By Staff Writer
A MAJOR turf war has erupted between more than 50 miners and the Muzarabani Rural District Council (MRDC) over access to rich chrome mining claims inside the Mavuradonha Wilderness.
The miners, who include locals and foreign investors, accuse the local authority of denying them access to the claims even though they possess valid special mining grants.
Also fighting on the side of MRDC are two companies, Nzou Safaris, owned by local businessperson George Seremwe and Varden Safaris, which operate facilities in the pristine wildlife reserve.
Mining companies are questioning the validity of contracts awarded to the two safari operators, giving them rights over swaths of land straddling over 65 000 hectares.
Information obtained by the Independent this week indicates the safari projects are originally supposed to cover 20 000ha but the operators are now claiming the entire wilderness area covering 65 000ha and spilling into land under the auspices of three other rural district councils, Mbire, Guruve and Pfura.
While conservationists argue that the land is sacred and should not be disturbed by mining activities, miners say their mining models which persuaded government to offer them claims accommodate conservation work to co-exist with mining as is the case in Umfurudzi Game Park.
Matopos and Hwange National Parks, among others, have since set precedence of a harmonious co-existence between mining and conservation.
The stance taken by the Muzarabani Council has infuriated both the foreign investors and the indigenous miners as some have already invested hundreds of thousands of United States dollars in exploratory work and machinery procurement.
“This is shocking that a contract can be signed with individuals and with a clause that says no mining should take place thereby robbing the nation of a prime resource to the benefit of one individual. Such a situation is tantamount to holding the country to ransom,” an official source said.
“This is one of the poorest districts in the country, yet that particular vast communal land is rich in a wide range of minerals and has been parcelled off for the benefit of a single individual. The local communities have not been benefitting from this small conservancy. There is definitely a serious collusion between the conservancy companies and MRDC top officials to block miners from contributing an economic benefit to the community and the country through mining in the area,” the source said.
The Mavuradonha area is one of the richest in terms of mineral resources since it is where the Great Dyke geographically starts. Minerals found there, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Mines’ Geological Survey department, amongst others include, gold, platinum, nickel, uranium, gas and chrome.The Zimbabwe Independent is further informed that the same people awarded the contract by the Muzarabani Council to run the conservancy, owe levies to the local authority running into millions of Zimbabwean dollars.
“Muzarabani Council is completely disregarding the special mining grants awarded by government protecting the interests of an individual who has control of over 66 000 hectares of communal land,” another source said.
“This has been happening for over 10 years since the contract was awarded. It is also critical to note that in the same conservancy people are in possession of the area’s mineral geological maps, which then substantiates the fact that this fight is not only about conservancy but obviously people trying to protect their mining interests, chasing away mining investors by hiding behind conservancy.”
Contacted for comment, MRDC chairperson Alderman Chiweshe said the MOU and contract was awarded to Nzou Safaris and Varden Safaris was guided by the 1988 Statutory Instrument which made Mavuradonha Wilderness a conservancy area.
He further noted that the awarding of the MOU was transparent, and the terms and conditions are in black and white.
“As MRDC, our position is that we are saying no to mining and we stand guided by the SI’s that were issued by the central government which states some areas in Mavuradonha should be protected,” Chiweshe said.
“Remember an SI is more powerful than the council resolutions, therefore we will stand guided by the outcome of the discussions currently ongoing between Line Ministries.
“The signing of the MOU was above board and when it comes to interests, maybe we may be accused of working with the conservancy people because we have all been championing this conservancy agenda and as councils were guided by the statutory instruments from central government.
“The issue is that most miners have been proposing open cast mining which we thought has more capacity to destroy the Wilderness area compared to underground mining,” he added.
Seremwe representing Nzou Safaris, said: “The conservation programme is what we will try to work on and promote. I think it is clear and that is also why we undertook the development programme of game breeding and earmarking tourism development. “About the contract being awarded to an individual, that is not correct. The process was done above board through newspaper adverts, everything and we responded and there was proper procedure followed for the awarding of the tender and it’s not an individual but a company called Nzou Safaris which I own.”