Robert Mugabe’s party has been linked to a complex, international syndicate that is specialising in the trafficking and poaching of Zimbabwe’s wildlife.
According to a report published on Tuesday by the Daily News newspaper, the ZANU PF officials are part of an “intricate web of international trafficking in wildlife that has raised the hackles of animal lovers and wildlife conservationists.”
The party’s involvement has been revealed in the ongoing case against a group dubbed the “Musina Mafia,” which is believed to be Africa’s biggest rhino, elephant and lion poaching syndicate. Eleven members of the group, led by South African national Dawie Groenewald, were arrested last year and are facing charges of poaching, illegal gun possession and other crimes, in the border town Musina. Their case has been remanded until September.
According to the Daily News, Groenewald is the principal director of a hunting group called Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, which was said to be facilitating the illicit sales of rare animals from Zimbabwe. This included the sale of 250 bateleur eagles to a sheikh in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2003. That sale raised international concerns because it was allegedly handled by ZANU PF linked Ed Kadzombe, whose own safari hunting group E.K. Safaris, was a partner with Groenewald’s Out of Africa group.
Kadzombe also used to own the misleadingly named Zimbabwe Wildlife Advisory Council, a company known for its connections with Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority officials. It was this company that organised the sale of about 160 sables from a private conservancy to South Africa, and at least another 40 to Saudi Arabia in 2003. The wheels of those sales were allegedly greased by another ZANU PF aligned official, Vitalis Chadenga, who was then the acting director of Parks and Wildlife. He is now the current director of the Authority.
Groenewald’s company was then supposedly banned from operating in Zimbabwe in 2003. An investigation has however revealed that the outfit continued its Zim operations well into 2006, through its Zim partners.
The Daily News report goes on to state that in 2003, “animal rights activists started expressing concern that the rhino and elephant poaching crisis was being fuelled by unscrupulous foreign safari operators in collusion with government ministers, wildlife management officers, elements of the security forces and ZANU PF henchman who had invaded the farms.”
The slaughter of four endangered black rhinos in 2003 was once again linked to Groenewald’s hunting group, with the help of his Zim partner, Kadzombe of E.K. Safaris, and a company owned by former Matabeleland North Governor and ZANU PF provincial Chairman Jacob Mudenda.
The Daily News report goes on to detail Groenewald’s illicit dealings in Zimbabwe, under the cover of international hunting trips, which has lured hundreds of foreign hunters.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce, told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that he hopes the trial against Groenewald in South Africa will have some kind of impact on the ongoing poaching crisis in Zimbabwe. But he raised concern about the involvement of top level government ministers.
“We have to ask if the law will take part in holding the high up ministers to account. The poachers work hand in hand with top officials and the Groenewald syndicate is not the only one,” Rodrigues said.
The Taskforce official added that the impact on tourism in Zimbabwe is huge, because the number of animals in Zimbabwe has declined so steeply in recent years. And he warned that things are not going to improve.
“We are going to see things get worse in the coming months because it is peak poaching season. Unfortunately this little problem in Zimbabwe gets overlooked because there are much bigger issues happening in the world,” Rodrigues said.
He added: “But until we get Western involvement in this crisis then we face the real risk of losing all these animals to extinction.”