Row over Gwayi valley mining activities

BULAWAYO - A storm is brewing over mining activities in the Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area as conservationists blame government ministers for misleading President Robert Mugabe into granting mining rights to the Chinese without due consideration.

A Matabeleland North-based conservation group has accused government ministers who presented the Environmental Impact Assessment report to Mugabe of deliberately misrepresenting facts for personal aggrandisement.

Zimbabwe allowed China Africa Sunlight Energy to mine coal in the Gwayi Valley through a special presidential grant two years ago.

But, according to experts, coal mining activities in the area are threatening to contaminate underground water streams due to chemicals such as ammonia, benzene and carbon that would be released into the ground as a result of mining activities.

Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area chairperson Langton Masunda told journalists at the Bulawayo Press Club that Mugabe was blameless on the matter that has attracted strong contentions from conservationists.

Masunda accused the committee tasked with conducting a consultation process on the coal mining activities of “deliberately avoiding major stakeholders that have the scientific knowledge, making their Environmental Impact Assessment misleading”.

“When politicians begin to invade the business space using their political muscle everything becomes messed up. Environmental Management Agency compiled its report but those guidelines were not adhered to,” he said.

Condemning the mining activities, Masunda said over the past 12 years, they had not lost any rhino in the conservancy area but already two have been killed since the “invasion”, by mining companies in the process robbing the State of thousands of dollars in potential revenue.

“We have never lost a rhino for the past 12 years but since the Chinese went in already we have lost two which is a clear destruction of an endangered species that might benefit the community.

“Already two aquifers have been blown up just during the exploration process not the actual mining process,” he added.

In 1990 President Mugabe decreed that a habitat of hundreds of elephants that roam the scenic safari area of the Hwange National Park were protected from culling and hunting.

“Ministers come and put proposals which the president is too busy to do.

“The ministers that advised the president might have misrepresented or withheld some vital information,” Masunda said, singling out the ministries of tourism, mines and environment as responsible.

“Those who advised the president on that particular project made the wrong decision and when they presented it to him, they presented it with rosiness in it like a love letter,” Masunda added.

Masunda claimed that he has since engaged the minister of Water Resources Samuel Sipepa Nkomo and Environment and Natural Resource Management minister Francis Nhema, whom he said also shared similar concerns.

The Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area is worried that the project will certainly degrade the environment and affect the tourism sector while also compromising relations with regional partners such as Botswana and Mozambique.

The region has for years been plagued by perennial water woes which it fears are likely to worsen as the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, that would rely on the construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam would be adversely affected by the mining activities in the area.

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