Lessons From Zimbabwe
Lessons From Zimbabwe
by Dr. Terry Cacek
During the 1980s and 90s, I traveled repeatedly from America to Zimbabwe and savored some of the finest hunting in Africa. I pursued antelope on the ranches, I did self-guided big game hunts in the Zambezi Valley, and I hunted elephants with professional hunters. Along the way, I spent two years working for the Parks and Wildlife Department in Botswana where I did dozens of self-guided hunts. I hunted in Cameroon, South Africa, Australia and North America. Of all these awesome experiences, my richest memories are from Zimbabwe. I love the country and the game. I love the white Zimbabweans and the Shona, Ndebele and Tonka. Now, the political and economic situations in Zimbabwe have gone sour. How very sad that the game ranches and most of the whites are gone. The safari companies are crippled and the Shona, Ndebele, Tonka and other black people of Zimbabwe are suffering terribly.
The former Rhodesian masters and Zimbabweans who succeeded them took great pride in their success in managing wildlife. They set up a system that was biologically and economically sustainable. In hindsight, we can see that it lacked some characteristics essential for social sustainability, and therefore was not politically sustainable in Zimbabwe. When it became politically expedient for the politicians in power to remove the white farmers and ranchers, they were whisked away. The destruction of the white-owned farms and ranches was not motivated primarily by racial issues, but by the perceived need to maintain political power. But surely if the farms and ranches had been owned by the majority Shona, and if the majority of the laborers had been Shona, it would not have been politically expedient for the government to sweep them aside. It was white ownership that made the farms and ranches such easy targets.
Now, every government in Africa is controlled by blacks and several countries have attempted to Africanize their hunting industries. They recognized the need to give black citizens a greater share of the wealth generated by hunting. These attempts resulted in disruption and failure, so the governments backed off and allowed reemergence of the white-owned companies. There may be several reasons why governments were quick to restore their hunting industries. Maybe they recognized the employment offered in rural areas. Certainly they needed the large sums of foreign currency generated. Perhaps they realized that a vibrant hunting industry provided the incentives, funds and mechanisms for sustainable use of wildlife. Nevertheless, their initial attempts to Africanize the industries suggest an intolerance of white ownership. In every nation, the threat exists that political forces may one day converge, as they did in Zimbabwe, and it may become politically expedient to end white domination of the wildlife industries.
The strategy of the Rhodesians and white Zimbabweans was to dig in their heels, and that clearly failed. The Zambian strategy was to require black ownership of safari companies, and that failed. In many cases, the white safari company owners simply recruited black lackeys who had little to contribute. They often had no experience in the industry, little concern for wildlife, and little thought of sharing wealth with local communities. By this means, the safari companies circumvented the regulations and stumbled along for a year or two until the regulations were changed.
There is another strategy that I believe could prove successful. Safari companies and white professional hunters (PHs) need to identify trackers and other blacks who exhibit high potential – not people who are a little above average but the top one half of one percent. These men and women need to be trained as hunters, organizers and entertainers. They need to become PHs. Then they need to be trained as managers and marketers so they can become directors of operations of safari companies. Then they need to be trained as executives so they can become partners in Safari companies. Past attempts to Africanize the safari industry have failed because legislation tried to force immediate involvement at the top. A successful strategy must begin with talented individuals who can work their way from the ground up. What could not be accomplished from the top down in one year can be accomplished with a bottom up approach. It will take a commitment of many years by governments, hunting organizations and safari companies.
I’m not suggesting that the safari industry must be black dominated. Some clients will want to hunt with white PHs and some will want to hunt with black PHs. Yes, it’s true some American clients, especially those who have done several safaris, would prefer a black PH. The industry should accommodate both preferences.
I believe this can work because I have seen it work. When I was researching my book, Professional Hunters For A Changing Africa, I hunted with two black PHs. Both took me to within five yards of elephants and brought me back alive. I would travel to the end of the earth with these guys, and if they told me to jump off, I would jump. Buy my book (please, I need the royalties) and read the stories of Dumisani Marandu and Joseph Chitambwe of Zimbabwe and Paulo P. Sha-Nalingigwa of Tanzania. These are village-born Africans who clawed their way up the ladder of success despite enormous hardships, including resistance from old-school white hunters. I also interviewed five other successful black PHs, two black managers of quasi-governmental safari companies, and a black owner of a private safari company.
To my knowledge, there are black PHs in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana, Cameroon, and probably other countries. Namibia and South Africa have training programs designed to elevate blacks in the hunting industry, but these programs still lack widespread support from the professional hunting industry and from international hunters’ organizations. Safari Club International (SCI) has made a token donation to the Namibian program, but much more must be done and the Dallas and Houston Safari tains of industry and the power-broking politicians across Europe and North America is historically only mirrored by medieval court jesters. These entertainers had unique access to the pinnacles of power. The African safari was, perhaps in the majority of cases, not a hunt as it would be in Europe or North America, but more a rather unique form of holiday and entertainment in which some hunting was done. Viewed in this light, the failure to integrate Afri- can hunters into the business was a failure to comprehend the cultural bond between the court jester and the King.
Perhaps this would not have happened if the cartel had never existed and hunters of modest means could have come to Africa and really roughed it, employing men who were normally gun bearers and trackers for the professionals. Hunting with no more comfort than the poachers have, without cool drinks, tents, baths, showers and bustling servants that have become such a feature of the ‘court’ routine, a cadre of professionals might well have evolved and, by developing reputations at this level, their best members might have climbed the income tree. I think African Indaba serves a useful purpose in stimulating dialogue on the subject of hunting because the field is characterized by many contradictions. Yet, if the hunting community wishes to truly abide by a controlling set of rules, to do away with canned hunting and shooting from cars, then surely a far more effective deterrent to breaking those rules would be say five years of the miscreant’s life in an African slammer and the loss of livelihood proposed way back in 1913? There is no real substitute for effective law enforcement on the spot, in the field. Certificates … bits of paper that is … have never really worked in Africa in the past and I don’t expect them to in the future. Clubs, the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC, from the French name), and Shikar need to lend their support.
The transition to greater black involvement must involve every segment of the safari industry. The whole industry is driven by clients, mostly American clients. Most clients have read Robert Ruark and Peter Capstick and many want to duplicate that special relationship between a client and a white PH. Thousands of others have done the PH worship and are ready for a richer African experience, and that can involve a black PH. Some experienced hunters prefer black PHs.
At the other end of the industry are the governments that regulate the safari companies. Governments must support training programs for blacks, such as the programs at Mushandike, Zimbabwe and Mweka, Tanzania, and the newer programs in Namibia and South Africa.
Governments must remove inappropriate barriers to entry into the hunting profession. For example, many blacks attended inferior schools and may not be good writers. They should be allowed to take PH examinations orally. My PH doesn’t need to read Shakespeare; he needs to read tracks in the dust. What governments must not do is lower the standards for blacks. The oral exam given to underprivileged blacks should have the exact same questions, with the exact same minimum score, as that given to white candidates.
Many have called for a system of competitive tenders for the allocation of hunting concessions. However, startup black safari companies have less access to capital than established white companies. Therefore, I would support a system that favors tenders from black owned companies. It should still be competitive, and the favoritism should be spelled out in advance and should be totally transparent. The favoritism should be carefully designed so it does not jeopardize the quality of experience for clients. In the last issue of African Indaba, several writers called for programs to certify nations and safari companies which meet certain standards of wildlife conservation and social welfare. Standards that might be feasible for well-financed, white-owned companies might be barriers to entry into the industry for startup black entrepreneurs. If one of the social welfare issues is black participation in the industry, then certification standards might be self-defeating. Black-owned companies might need technical or financial assistance to meet the standards.
White PHs and white-owned safari companies must play a major role. They must do most of the training and they must promote blacks. If they dawdle, progress should be made a condition of their PH licenses and concession contracts. Is a requirement to train your future competitors too bitter a pill to swallow? Not if it is essential to the overall health and sustainability of the safari industry. White PHs and safari companies must contemplate the lessons from Zimbabwe. They must take the long view. The very best PHs will accept this challenge and will prosper alongside their black brethren.
Having interviewed and hunted with a dozen blacks who are moving up in the industry, I have a pretty good assessment of their capabilities. Their hunting skills ranged from excellent to superb. The organizational and communications skills ranged from adequate to superb. Most were deficient in marketing skills. I proposed to SCI that they bring every interested black PH to their annual convention in Nevada and provide a workshop on marketing. Maybe the time wasn’t right, or maybe it is just too expensive to do this in America. Maybe we needed a coalition of international organizations that could have shared the cost, as the cost was too high for SCI to carry by itself. There is a need to provide assistance to blacks with the challenge of marketing at the international scale and this assistance may need to occur in Africa, Europe and America.
Of all the parties that must contribute to the racial diversification of the safari industry, the greatest burden will be borne by blacks themselves. Given half a chance, they will do just fine. They bring to the industry a knowledge of wildlife engrained in their culture over the centuries and they know better than any of us how to bring the benefits of wildlife to their people. I am not calling for an industry that is dominated by blacks, but rather for an industry that ultimately will be color blind. I want to see an industry that has enough black participants that it could not be abolished without political repercussions. Highly visible participation by blacks would enable a more constructive dialogue between the industry and the black governments and also between the industry and rural communities. Above all, I want to see a safari industry that draws from all available talent, develops all employees to their fullest potential, and provides clients with the richest possible African experiences.