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Hwange villagers’ wildlife terror

coal mine

DRIVING to Shashachunda Village in Ward 9 of the Hwange District, located in the Matabeleland North, the beautiful scenery of the mountainside is now being replaced by a stench of chemicals.

On the left of the long dusty road to the village, are coal mining and processing activities done by Chinese coal miner, Sunrise Chilota Cooperation (Pvt).

The gradual reduction of the mountainside is clear testament of mining activities ravaging the Hwange escarpment.

The location of these mining activities, however, is in the proximity of wild animal habitats. Deka river, which is one of the water sources in the area, has been polluted, making it unsafe for elephants, crocodiles, and even hyenas.

 Wild animals are encroaching into the human territory in search of drinking sources.

The movement of animals has been exacerbated by their fear of the on-going mining activities, which entail explosions among other things.

“There is a big number of elephants coming to this site. We had to talk to the chief who called game rangers. This was about two months ago,”said Francis Mbulo (61), a resident of Shashachunda Village, who spoke to the Independentduring a recent visit to Hwange.

“Instead of using their usual route, the animals are coming to this side due to these mining activities…We have not seen an improvement.”

The elephants are destroying their livelihood as most people in the area depend on communal and livestock farming for subsistence living.

“It has gotten to a point where even hyenas now are eating my goats,” he said.

Goats typically cost between US$25 to US$30.

Another villager Peter Tube (44) shared similar stories about how his crops were facing threats from marauding elephants.

“During this planting season, it is a disaster.  Elephants destroy crops and people are generally scared of wild animals,” he said.

“I don’t have a pension. It is hard. When this Deka river was okay, my kids and wife used to go to get a bit of fish and sell. But now, because of pollution, there is nothing.

“There were plenty of crocodiles and fish but now they (Chinese miners) have destroyed them. They (crocodiles) have either died or moved to greener pastures,” Dube said.

For Dube, increased Chinese investment activities from coal and coke mining meant polluting the Deka river, which provided a source of subsistence for locals as well as wildlife. The paper spoke to other villagers from Shashachunda Village, who narrated similar stories of more elephants destroying crops while hyenas are attacking livestock.

Apart from Sunrise Chilota, another firm, South Mining Zimbabwe’s activities have also contributed to the Deka river’s pollution and air pollution.

A May research journal done on Zimbabwe mining, submitted to the World Development Journal by Swiss researchers Désirée Ruppen and Fritz Brugger, from ETH Zurich, a Switzerland-based public university, noted some of these challenges faced by villagers. World Development Journal is a monthly peer-reviewed academic journal covering development studies established in 1973 and published by Elsevier, a Netherlands-based academic publishing company specialising in scientific, technical, and medical content.

“Today, Hwange town is still under the administration of the mining company. Most residents live in compounds initially built for the mine workers, close to former underground mines and surrounded by coal waste dumps, processing facilities and the thermal power plant,” it said.

Sadly, both Mbulo and Dube’s experiences are a trend of increased reports of human/wildlife conflict as a result of increased mining.

“Human-wildlife conflict is mainly concentrated in rural areas, but due to mining activities taking place close to Hwange urban, we are seeing more elephants finding their way into human settlements in urban setups,” Greater Hwange Residents Trust coordinator Fidelis Chima told the Independent.

“They run almost three-quarters of Hwange town, it’s their property. So, all business, almost three quarters are controlled by Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL).”

Ncube said councillors were now pushing for the incorporation of wards under HCCL to be included under Hwange Local Authority to make decisions that help communities.

“If only the government can speed up the incorporation issue so that we have powers over these wards,” Ncube said.

Recently, two villages Makwika and Ingagula experienced a coal fire incident that claimed a minor while several were injured.

The incident emanated from the coal mining activities by HCCL that triggered underground coal fires.

While HCCL has cordoned off dangerous hotspots for coal seam fires, years of coal dumps are now igniting under the intense heat of the region also leading to elephants leaving their habitats for residential areas.

“The No.3 underground mine (one of HCCL’s mines) was closed way back, maybe in 1998. So, there were some contaminated coal rubbles which they were disposing of and those rubbles are now igniting under the intense heat,” Ncube said.

Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) executive director Farai Maguwu said coal mining activities are on a massive expansion in Hwange, causing dumps to ignite.

“We are also noticing that the problem of coal seam fires is on the rise in Hwange and those communities have been suffering in silence. The role of the government has been to manage the information that comes out of Hwange rather than manage the problem,” Maguwu said.

He said between 2016 and 2019 they had been engaging government and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), which promised to enlist a German consultant to look into these concerns.

EMA spokesperson Amkela Sidanke said no one was above the law and there was selective application of it.

“No one is above the law. All investors whether local or foreign, regardless of origin, race or colour, for as long as they undertake prescribed projects including mines, are subjected to an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment process and approval,” Sidanke said.

Throughout the year, several legislators have grilled Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndhlovu over how Chinese miners were getting licences in these areas.

Ndhlovu did not answer repeated calls to his mobile his week.

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