- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo has seized a celebrated African wildlife sanctuary, which once hosted Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on an eco-tourism visit, and turned it over to big-game safari hunting.

A letter from Zimbabwe’s agriculture department shows that Mr. Moyo received the preserve when President Robert Mugabe seized white-owned farms nationwide and turned them over to black supporters of his government.

The lodge was once a showpiece of eco-tourism, and Queen Elizabeth had lunch there during the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in 1991. Now it plays host to those willing to pay to shoot rare game.

Mr. Moyo, who was not immediately available for comment, has denied taking control of Sikumi Tree Lodge, one of the biggest prizes on offer under the mass appropriation that began in 2002.

But ecologist Thys de Vries, 44, the owner of Sikumi Tree Lodge and 45,000 acres of adjoining land that borders the Hwange National Park in northern Matabeleland, says otherwise.

His wife, three children and staff fled after armed men invaded a year ago, according to a complaint lodged by Mr. de Vries in court. He also is challenging the seizure of other nature conservancies by other Cabinet ministers and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party’s elite.

“Jonathan Moyo staked out Sikumi Tree Lodge several times before the invasion, but we couldn’t prove his involvement until now,” Mr. de Vries said yesterday.

A document from the department of agriculture purports to show Mr. Moyo’s “ownership” of Sikumi Tree Lodge, via its registered name, Lot 2 of Dete Valley.

Mr. Mugabe decided earlier this year that he no longer would allow anyone to own more than one farm, although several family members, including his wife, Grace, have ignored him.

Mr. Moyo is accused by his enemies within ZANU-PF and opposition lawmakers of having grabbed more than one formerly white-owned farm.

Lands Minister John Nkomo told local reporters two weeks ago that any [black] man who “occupies” more than one white-owned farm must withdraw. But Mr. Moyo said he had paid the government about $3,000 for a 1,000-acre farm near Harare.

The farm was owned by Tom Bayley. Mr. Bayley, 88, was under siege in his homestead from Mr. Mugabe’s supporters for 35 days before he fell and broke a leg and abandoned the farm he had worked for 66 years. He died a week later.

At the height of Zimbabwe’s tourist boom, Sikumi Tree Lodge earned up to $5,000 a month, though tourism has collapsed in recent years. Those now running it are making up the shortfall by letting in hunters.

Mr. Mugabe’s supporters control most hunting licenses and sell quotas of trophy animals to safari operators. The Wildlife Association of Zimbabwe has said the quotas are unsustainable and threaten cheetah, leopard and lion populations.

A South African company named Out of Africa takes hunters to Sikumi Tree Lodge. “The animals are being slaughtered there,” Mr. De Vries said.

Mr. Moyo was appointed to Mr. Mugabe’s Cabinet in 2000 and drafted laws on the press widely regarded as among the world’s most repressive.

Many journalists have been beaten, arrested and deported under the provisions of his Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

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