Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

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Battle for top B/Bridge sanctuary rages

Battle for top B/Bridge sanctuary rages

Intervention by senior government officials has failed to end the illegal occupation of a top Beitbridge conservancy, amid revelations that some officials continue to settle people on the property that has been declared unfit for human habitation.

BY STAFF REPORTER

Mananje Conservancy, owned by prominent farmer Ian Ferguson, has been under siege from illegal settlers since 2002, with officials from the Lands ministry allegedly ignoring court judgements to stop the illegal allocation of plots.

The unsanctioned allocation of land at the conservancy is threatening the existence of one of Beitbridge’s prime conservation areas and a potential tourism drawcard.

According to documents seen by The Standard, in a meeting attended by senior government officials in Harare in November last year to discuss the problems on the conservancy, it was agreed that Mananje was the responsibility of the Environment and Tourism ministry since 2006 and that anybody settled there should be removed immediately.

However, six months after the meeting, the settlers have not left the property and the Lands ministry officials are allegedly bringing in more people.

“Due to the illegal movement of hundreds of cattle and goats into the conservancy with the resultant overgrazing, as well as the theft of 57 kilometres of game fencing and the cutting down of trees in the riverine forest, the environment is in the process of being destroyed,” reads one of the documents.

“None of the illegally issued offer letters on the conservancy have yet been cancelled.”

There are fears the Lands ministry is now dithering on addressing the matter.

“In discussions with Mr Dakarai [Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora’s personal assistant], Mr Ferguson was told that the matter had been handed over to the deputy director responsible for resettlement Mr Dendere, and recommendations had been prepared for the minister’s consideration, the document added.

“In light of the minister’s undertaking, one would have expected the matter would have been handed over to the Lands ministry’s legal department to process the cancellation of all the offer letters held by people who are all at law, ‘illegal occupants.’

“The matter should be very simple — the illegally issued offer letters should be withdrawn by the Ministry of Lands and it is most distressing that five months after the minister gave the undertaking to do so, nothing has been done.”

The government last year assured Zimbabwe’s few remaining white farmers that the government would protect them from illegal invasions as a way of assuring investors that the country respected property rights.

Mananje has been invaded several times in 2002, 2005 and 2010 by groups that routinely threatened staff and evicted them from their living quarters.

The invaders have also stopped hunters from entering the conservancy and the owners believe property worth $1 million, including 57km of game fencing, has been destroyed by the invaders.

The document says Ferguson owns two companies that bought lots 7A and 8 of Jopempe Block soon after independence with a certificate of no interest from government.

“The land was classified as unsuitable for resettlement or ranching, so he then converted this land into Mananje Conservancy,” the document says.

“It has around 800 eland, 1 000 wildebeest, 600 zebra, 3 000 impala and 150 giraffe, as well as leopard, cheetah, bushbuck, duiker, Nyala and occasionally elephants.”

Ferguson believes local Lands ministry officials are misleading the government on activities at the ranch and have assured the illegal settlers, who have all been served with High Court ejectment orders, to ignore the instructions as they don’t apply to them.

Police have also been accused of turning a blind eye to the illegal activities at Mananje.

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