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Furore over environmental blueprint

SILAS NKALA

THE Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) has written to Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Mangaliso Ndhlovu demanding the release of the National Environmental Plan in accordance with section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act.

MIHR national coordinator Khumbulani Maphosa wrote to the minister on June 28, 2021 requesting access to the documents.

“We requested for a copy of the National Environmental Plan which they are supposed to develop according to Section 87 of the Environmental Management Act. They acknowledged receipt but did not provide the document,” Maphosa said.

He said they wrote to Ndhlovu once again demanding the plan.

“According to Section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act, they (ministry) have a duty to disclose the information and section 8 mandates that they respond within 21 days which lapsed on July 27,” he said.

“As MIHR we will be escalating the matter because access to the National Environmental Plan is important in the interest of protecting human rights and for public accountability on environmental rights concerns.”

In a letter dated June 28, Maphosa wrote: “Realising that section 73 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe accords the right to an environment that is not harmful to human health and well-being and to have that environment protected for the benefit of present and future generation, noting that section 73 (2) . . . interalia mandateds the state to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of the right to safe environment.”

“This plan is integral for formulating strategies and measures for the management, protection, restoration and rehabilitation of the environment in Zimbabwe. As MIHR we are implementing interventions linked to environmental rights and therefore we want access to the plan to guide our project design and implementation.

“We also want it to disseminate it to the communities as a public environmental document in Zimbabwe. Furthermore, we want the document in order to engage the government, local authorities, and business and ensure accountability on environmental measures as guided by the plan.”

Contacted for comment, Ndhlovu said he had not yet seen the request.

“I have not yet seen the petition. It is just that I am working from home, send me the request so that I look at it,” Ndhlovu said.

The development comes at a time when the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Climate and Tourism has urged Ndhlovu to amend the Environmental Management Act (chapter 20:27) following a coal exploration dispute in the Dinde area of Hwange.

A Chinese firm, BEIFA Investment (Pvt) Limited has been embroiled in a bitter wrangle with the Dinde community in Hwange over the coal mining exploration in the area amid locals concerns that the mining activities would displace them and contaminate their water sources.

Following the endless dispute, the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Climate and Tourism visited the area for a fact-finding mission.

In its report presented in parliament, the committee noted that villagers were informed by the chief that they were not supposed to refuse the coal exploration project since it was a government programme.

“The Committee found that not all village heads had adequately and effectively explained the purpose of their meeting with the chief and the investor to their community members,” reads the report.

“Most of them did not understand the difference between exploration and the actual coal mining processes.”

The committee advised Ndhlovu to amend the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27 to clearly spell out the scope and standards to be followed by registered consultants on stakeholder consultations by December 31, 2021.

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