Accused hunter denies ‘damaging’ claims of illegal activity
By Alex Bell
19 October 2012
A former Zimbabwean based hunter who was named among a group of professionals allegedly involved in illegal activity in the country, has strongly denied the claims, calling them seriously damaging.
The hunters were named in a recently released confidential diplomatic cable created by the US Embassy in Zim in 2008, which has since been released by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks. The cable quotes the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) as raising concerns that the hunters had links to top ZANU PF officials and were being given hunting licences by National Parks under pressure from its politicised board.
The US Embassy cable said that this illicit parcelling out of hunting licences was part of ZANU PF’s strategy to grab as many resources as possible ahead of the 2008 elections. The cable warned that hunting “has long been a source of ill-gotten revenue for members of the ZANU PF elite, and given the ongoing resource grab, it is not surprising that new hunting schemes have developed to supply the elites with forex.”
The cable quotes SOAZ’s Sally Bown who named the hunters as being “consistently involved in unethical and marginally legal hunting.” The diplomatic cable named professional hunters Guy Whitall, Tim Schultz of African Dream Safaris, Headman Sibanda and Wayne Grant of Nyala Safaris, Evans Makanza, Alan Shearing, Buzz Charlton and James Macullum of Charlton Macullum Safaris. Brothers Alan Van Heerden and Barry Van Heerden were also named, and, according to SOAZ’s Bown, numerous conservationists had suggested that the brothers were involved in suspicious hunting and land deals with the CIO’s Happyton Bonyongwe.
SW Radio Africa was this week contacted by both Van Heerden brothers, who have vehemently denied being linked to any illicit activity in Zimbabwe. Alan Van Heerden told SW Radio Africa on Friday that he believes he and his brother are being victimised after receiving signed memorandums of understanding and permits from National Parks and the Tourism Minister.
Van Heerden called the claims being made against him and his brother a “vendetta” because their signed permits were the only legitimate ones handed out at the time. He blamed “middle management staff” at National Parks who were
“abusing the system by letting other hunters come in and shoot.” He explained that known safari operators continue to bribe underpaid Parks staff to hunt in certain areas.
“It’s all down to bribery, greed and parks staff being underpaid. And the situation in country doesn’t help. I am 100% behind people being named and shamed, but what law am I breaking if I have a valid permit?” Van Heerden asked.
“I know exactly who it is. And we told parks. But there is such a big political faction within National Parks and they do what they want and everyone turns a blind eye. And it’s all within the organisation. But it’s easy to find out who they are. They are all linked to national parks stations,” Van Heerden said.
He also insisted that his and his brother’s operations were 100% legal and nothing they did was done without a permit. He said the allegations that they are linked to ZANU PF in any way, and particularly to the CIO chief Bonyongwe, are “rubbish.”
“There are big operators that have ministers and governors in their companies, because it is the only way to keep their concession. But not us… It (the allegations) come from disgruntled people in the safari industry,” Van Heerden said.
Van Heerden also spoke of the damage the allegations have had, explaining that he left Zimbabwe three years ago and has struggled find a job since because of accusations that he was involved in poaching. He said the “damage has been done,” but the US Embassy and SOAZ need to take responsibility for the situation.
“The only way to sort this out is to tackle the American embassy, get hold of SOAZ and sort this out once and for all. It’s got out of hand and its damaged people’s reputations,” Van Heerden said.
He added: “Yes there are people poaching and doing illegal hunting but we are not the people that are doing it. We’ve been victimised because we were the only people who got permits.”
The full interview with Van Heerden can be heard on SW Radio Africa’s Weekend Special Report with Alex Bell.