MUTARE: Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa says government made a mistake in allowing landless blacks to invade timber plantations in the east of the country at the height of the controversial land reform exercise 17 years ago and will now remove them in an effort to revive the once vibrant sector.
Producers lost about 30,000 hectares of prime timber to plantation occupations during the government’s land seizure drive that started in 2000 and led to the industry losing 20 years of its reserves by end of 2012, which affected the performance of the sector.
It also lost over $2 billion in potential revenue and over 3,000 jobs due to deforestation by the settlers.
“We should admit our faults as government in areas that we have erred. It was never a good idea to allocate forestry to individuals. These people had no capacity to run timber plantations. The industry requires huge capital investments, huge loans with soft interests over a long period of time.
“But these illegal settlers only had capacity to harvest and could not afford to replant. Right now we don’t have plantations to talk of and as government we are saying they should be removed from the plantations” said Chinamasa during a business meeting organised by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI).
Timber Producers Federation of Zimbabwe (TPF) chief executive Darlington Duwa said while the evacuation of illegal settlers was welcomed, government should act urgently.
Chinamasa however, said the matter was a political minefield and the evacuations had to be carried out under following the law.
“Yes I do agree that the matter should be addressed with urgency. But you have to understand that most of the illegal settlements are politically motivated and as such hard to deal with. It would have been easier if the people were intellectuals,” he said.
“But what I can say is that we first have to identify a place to relocate these people before we can move them. So it will take a bit of some time.