MANY would have read with alarm that one Habbard Investments (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of Geo Associates (Pvt) Ltd, intends to explore the two rivers dissecting Mana Pools, one of Zimbabwe’s five heritage sites, for an array of heavy mineral sands deposits.
Report by Itai Masuku
Alarm because the last well-publicised such adventure took place barely two decades ago and was conducted by the world’s biggest oil company, Exxon Mobil of the US.
In fact, this is not the only time that there has been an attempt to carry out mining activities in the Zambezi Valley. Ever since the river has been a major waterway for southern African trade long before the arrival of the first European settlers on the continent, there have been several exploration missions for minerals, particularly gold in and around the Zambezi Valley.
In books such as the Rivers of Gold, one can see that there was much activity along the Zambezi, with major Arab and then later Portuguese trading posts dotted along the river, some famous ones of which are Zumbo, believed to be present-day Kanyemba and the ancient settlement at Ingombe Ilede near Chirundu. Goods would find their way to the sea at ancient ports as Pemba and Sofala on the Indian Ocean.
The Zambezi River is Africa’s only major river that flows into the Indian Ocean, having also flowed to the Atlantic in pre-historic times.
Fortunately, the number of people and in particular the means of extraction and transport in earlier times did not adversely affect the ecology. It was good old pick and shovel, and the silent barges and canoes. Fast forward to the late 1980s to early 1990s, when Exxon Mobil scanned the area around Mana Pools for black gold (oil) and possibly methane gas. The exploration took nearly five years, but at the end of it all, we were told the studies yielded nothing.
However, some who claim to know better say the black gold was discovered, but it was felt this wasn’t yet the opportune moment to exploit the resource in much the same way Anglo Amercian Corporation is said to have discovered platinum at Unki way back in the 60s, but held on to full exploitation. Or the case of De Beers in Chiadzwa.
There was, however, hue and cry from environmentalists and other concerned citizens, and rightly so over the then Exxon Mobil exploration. Ecologists know that it is not easy to be awarded World Heritage Site status by Unesco and Zimbabwe is unique to have five such sites, the others being the Victoria Falls, Matobo Hills and the man-made Great Zimbabwe and Khami monuments.
Just as memories of the Exxon Mobil attempt were beginning to dim, we hear of yet another attempt to disrupt the tranquility at Mana Pools.
We are once again confronted with the situation where environmental interests and the extractive industries clash. Those in support of the exploitation of the Zambezi Valley’s potential minerals may cite the economic benefits that come from there, given the high prices of minerals on the international markets and the demand for carbon fuels, etc.
The Exxon Mobil exploration sparked a lot of controversy, with environmentalists severely objecting to one of Africa’s remaning pristine ecological sites being disrupted for hydrocarbon fuels that are also known to be very detrimental to the environment, especially the protective ozone layer. At least the Exxon Mobil exploration was done in a more environmentally-friendly manner, given the resources at the disposal of the giant multinational corporation.
As for this group that is currently exploring the area for other minerals, one is not sure whether they have adequate resources to do an effective Environmental Impact Assessment and other eco-friendly measures. The reason we very much doubt that is of late mining concessions in Zimbabwe are not given on meritorious grounds. We know that in business it’s now who you know, rather than who has the capacity or means.
We commend the Zambezi Society for once again standing up for the environment. We expect that some will cry foul, citing all sorts of pretexts, including indigenisation. But Exxon Mobil is not indigenous and the society led a spirited objection then as now.
And quite honestly, in spite of all the minerals being mined in Zimbabwe, the country paradoxically remains poor. This is despite that we have some of the key minerals in the world such diamonds and platinum. So what makes anyone think those generally unknown minerals will have an impact on our society?
After destroying the environment, we will still have nothing to show for it. So let’s leave Mana Pools alone. It’s a national heritage.
After all, when it comes to minerals, Zimbabwe has enough to cobble dogs with. So why not concentrate on tourism, which has a multiplier effect across the economy?