On 19th December 2014 the Director General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) instructed a local auctioneering house to conduct the sale of three hunting concessions that had been expropriated in the Save Valley Conservancy.
Details of the three concessions, Bedford, Mapari and Senuko 3, were advertised on the ZPWMA website. Potential buyers could receive a brochure after lodging a US$10,000 deposit with the auctioneers.
The auction was scheduled for 10:30am, but was delayed until after 11:30am. Approximately 30 people attended (including a large contingent of buyers seeking ‘kapenta’ fishing license permits on Lake Kariba). Officials from ZPWMA as well as from the Parks Board were also in attendance.
Senuko 3 was the first concession to be offered. Instead of brisk bidding, the auctioneer was faced with a stony silence and stares from the audience. It was blatantly obvious that he was embarrassed and uncomfortable with the process. After a few minutes he implored the gathering to offer a bid, even stating that was the intention of the auction. Little did he appreciate that the vast majority of the audience were observers, and had no intention of participating in this process.
After several more pleas, a community leader offered US$10,000 for Senuko 3. This was rejected by the auctioneer who informed the gathering that the reserve price was US$60,000 for 5 years plus compulsory annual purchase of the fixed quota (which was not provided in the brochure, so it was difficult to calculate what this might be) and a concession fee calculated at 30% of the value of the fixed quota. Other charges included 15%VAT and a 1.5% commission for the auctioneers’ services.
No further bids were received, leading the auctioneer to plead for a compromise that approached the reserve price. This was embarrassing to all who were present. Offers to negotiate continued, with the reserve price being reduced to US$55,000. A stalemate ensued and the concession was not sold. Another offer was made and after some awkward discussions, ZPWMA accepted a bid of US$50,000 for Senuko 3.
The second concession, Mapari, followed a similar pattern. No bidders were forthcoming until a local indigenous businessman allegedly linked to a prominent Zimbabwe safari company offered US$20,000. This was rejected out of hand as the reserve price was set at US$150,000! What followed was incredulous, as the bidder, with no threat or competition from anyone else, meekly succumbed to the auctioneer’s demands and accepted the reserve price. The skeptics in the audience muttered among themselves as to whether this was reality or not.
The final block, Bedford, was combined with Hunyani. Again after a few minutes of silence, a single bidder offered US30,000 for the Bedford concession only. This was rejected by the auctioneer who informed the bidder that it was to be sold together with Hunyani and that the reserve price was set at US$200,000! A glance at the sample quota provided in the brochure clearly showed that there was little chance to generate sufficient income after payments of concession fees, fixed trophy fees and all the other management related costs. This was clearly a farce.
Once again the auctioneer embarked on a process of ‘horse-trading’ with the sole bidder until a second bidder offered US$40,000. This spurred a short brisk bidding process that drove the price up to US$59,000 in favor of the second bidder. This was rejected by the auctioneer as it did not meet the reserve price. Once again a stalemate was reached with the second bidder leaving the room to make an urgent phone call to what is assumed was the true bidder.
That is where I left the auction: Senuko 3 was awarded to a local community initiative, Mapari to a local company and Bedford in limbo.
What happens next will be keenly monitored both locally and abroad. Some schools of thought are of the opinion that the Director General has been pushed between a rock and a hard place, and is simply obeying his political masters. Others believe that this is a desperate act by the DG who is head of an organization that is bankrupt and looking for short term gains by plundering the Save Conservancy. Whatever the case, a clear message emerged from this auction that the process was wrong. Other options exist to achieve a win-win situation for all parties instead of destroying the properties in question, and with that, the soul of the Save Conservancy.
Author: Vernon Booth