Power: The Indigenous Hiccough and Coal

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIThe exploitation of vast resources of coal in Botswana into viable exports to Asian and eastern nations, such as India and China has, apparently, a Zimbabwean impediment. Studies into the more viable routes to get Botswana’s coal reserves to the sea opt for routes which transverse either Namibia or Mozambique (via Zimbabwe). The latter, with its port at Ponta Techobanine, is considered the better choice. But Zimbabwe, through which this route would pass, is considered too much of a sovereign risk to would be investors.

In a loose kind of way, there are three power bases at stake in this tale of economic woe, the power of coal, electricity and then politics. Zimbabwe’s economy, it would seem, has been traumatised by each of them and there is no letting up as to when this might subside.

Zimbabwe is not without its huge coal reserves, a source of power, the better known being Hwange, but the larger comprises the huge untapped resources of the Sengwa, with its high coke value ore. Export route viability studies have actually considered the Sengwa fields as a potential partner in a rail route which would transverse Zimbabwe. One may well question quite why the Sengwa coal fields are not being fully exploited and perhaps why Zimbabwe was not ahead of Botswana in not only resourcing viable export routes to the sea, but fully implementing them too.

Electrical power is not abundant in Zimbabwe, in fact load shedding of electrical power is essential to help shoddy supply keep up with growing demand. There is a 700 megawatt shortage on the grid, and South Africa is a major supplier of the deficit. Conservative estimates suggest Zimbabwe has unpaid bills in the tune of US$150 million with its southern supplier and Zimbabwe is not ‘coughing up’. Sengwa lays for all purposes mostly idle, despite its huge indirect potential in power and export revenue generation, and Hwange is certainly not up to steam in either too.

The single most damaging power is that of the political variety or persuasion. Zimbabweans are so thoroughly pre-occupied with the consuming, if not petty, power play between one party and the other, that they seem not to be seeing the wood for the trees on the economic front which affects them most. One of the principle deterrents to foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe is the nationalist vogue towards indigenisation. Appropriation of majority stakes in foreign enterprise has become a misdirected priority. It is a highly emotive issue for local people, the majority of whom, in the long term, are really unlikely to reap its alleged empowerment benefits. Indigenisation is the tree obscuring the wood.

If anything, indigenisation has done more to scuttle economic growth in Zimbabwe than any other post inflation debacle policy. For a nation which so desperately needs foreign direct investment in its mining sector, not to mention others, Zimbabwe’s nationalist politicians are giving out all the wrong signals. The mining sector has borne the brunt of the first phase of indigenisation. Large mining houses have stopped all new developments; the stock market has consequently suffered a long marked depression, especially in mining counters; there is a liquidity squeeze; and no hope on the horizon that the folly might subside. Clearly, it is all a little too much for the limited minds of some politicians who espouse such damaging philosophy.

Part of the prejudice lies in the fact that Sengwa coal is not streaming down the rail routes to the sea; nor is local coal generating sufficient power to supplement the grid; nor is Zimbabwe reducing its dependence of direct foreign power imports; and now there is little hope that massive exports of Botswana’s coal will transit Zimbabwe, thus generate employment and enterprise.

It is a ludicrous state of affairs with much blind fumbling in the cesspits of political chicanery. Surprisingly, Zimbabweans are not questioning the lunacy, most likely in the naive and unlikely hope that perhaps the politicians might be right: that it will lead them to the holy grail of empowerment, wealth and happiness. Ice will form in burning coal furnaces before that happens.

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Political Game Conservation Woes

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIZimbabwe’s south eastern Lowveld features a number of intensive natural conservation areas and the Gonarezhou National Park, a wildness region destined to form part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The domain of the Transfrontier Park is expected to see its international boundaries (between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe) rubbed off the map in a way, allowing free migration of its wildlife and encouraging an influx of tourism. It is an area blessed with abundant beauty and some unique flora and fauna.

While fences along these political boundaries may fall, other political boundaries are being overstepped and perverted by a provincial ‘ruling elite’. The south east has become a war zone, yet again, with hapless wildlife being the victims of the onslaught and enduring politics of jealousy. Are we experiencing the last desperate struggle of a party which has lost its way?

For several months now, self-styled, lackey war veterans, most of whom have never fired a weapon in anger, and grass root, crooked politicians have been gnawing away at the Save Valley and Chiredzi River Conservancies; and nearby national parks, principally Gonarezhou. They are making claims for the landless, knocking down game fences, bush clearing, burning and looting the nation’s natural posterity. Along the trail of this destruction have come the poachers and wood looters, under the umbrella of political confusion, demolishing both beast and woodland in an orgy of greed and destruction.

Giraffe Snared Chiredzi River Conservancy – Author Anonymous

Trade in precious hardwoods for fuel is brisk. Glorious elephant are slain for their ivory tusks, magnificent rhino slaughtered for horn, and several fine feline species destroyed for their skins. Delicate vegetation is being burnt out and replaced with huts, tillage and domestic livestock, in areas which will not support sustained cropping without irrigation. Zimbabweans are devastating their own assets in a narrow minded frenzy of rapacity, but politics is very much at its base. It is African anarchy at its worst.

Zimbabwe has long suffered an era of lawlessness in the name of felonious change aimed mostly at commercial (or white) agriculture. The land grab of the last decade was carried out with impunity by these same dullard, if not misguided, war veterans who now pillage the conservancies and national parks. The land grab reduced foreign agricultural revenues and turned the nation into a net importer of food.

No one is learning the lessons here and most are actually denying they exist. Dim politicians, with no long term perspective, are turning their xenophobic attention to foreign (rather white owned) business, but their victims are no longer just white folk. The nation’s unparalleled wildlife heritage is being pillaged in the process too. It is very much a case of ‘cutting off the nose to spite the face’ (or perhaps better put, ‘line the pocket’).

Elephant shot Chiredzi River Conservancy – Author Anonymous

Die hard conservationists have been distraught at the damage being caused, not because they own the land, or have a stake in the business conducted thereon, but because the very core of conservation is under attack by reckless politicians who, clearly, lack morale fibre. Land claims may arguably manifest a cause, but Zimbabwe has been through that disastrous process already.

Much of the land acquired (some suggest stolen) now lays fallow in once richly yielding intensive farming areas, so why the initiative against national parks and conservancies in lesser viable areas? The answer may not lie with land hunger, but rather with more sinister political objectives of individuals garnering for political influence and, of course, greater wealth. Zimbabweans well know this. It is a protraction of the ethos of reaping where one has not sewn which has saturated certain elements of society.

While the destruction of wildlife is a great tragedy for the nation, there is perhaps a greater catastrophe unfolding, apathy. Zimbabweans just do not seem to care or wish to react. As much as conservationists holler about the despicable fate of Zimbabwe’s marvellous national parks and conservancies, it is only the conservationists who seem to be hearing this. They have been crying out about the south eastern crisis for several months now, and everyone who may have a remote interest or some influence in political or executive circles is turning their head the other way.

Government ministers merely indicate they have not authorised land grabs in the conservancies, yet do not react. Directors of National Parks seem hamstrung and unable to enter the fray, the police re-act slowly and ineffectively, and non-governmental organisations are powerless, while all these little empires emerge in the name of what is really an injudicious revolution. Worse still, fully appraised opposition politicians seem ludicrously meek in the face of it all.

Zimbabwe’s national heritage is at stake here. Few Zimbabweans would remain modest in the face of say the Great Zimbabwe monument being pillaged for its wonderful stone, so what is the difference? Has ‘the party’ lost control of its minions to the extent that Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage should suffer in an unscrupulous wave of gluttony and devastation, seeing the demise of ethical conservation… is this what Zimbabweans want?

This is all absurdly myopic. It is a gloomy failure by Zimbabweans to protect their wildlife. It is surely time to deploy a real police force or army urgently alongside National Parks to redefine the boundaries and protect what is left. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is seriously at stake. Mozambicans and South Africans will hardly wish to see their wildlife being ushered across baron land to the slaughter on the altar of petty power hungry politics. It is all quite shameful.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!