Zimbabwe — The traditional leaders expressed their grave concern over massive destruction of forests and the environment in the newly resettled farming areas, where the farmers are wantonly cutting and burning down forests without government intervention.
Speaking at a Provincial Fire Indaba convened by Environmental Management Agency (EMA) last week to discuss the issue of veld fires, the chairman of the Chiefs Council in Manicaland, Chief Senator Chiduku, said issues of environmental management could not succeed without the involvement of traditional leaders because they were the custodians of land and heritage.
He said chiefs were being looked down upon by people, especially those in the newly resettled farms.
The government says we are the custodians of land and heritage when in actual fact our mandate is limited to communal areas. What does that mean? People who were allocated land under the land reform programme have become more powerful than us. If you try to fine them for environment-related offences they will take you to the magistrates who will tell us (chiefs) that the newly resettled areas are not within your jurisdiction, said Chiduku, in apparent reference to Zanu (PF) politicians and war veterans who grabbed former commercial farms.
He lambasted government for taking a back seat at a time when forests were being depleted at alarming levels by new farmers.
I dont know probably they want to give us the mandate when the whole country has been turned into a desert by resettled farmers. We will not fight you but we will fold our hands lest we shall appear on front page of newspapers for wrong reasons. The politicians know what they are doing. Let them continue without consulting us, said Chiduku.
He argued that the newly resettled areas should remain under the control of traditional leaders, because such areas existed even before the white settlers came into the country.
Chiduku, who was in uncompromising mood, told Minister of State for Provincial Affairs for Manicaland, Chris Mushohwe, that it was high time government gave due recognition to traditional leadership.
Resettled farmers are very stubborn. There is a serious gap in the management of forests. We cannot punish anyone in resettled areas because we have limited powers. We are only left with gowns and helmets, he said.
Environmental Management Services Director, Debra Magwada weighed in, saying the country has lost close to 1,2 million hectares of forest to veld fires, adding that property worth $479 million had been destroyed. Magwada said four people lost their lives in 2013 as a result of veld fires.
She expressed concern over the figures saying traditional leaders and all stakeholders should play a critical role in educating their subjects about the dangers of veld fires.
She fingered large commercial and A1 farmers as major culprits in causing veld fires, saying they did not take precautionary measures such as putting up fireguards when clearing land.
As in we speak in 2014, veld fires have already claimed four lives. The issue of veld fires is a national concern considering its impact on food security and national restocking programme, said Magwada.
Timber Producers Federation (TPF) Chief Executive Office, Johnson Mhungu told the gathering that the issue of veld was a cause for concern and 10,000 people had lost their jobs in the timber industry.
Manicaland Provincial Administrator Fungai Mbetsa said according to The Traditional Leaders Act, resettled areas should fall under the chiefs.
Government is not undermining the chiefs, but it is a process because there is need for the President to sign a proclamation in regard to such areas, said Mbetsa, adding that in some areas such as Makoni there were still disputes about boundaries.