People claiming to be war veterans and Zanu (PF) supporters who invaded a Beitbridge safari site late last year on Sunday reportedly kidnapped a non-trophy hunter, amid concerns that the police are reluctant to act against the kidnappers.
Instead, the police are reported to have opted to charge the Beitbridge-based hunter and owner of Super Spar located in the border town, Rudolph van de Merwe, for illegal hunting, it has emerged.
According to Ian Ferguson, one of the owners of Manage Safaris where the incident took place, the invaders barricaded the road as Van de Merwe left the safari with his trophy and held him hostage for five hours yesterday.
The police attended the scene, said Ferguson, but did not arrest the kidnappers; instead, they indicated that they would summon the hunter-cum-businessman to Beitbridge for questioning at a police station in the resort town.
Van de Merwe is being legally represented by Winston Tshakalisa.
“The police told my client that they will summon us to the police station in due course and we are waiting. They have not indicated what charge they intend to lay against my client,” said Tshakalisa.
The invaders forcefully took over the 18,000 hectare safari in October last year, arguing they were given offer letters by the lands ministry in 2004.
However, available documents show that the Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that Ferguson and his partners were the rightful owners of the safari.
“We went to court to contest the offer letters through the High Court and then the Supreme Court and won. The invaders only came in last year after noticing that hunting and safari business that attracted international tourists had resumed,” Ferguson told The Zimbabwean.
He said the invaders confiscated property and staffers personal belongings when they moved in but no arrests have been made, even though the court orders interdicted the police to remove the invaders, and “the safaris now look like a cattle pen”.
Government ordered several years ago that there would be no more land invasions which had started in 2000.
A senior National Parks and Wildlife Authority official accused the police of undue interference in the matter. “Despite the court order, the police in Beitbridge are now interfering by offering legal advice to the invaders. The invaders still insist that their offer letters have not been cancelled, yet it is clear that the final court has ruled against them.
“How can the police be advocates of people who are in contempt of a court order? They are, therefore, also acting criminally. As Parks, we are concerned that these invaders are decimating animals,” said the official who declined to be named.
He acknowledged that, since 2013, National Parks has been granting hunting licences to interested people on the safari estate on the strength of the Supreme Court judgement.
The Officer Commanding District for Beitbridge, one Chief Superintendent Majuta, was named by eye witnesses as one of the officers fighting from the invaders’ camp, despite his seniors having ordered him to eject them from the safari.
“Majuta is the one who is advising the invaders to stay put. We don’t know what his interest in the whole thing is, but he is giving the police a very bad name,” said one of the witnesses.
Majuta, when contacted, told this reporter off. “I don’t want to be bothered with that matter. I am not authorised to speak to the media, after all,” he claimed.