RENEWED concerns about the environmental damage mining activities are inflicting on the Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area, Matabeleland North province, have flared up after 10 exploration licences were issued to Chinese companies and senior Zanu PF officials who have invaded the region exploring for minerals.
Report by Tendai Marima
Information obtained from conservationists and people in the area shows that new mining licences were issued in December to companies exploring the Gwayi valley which is rich in coal, gold, methane and new diamond discoveries.
This has raised concerns that mining activities, some of them illegal and done without environmental impact assessments, would have a negative impact on the hunting and photographic safaris in the wildlife-rich area.
Fears are mounting mining activities would also disrupt the construction of the critical Gwayi-Shangani dam, which is part of Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, the long-term solution to Bulawayo’s acute water problems.
The Hwange/Gwayi Tourism Association has been campaigning against the granting of mining rights in the conservancy located on the periphery of Hwange National Park, the country’s flagship game reserve.
Former Hwange/Gwayi Tourism Association chairman Langton Masunda said yesterday mining companies were exploring and drilling “willy-nilly” in the area causing extensive environmental damage.
Environment and Natural Resources minister Francis Nhema has said the government would not authorise mining activities in the area until the Environmental Management Authority (Ema) has approved the projects.
However, new information obtained this week shows increased activity in the Gwayi valley, amid fears the Chinese and Zanu PF officials were mining without approval, wreaking havoc in the conservancy.
Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) chairman Johnny Rodrigues said a number of mining exploration licences have been granted to new prospectors in the Gwayi valley.
“Ten exploration and mining licences have been issued, some of them to the Chinese and others to senior Zanu PF officials, in Gwayi valley for coal and gold towards the end of the last year. We still don’t know who these companies are, but some people could have begun mining work,” Rodrigues said yesterday.
“The problem is that these mining companies are exploring and digging around without Ema approval. The damage to the environment is frightening. There is serious destruction going on there. Something needs to be done urgently.”
Rodrigues was unable to name Zanu PF officials involved, but said ZCTF was currently investigating the issue. ZCTF’s claims come as the Ministry of Mines last week announced the discovery of gold reserves in Jambezi village, close to the northern side of Hwange National Park, where Mines minister Obert Mpofu hails from.
Government has granted mining concessions to four companies who are in partnership with Zanu PF associates to undertake opencast coal and methane gas mining around the Gwayi area.
At least 20 mining companies have been given concessions to prospect and mine coal there. Some of mining companies operating in the area include China Africa Sunlight Energy, Liberation Mining, Makrock and Sable Mining.
Coal mining firms currently holding licences to mine in the catchment area include Makomo Resources, a mining conglomerate linked to a top Zanu PF official, as well as South African firm Liberation Mining, locally-owned companies Apex Mining, Glotech Engineering, Discovery Investments, KW Blasting, and until recently Clidder Mining.
The latter belongs to business magnate Billy Rautenbach who recently pulled out of the coal mining partnership between with Hwange Coal Colliery Limited.
“There are some companies here, run by Chinese and well-connected people, operating illegally. They have no Ema clearances, no documentation and thus no transparency and accountability,” a local Gwayi resident said this week.
“The problem we have is how are wildlife farms, water bodies, boreholes and mining activities going to co-exist without damaging the environment, our sources of livelihood and water, and nature in general.”
Before venturing into mining, Zanu PF elites previously seized safari ranches in the area and issued hunting licences amongst themselves.
Chairperson of the Gwayi Conservancy Tourism Association, Reuben Mkandla, said although he was not aware new mining licences had been issued exploration activities were taking place in the area, mainly by China International Water and Electric Corporation.
The company was 2003 awarded a commercial maize farming project on 250 000 acres of farmland in southern Zimbabwe.