Illicit logging strips Mpyu of protected trees

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Aron Mushaukwa

Katima Mulilo-Residents of Mpyu some 15 kilometres east of Katima Mulilo are very disturbed about the illicit harvesting of Mopane logs in that area by a local person, whose name is known to New Era and who sources say he has been transporting the wood in trucks to South Africa.

Residents of the area allege the illegal logger does not have a permit from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to allow him to harvest Mopane logs on a large scale and he also does not possess a clearance certificate from the Ministry of Environment, but he nevertheless continues with wanton deforestation.

According to one of the concerned residents, Samwele Samwele, who is also the acting land administrator for Mpyu, the illegal harvesting of Mopane logs in that area started back in 2012.

He said they have reported the problem to forestry officials and to the traditional khuta, but to no avail.
“Our area has been declared a community forest area and anything that has to take place in that area has to be through our consent. We have been reporting it, but to no avail…

“The traditional authority knows very much about his activities in the area and his illegal occupation of the area. In fact, he is trespassing, but in return they open cases against us, me and my other brother, so that we do not step there,” Samwele explained.

He said the police were also aware of the illegal logging, but nothing was done, as the culprit seems to have connections in the police force. Samwele said the man even employed locals in the area who are cutting down the mopane trees on a large scale, reducing the area to a barren wasteland, while it was previously dense with mopane trees.

“In August, he reported that I went to threaten his people (workers) with a gun, while I was on official duty in the Hardap Region. I received a call from my sister that the police were in the area looking for me.
“ It looks like the police are also aware of his activities and they assisted him to open a case of protection in order for us not to go in the area… so that he can continue harvesting the forest.”

Samwele fears that at the rate the trees are being cut it could mean ecological devastation and the area might be left without trees entirely.

He said there was also some illegal charcoal making in the area and called on the relevant authorities to intervene.

“I want to appeal to the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa to come and visit the area to see the damage which has been done and put a moratorium, so that no one should be found selling Mopane trees,” he said.
Progress Sipapela, a member of the Mafwe Traditional Land Board, said he was unaware of the illegal occupation of land and cutting down of trees.

He said he knows the suspected culprit and that he is also a member of the traditional land board, but he was unaware of any illegal activities.

Efforts to obtain comment from the forestry department in Zambezi Region proved futile as a certain Lisao, a senior forester, declined to comment. She told this reporter to rather visit her office today for the details. However, a source who did not want to be named, as they were not authorised to share information with the media, let it slip that their office was aware of the situation at Mpyu.

They hinted that there was a dispute among residents in that area and that this prevented the office from solving the problem. “We are experiencing the problem of harvesting Mopane trees in the whole Zambezi Region and the market is in Katima, where people use the Mopane to build houses,” they said.

The official also said that at times it has been reported that a person is cutting down trees illegally, but when they go to inspect, the person has a permit for clearing land for ploughing purposes.
He said in that regard their office cannot do anything, as that person has a permit that allows him to clear land.

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