Furore over US$100m coal mining project

A PLANNED US$100 million coal mining project in Gwayi is threatening surrounding wildlife conservancies as well as raising fears it will pollute the Gwayi-Shangani dam, which is viewed as Bulawayo’s solution to water problems.

Liberation Mine, a joint venture firm between Zimbabwean and South African investors, was granted a licence to prospect for coal-bed methane on February 22 and has been clearing vast tracks of land for coal extraction.

The community and players involved in the dam construction fear that activity on the coal fields will affect wildlife and the water project.

Maxwell Sibanda, an official with Gwayi Conservancy Association, yesterday said due to the extensive usage of chemicals such as benzene in coal mining, the Gwayi-Shangani Dam and its green belt that sustains a wide array of wildlife could be a casualty.

“What is more worrying is that the environment impact report is not yet out, but exploration work is underway. We fear that chemicals used in mining could seep through to the dam site and contaminate the water. This would require extensive use of water purification chemicals,” said Sibanda.

He added that once the water was contaminated, downstream agricultural industries such as fisheries, which sustain local communities, would collapse.

“It is common knowledge that fish cannot survive in contaminated water, so the fish industries might fail to take off,” Sibanda said.

Regarding wildlife, Sibanda said coal dust would affect the growth of vegetation, while noise associated with mining activities could force animals that include a large herd of elephants to flee.
“Another worry is on vegetation,” he said “Coal dust is known to affect the growth of trees just like in Hwange.  Animals here are now used to the vegetation, hence any disturbance is likely to have an effect on eating habits of animals resulting in them migrating,” he said.

Villages in the vicinity of the mine site include  Kana Block, Mazwa, Hangano and Chimwara.
A safari operator in the area said: “We are not sure of how far the mine would stretch as we are getting conflicting reports. Two weeks ago Liberation Mine officials told us that they are taking up about 6 500 hectares, but on Monday it emerged during a meeting that 16 545 hectares is under the mining concession.

“Now some safari operators would have their revenue affected as animals are expected to flee the area due to noise from the mine. We need explanations.”

Safari operators say they average US$100 000 in earnings per hunting season which lasts three months.
A  stakeholders’ meeting, that would involve safari operators, Zimbabwe  National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) Bulawayo chapter Affirmative Action Group (AAG), Bulawayo City Council and government is on the cards to discuss the issue.

Liberation Mining’s Hangano concession covers a total of 16 545 hectares with coal reserves estimated to be 1, 5 billion tonnes with a lifespan of between 15 to 20 years of open-cast mining.

Liberation Mine has set a US$100 million budget for mining coal in Gwayi and its South African partners, LontohCoal, have already released US$2 million for the project.
The company expects to start mining by year-end and go full throttle during the first quarter of 2011.
The mine is targeting producing 100 000 tonnes of coal monthly.

A Liberation Mine spokesman yesterday confirmed that they were yet to get an environmental assessment impact certificate although workers were already on the ground.
“On the environmental assessment impact, that is work in progress as our consultants are currently on site,” the spokesman said.

“We expect the report to be out in two weeks time, but now we are conducting exploration drilling, taking out samples of the product.”
He said concerns on the potential of the project to affect the Gwayi-Shangani water project would be clarified by the report.

LontohCoal, which says it plans to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange by November, is a specialist mining exploration finance company with investments in coal, gold, iron ore, nickel and platinum.

National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Vitalis Chatenga could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press last night.

Water Resources Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday that he would engage the Mines ministry over the project’s potential effect on the Gwayi-Shangani Dam project.

 

Nqobile Bhebhe