Zimbabwe latest land Invasions: Iconic Leopard Rock Hotel under siege

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THE world-famous picturesque Leopard Rock Hotel (LRH) nestled in the scenic Vumba Mountains is under threat from illegal squatters who are scarring the land in the name of resettlement, it has been reported.
The sprawling Greendale Farm, which is part of LRH Estate, has been invaded by squatters who are engaging in illegal activities that are disfiguring the pristine environment, affecting tourism operations.
The LRH and Estate are situated in the Vumba Mountains, 30 kilometres south-east of Mutare and are one of the country’s prime tourism jewels.
Built in 1948, the tourist attraction boasts one of Africa’s top 10 golf PGA courses.
The facility also has a game park with giraffes, ostriches and elands, among other wildlife.
Occupation of the tourism facility has apparently arisen from a ‘need’ for agricultural land and is not politically motivated.
At least 35 people from Bocha, Marange, have illegally settled themselves on the property without consulting the owners or seeking Government approval.
Led by a self-appointed kraal-head Benny Kadzunge Taya, the group has embarked on wanton destruction of the indigenous trees, insisting its rights are more important than those of the animals and vegetation at the facility.
Indigenous trees, some which take an average of 30 years to mature, are being felled and are mostly preferred by tobacco farmers for tobacco curing because of their high fuel load.
Officials from LRH who have tried to reason with the squatters and stop the destruction have been threatened with ‘beheading’.
LRH executive director Saamir Shasha said the squatters were not genuinely seeking land for agriculture as the land is not suitable for cropping.
Instead, he said, their intention was to make a quick buck from cutting down trees to produce charcoal.
“The squatters are not subsistence farmers because there is nothing meaningful they can grow in the area they are occupying.
“Agriculture is just a disguise they have used to burn down trees for commercial purposes.
“We met them in October 2013 and tried to negotiate with them to leave the property and they agreed to do so after ‘harvesting’ their crops but did not leave the property but began cutting down trees and burning them to extract charcoal,” Shasha said.
“The (occupation) has nothing to do with politics because the people are not even registered to vote in this area. They have taken advantage of the fact that the place is not easily accessible and thus they can continue to engage in illegal activities with impunity.”
The charcoal produced is sold to tobacco farmers, among other users.
With at least 15 tonnes of wood needed to cure a tonne of tobacco, the country will end up a desert if uncontrolled cutting of these indigenous trees continues.
According to environmental experts, the country is left with slightly above 50 000 hectares of indigenous forests and unabated destruction of this resource will lead to an irrevocable depletion of indigenous forests.
Member of Parliament for the area, Nyasha Chikwinya, said the squatters had been ordered to vacate the premises.
“We have instructed the squatters to vacate the premises but they have refused to leave. We do not know where they are getting the power to do so. And the cutting down of trees in the area is illegal,” said Chikwinya.
Provincial Governor for Manicaland, Mandiitawepi Chimene, has also castigated the illegal occupation of the farm.
“Any settlement not approved by the relevant authorities is illegal. The Provincial Lands Committee is seeking an alternative place for the squatters because what they are currently doing is unlawful,” said Chimene.
The Land Reform Programme in the country has been successful and has been conducted in an orderly manner.
The parcelling of land has been done in a manner that the country is not prejudiced.
Even whites who claimed to have been ‘prejudiced’ have been beneficiaries of the programme.
Government acquires land after conducting various assessment tests and has never promoted wanton destruction of property and natural resources on farms.
Government has emphasised the need for beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme to be productive.-The Patriot

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