By Lenin Ndebele
British royal Prince Harry wants to invest US$8m (about R118m) in the next five years as part of a joint venture between his African Parks organisation and Zimbabwe government’s national parks (ZimParks) to revive the country’s flagship rhino haven.
The 1,407km2 Matusadona National Park – also known as Kariba National Park – is situated in the north-west of Zimbabwe on the southern shores of Lake Kariba. It used to house about 35% of Zimbabwe’s black rhino population.
However, years of abandon and syndicate-led poaching destroyed the park, which was created in 1958 when conservationist Rupert Fothergill orchestrated “Operation Noah” and moved animals away from the newly constructed Kariba Dam.
Today, animals struggle to get by. There is diminished interest from tourists, with park chalets and other infrastructure for human habitations destroyed.
It appears the interest of Prince Harry – who was officially named African Parks’ president in December 2017 – comes just in time.
“We are extremely delighted,” said ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo.
The joint venture between African Parks and ZimParks gives the new investor a shareholding of 49% with the Zimbabwe government, through ZimParks, retaining 51%. Profits will be shared on a quarterly basis.
“It’s a business structured deal that should see us working together for the next 20 years. Day-to-day running of the park will be an inclusive affair on a rotational basis,” added Farawo.
Considering the damage to infrastructure at the game park, the next five years will be mostly dedicated to reconstruction using money brought in by the investor.
“They have their own way of sourcing funds and in our contract within the next five years they should have ploughed in US$8m,” he said.
Farawo told SowetanLIVE’s sister publication TimesLIVE that the highlight of the agreement would be to reintroduce the black rhinoceros which has been completely wiped out from the park by poaching. The few rhinos that survived at the height of the onslaught were shipped to other secure areas.
Writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago, after his visit to Africa, Prince Harry said, “Matusadona is a very special place for Zimbabwe and has a lot of potential for tourism and socio-economic development.”
The deal was signed by Africa Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead and ZimParks director general Fulton Mangwanya last week on Friday. At the signing, Fearnhead emphasised that his organisation was working in 10 African countries and managing more than 10-million animals in 16 parks and working in Zimbabwe would be routine.
ZimParks officials said Prince Harry’s profile and wide international goodwill was a major boost for the park at a time when Zimbabwe’s international reputation is in tatters.
“At government and diplomatic level things are bad. Our leaders are bickering over sanctions and other things but at our level, we have a British royal family member working with us. That’s a seal of approval and, as such, tourists have no reason to worry about what politicians say,” said a senior ZimParks employee.