campfire Association, Charles Jonga

THE director of Zimbabwe Campfire Association, Charles Jonga’s death on May 6, 2023, signalled Sadc’s loss of an important wildlife conservation voice in the media.

In an interview this week, former Campfire chairpersonand president of the Hwange Painted Dog Project, Jerry Gotora said Jonga succumbed to prostate cancer.

Gotora said Jonga served as director of the Campfire Association since May 1997.

“He was a strong sustainable use champion who was committed and dedicated to empowering communities and it will be difficult to find a replacement. Campfire is poorer without him,” said alderman Gotora.

Apart from being the director of the Campfire Association, Jonga was the vice-chairperson of the pro-hunting and pro-sustainable use southern Africa Community Leaders Network (CLN).

In his condolence message to the Jonga family, the Zambia-based CLN chairperson Rodgers Lubilo said; “As the CLN we join the Jonga family, Campfire Association and friends in the Sadc region and worldwide in grieving together.”

 Lubilo said Jonga was "an icon, a legend and exemplary leader for community conservation and inspired young conservation leaders”.

“Comrade Charles taught us to be determined, passionate and to embrace the desired need for change that is beneficial to the local communities,” said Lubilo who attended a wildlife-revenue-built school in South Luangwa, Zambia.

Jonga was actively involved in the media debates aimed at showing the benefits of international hunting to a world that is largely misled by the animal rights fundraising industry which always argues that "hunting is not good for wildlife and the people."

Yet, hard evidence of international hunting benefits exists in Masoka, one of the Campfire hunting communities that Jonga worked with.

 In Masoka, international hunting revenue

was used to build a secondary school that produced medical doctors, nurses, accountants, teachers, technicians, and other related professionals that are further contributing to the economic wellbeing of Zimbabwe.

This is what hunting produces socio-economically. Most importantly, international hunting revenue supports habitat conservation and helps to maintain sustainable wildlife population growth in Sadc hunting communities.

Meanwhile, the remaining southern African conservationists are being challenged to continue explaining the benefits of international hunting and all forms of trade in wildlife products such as ivory trade, in the media. 

Why should we have hope that those who survived Jonga can continue actively engaging in international hunting media debates to ensure the wellbeing of African wildlife, its habitat and the people of wildlife-rich Sadc region?

We take you back in history and explain what new communication technology can do, to make you understand why Sadc hunting communities’ voices in the media debates can no longer be silenced.

The voices of southern African hunting communities were completely silenced in the media worldwide when the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) cut funding to the Sadc Community Based Natural Resources Management Programme (Sadc NRMP) at the start of the 21st century.

Before the USAid withdrew funding from the Sadc, NRMP a Zimbabwe-based NGO, the Africa Resources Trust ran a USAid-funded project to take journalists from all over the world to give news coverage on the benefits of community-based natural resources management, particularly the benefits of international hunting to wildlife and habitat conservation.

At that time the Sadc hunting communities’ voices could be heard in all media platforms, countering the endless animal rights groups' fundraising industry propaganda that demonised international hunting.

After an almost eight-year silence from the media because of the absence of the USAid-Sadc NRMP funding that also supported media coverage on the region’s hunting communities, the accessible and affordable WhatsApp technology was fortunately invented in 2009. It gave Sadc hunting communities back their voices in media debates on international hunting.


Journalists can now contact and interview the Sadc hunting communities cheaply using WhatsApp, revealing the benefits of international hunting. But such revelations are bad news to the animal rights fundraising activists because the truth told by direct beneficiaries of international hunting weakens their anti-hunting propaganda.

 In the long-term, it could collapse their fundraising initiatives. But the animal rights groups don’t want to have their fundraising industry collapsed.

Therefore, they have now started introducing new ways to silence the voices of Sadc hunting communities in the media as recently observed by a University of Witwatersrand professor.

“Some African media organisations are promoting animal rights groups’ anti-sustainable use of African wildlife products at the expense of poor and voice-less communities,” said Tumai Murombo of the Wits University Nelson Mandela Law School. “This is of great concern.”

He was speaking at the May 2018 International Wildlife Management Politics lecture presented by the managing director of the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute, Godfrey Harris.

Elsewhere,  an Oxford University Phd researcher and conservation economist, Michael ’t Sas-Rolfes from South Africa also recently revealed that he had established in his investigative research that seven South African journalists in different cities of the country, including Johannesburg and Cape Town, “are on Western animal rights groups payrolls.”

“These South African journalists are hired to oppose hunting and trade in wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn,” said Michael ’t Sas-Rolfes.

Yet, the journalistic ethics demand the need to tell the truth and write in the public interest. I leave that to the professors of journalism to confirm.

Meanwhile, environmental NGOs in both South Africa and Namibia have started complaining about some of the very established media outlets’ non-publication of stories related to ivory and rhino horn trade as well as wildlife hunting, despite having great news value.

In this mix of international wildlife management politics media debate where the necessity of international hunting to wildlife and habitat conservation is being needlessly demonised, we see WhatsApp technology empowering Sadc hunting communities to counter this propaganda. How does this happen? The Sadc hunting communities can now contact journalists such as this writer, any time of the day to break news of never-seen-before international hunting benefits. They also share information on the challenges such as human-wildlife conflict, especially when elephants kill defenceless villagers.

The WhatsApp communication technology has also made it possible for journalists anywhere in the world to interview Sadc hunting communities, even via a video call and see  the international hunting conservation and development benefits on the ground. This has made it possible for Sadc hunting communities to expose lies that the animal rights groups continue to tell about international hunting.

Journalists can now speak to hunting communities without having to pay large amounts for travel, accommodation, food and incidentals. A newsgathering trip that could cost a journalist from New York, London, Washington, Belgium or Geneva no less that US$10 000 is now a WhatsApp call away. If you want photographic evidence about how communities are benefiting from international hunting, they will provide it. Even videos can be sent to  television journalists. The language barrier is no longer a challenge. International hunting revenue-built schools and bursaries have almost wiped out levels of illiteracy in southern African hunting communities. This has made it possible to communicate with most people in a hunting community in English.

If journalists worldwide increasingly interview the Sadc hunting communities cheaply via WhatsApp and other  affordable social media platforms, the animal rights activists' lies and media capture might soon have a "crash-landing".

With time, all the Westerners who donate money to the animal rights fundraising industry and think that that it’s a progressive and benevolent act shall soon learn that their donations are ironically helping to violate the human and sovereign rights of the Sadc hunting communities and governments, by restricting them from enjoying full benefits from international hunting.

 A case in point is the shutting down of the United Kingdom hunting market where a  Hunting Trophies Import Ban Bill was voted for by the animal rights fundraising industry and British parliamentarians. They engaged in this moment of madness despite appeals from Sadc hunting communities (including the late Jonga) and even British scientists not to go ahead with such an African wildlife and people-harming decision. The African communities would rather kill and not conserve wildlife as long as they pay for its costs without benefits.

Right now the fate of African wildlife, its habitat and African people lies in the hands of the British House of Lords that should this month; endorse or reject the British Parliamentarians’ decision to introduce a Hunting Trophies Import Ban Bill. What this means is that the Bill will cause diminished hunting benefits to Sadc hunting communities.

However, the British should not think that their ill-advised Bill will ever stop hunting in Africa. The US is the largest and richest hunting market for Africa. As long as the hunting dollars from the Americans continue to flow into African hunting communities to benefit conservation and development,  the British shall be long forgotten but not forgiven by the African hunting communities.

“I don’t think hunting will ever end in Africa and that is because we have embraced, it’s part of our tradition, it’s part of our culture and we are seeing  the conservation  benefits from it,”  said a Zambian university student and conservationist Bupe Banda-Mhango. “To people who are introducing policies that would ban hunting in Africa I think that is unfair because that is like removing bread from their mouth as somebody told me from the community.”



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