By Kenneth Matimaire
Residents and civil society representatives in Mutare have vowed to stop the operations of a Chinese quarry mining company, which they say obtained environmental certification using fraudulent means.
The protests have flown into the face of Mutare mayor, Blessing Tandi, who hopes to turn the quarry project into one of his biggest legacies before the 2023 general elections.
The resolution to stop quarrying in Dangamvura, one of the biggest suburbs in the eastern city, was made at a recent citizen dialogue that was organised by Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation, which partnered with the United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association (UMRRT).
The event was attended by Tandi, Farai Maguwu, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) director, and UMRRT programmes coordinator, Edson Dube, in addition to scores of residents.
The residents were unanimous that Freestone Mine, the Chinese company, which is operating the quarry some 8km southwest of Mutare city centre and on the verge of Dangamvura suburb, must stop the project.
Maguwu, who was among the speakers at the meeting, urged the residents and civil society in Mutare to form a united front to stop Freestone from further mining of the Dangamvura mountain.
“It is time for us as residents of Mutare and advocacy groups to come together in order to ensure that we stop this evil project,” said Maguwu.
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The scores of residents who attended the meeting complained that Freestone Mine did not follow proper procedures in obtaining an environmental impact assessment (EIA) certificate to carry out quarrying in the mountain.
Maguwu said responsible authorities — including the Freestone mine and council officials involved in the deal — must be prosecuted since the licensing of the Chinese miner allegedly done corruptly.
“The Chinese started operations without an EIA, which means that they defied the law.
“So, technically, a crime was committed. But no-one has been arrested or fined,” said the CNRG director.
According to section 97 of the Environmental Management Act of 2007, starting a major project without an EIA is a crime for which the offender faces a jail term.
The local authority conceded that Freestone had commenced operations without an EIA.
But the residents were adamant that Freestone must never return.
“We don’t want the quarry.
“The Dangamvura mountain must be left alone,” said Heriet Munyakwe, one of the delegates and a socio-economic rights activist who is also a member of UMRRT.
The delegates were worried that the quarry project was sited too close to a major underground water pipe that supplied Dangamvura and surrounding areas, saying the water supply system could be damaged by blasting.
It was revealed at the dialogue that Freestone Mine gave conflicting accounts regarding the EIA.
In a letter dated November 18 2021, the miner claimed that it was in the process of acquiring an EIA certificate after residents stepped up queries over the company’s presence on the mountain.
But, later, Freestone reportedly claimed that it had been issued with a certificate on September 27, apparently to deflate residents’ pressure.
“On November 18, they inform us that they are still waiting for one (EIA), only to come back and inform us that they secured one on 27 September.
“This just show you the level of corruption that is in our country’s mining sector. No one is honest with the people of Zimbabwe. We will not be able to build our nation like this,” said Maguwu.
Dube, representing UMRRT, declared that the quarry project must be stopped completely, even though the Mutare municipality indicated that it was prepared to give Freestone a chance to regularise its papers.
According to Dube, the miner lied about consulting residents as part of the process to obtain an EIA.
“We queried who had been consulted since we were not aware of any consultations. We discovered that only a few people had reportedly participated even though Mutare has thousands of residents,” said Dube.
He also complained that the municipality had agreed to US$600 lease fee per month, saying the amount was too little, considering that the quarry project was supposed to be a multi-million venture.
Besides, he added, the council had not consulted residents even though it was supposed to be the voice of the residents.
The Mutare mayor, Tandi, did not give a conclusive position regarding the project.
He insisted that he would “listen” to the residents in the spirit of “representative democracy”, but also insisted that the project must be given a life line.
“I would like the project to be one of my biggest legacies. Freestone is going to supply quarry stones at more affordable prices,” he said.
The delegates said if Tandi was genuinely concerned with representing the people of Mutare, he must listen to their grievances and adopt their resolutions, but he left for another meeting before responding to the residents’ request.
The Freestone representative identified as Rouxin excused himself from the meeting, saying he was going for a meeting on the same matter with the Mutare council, the Environmental Management Agency and Mines ministry officials.
He, however, shared a terse statement with IDT ahead of the dialogue: “Freestone will follow the laws in Zimbabwe.
“And we also show respect to local people. We will never damage the good relationship between two our countries (Zimbabwe and China).”
The delegates adopted numerous resolutions at the end of the dialogue, among them making a collective application at the courts to stop the Freestone project.