CABINET on Tuesday shot down a request by Environment and Tourism minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu to regularise illegal mining activities inside Zimbabwe’s national parks.
The government has resolved to ban all mining activity in the game park by directing the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) to stop allowing miners to access mineral-rich claims within the parks for a fee, abolish all mining activity and reserve the wildlife sanctuaries for animals.
ZimParks has been charging US$4 000, which it said was meant to reclaim the environment and control rampant illegal mining.
Official sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that Ndlovu had pushed hard for the proposal to be adopted in cabinet. He enlisted the support of Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando.
“Basically, the minister (Ndlovu) came with a proposal in which he sought cabinet’s greenlight to regularise illegal mining activities, which have of late been rampant in our national parks. The argument was that these activities were going on anyhow and their regularisation would enable ZimParks to assert control and also reclaim the land degraded during the process. He also argued that the money would be used in ZimParks’ conservation efforts and ensure better remuneration of ZimParks rangers responsible for protecting these wildlife sanctuaries,” an official source said.
“However, the proposal was roundly dismissed by all cabinet members, except for Chitando, who initially supported the idea. Mangaliso (Ndlovu) was told plainly there was no way cabinet would approve the proposal since it would open floodgates for indiscriminate gold diggers, as well as poachers and this could further endanger our animals.”
The source said the sharpest criticism came from Defence and War Veterans Affairs minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, herself a former environment minister.
“She (Muchinguri-Kashiri) proposed that ZimParks must instead come up with more innovative ways of conserving the wildlife. She also said ZimParks could raise enough money by selling much of the ivory which is being stockpiled to support its conservation efforts because once these mining activities are permitted, people will come in large numbers to hunt the animals and we may end up losing them. She also emphasised that there are some countries which today no longer have some wildlife species that used to have because of such recklessness,” the source said.
Over the years, there have been a lot of illegal mining activities within the protected areas known as national parks. ZimParks had already regularised some of the mining operations in three parks, namely Matopos, Chegutu and Umfurudzi, which boast considerable gold deposits.
ZimParks director-general Fulton Mangwanya recently disclosed that despite regularising some of the mining operations in those areas, the wildlife authority was failing to prevent the environmental damage.
“When we regularised, we made sure they pay a conservation fee. At the same time, we came up with conditions for miners to rehabilitate the land. But this is not working out well because these are small-scale. We have miners who do not have the capacity to reclaim the land they will have ravaged. This is quite a challenge because our mandate is wildlife conservancy, not mining,” he said while addressing a recent graduation ceremony for ZimParks officials who had just undergone basic military training at Mushandike College of Wildlife Management in Masvingo in March this year.
He said 250 illegal miners have been arrested, but that has not deterred the illegal gold diggers.