LUNGANI Thebe (52) sits outside her pole-and-dagga hut in the Mabale area near Cross Dete in Hwange district.
She has wrapped on a torn African-print cloth, but that is the least of her worries. Her heart is heavy as she does not know where her family’s next meal will come from. It has been three years since her husband, Austin Sibanda, was sentenced to nine years in prison for possession of ivory without a permit.
Life after her husband’s incarceration has been hard for the unemployed Thebe whose family recently lost six goats, one sheep and a cow to lions that regularly stray into their homestead. Thebe said her unemployed husband was enticed into poaching by his companions. The family was on the verge of starving.
“It was during the peak of drought season and the family had spent several weeks eating baobab roots or dried mushrooms. Since he was unemployed and had failed to provide for us, he fell into the temptation,” she said.
Thebe’s story is typical of how a lot of families in areas endowed with wildlife are being left broken after their providers are jailed due to subsistence or commercial poaching.
A survey by The NewsHawks revealed that human-wildlife conflict and non-community beneficiation from eco-tourism are some of the reasons why communities are not seeing any value in wildlife.
Over the years, many Zimbabwean communities bordering game reserves have raised concerns over the lack of transparency in the government’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire).
The programme, a community-based conservation approach to wildlife as a renewable and profitable resource, was introduced in 1988 as a way of ensuring that communities benefit from wildlife resources in their areas. It is managed through rural district councils which distribute contracts for safari hunting and tourism and allocate revenue to local wards.
However, a lot of communities have not been benefitting despite the hunts being conducted in their areas. When the project began, communities were looking forward to being incentivised through direct and indirect economic benefits as well as infrastructural development in their wards.
Chadamoyo Neshavi, a headman from Hwange’s Mashala ward 9, said his people are in distress and are hoping that one day they will be remembered and something tangible will come out of their co-existence with wildlife.
“It’s such a shame that as much as our community is rich in wildlife, locals are yet to benefit anything solid from it. Apart from the high rate of unemployment, we have some of the worst infrastructure and our crops and domestic animals are often at the mercy of baboons, elephants, hyenas and lions.”
“My people are living in distress and it is our prayer that one of this days, the relevant authorities will remember us and we will benefit from our wildlife,” Neshavi said.
Abigail Dlamini, a resident of Tsholotsho district, echoed Neshavi’s sentiments, highlighting how a number of individuals from her locality are resorting to unorthodox ways of benefiting from wildlife.
“We are a forgotten people who are just surviving. A lot of people from here are ending up venturing into subsistence poaching as a way of fending for their families. A number of them have served different sentences ranging from community service to several years in prison.”
“One thing is for sure, community beneficiation in our case will go a long way in lessening wildlife crime. Everyone will feel compelled to make sure that the wellbeing of our animals is prioritised and nothing bad happens to them,” Dlamini said.
Addressing villagers in Mabale village in Hwange, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) director of operations Authur Musakwa acknowledged that it had been noted that Campfire resources were not reaching the intended beneficiaries.
Musakwa added that the government is working on a new Campfire document so that traditional chiefs can be signatories to the fund as a way of guaranteeing proper regulation and enforcement of stakeholder benefits and resolving misunderstandings between rural district councils and producer communities.
In an interview with The NewsHawks, Campfire director Charles Jonga attributed the organisation’s poor performance to international restrictions and the current legislative framework.
“The Campfire model in its current form is highly dependent on hunting revenue, which has created high concentration risks in light of international restrictions. In addition, the current Campfire guidelines are not legally binding.
“As such, there are no legal provisions for enforceability, accountability, monitoring and reporting by rural district councils (RDC). Thus most RDCs have not adhered to Campfire guidelines, resulting in the dwindling of revenue to communities and this has fuelled misunderstandings between them (RDCs) and producer communities.’’
“It’s worrying that Campfire areas still constitute about 25% of national poaching activities, which might be attributable to lack of clear rights, ownership and benefits from wildlife for communities,” Jonga said.