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Gwanda villagers cry foul: Mine polluting water, ruining lives

Community leaders from Ward 11 in the Mandihongola area of Gwanda have raised concerns about the operations of the Gwanda Lithium Mine, which they say have contaminated their water sources and contributed to air pollution.

The mine, jointly owned by Crawford Minerals and Dinson Mining Investment, a subsidiary of the Tsingshan Group of China, started operations in 2022.

This came to light during a meeting convened by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Society (ZELA) to build the capacity of community monitors to independently monitor the Gwanda lithium project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

This initiative aims to increase the knowledge of affected communities.

On top of pollution concerns, the community leaders said they were not consulted when the mine started operating.

According to the revised EIA report, only 34 people were consulted.

“The names in the EIA are just from one village, not the whole ward. The dust affects wards 11, 12, 16, 19, and others. Most homesteads along the road are now covered in dust, leading to breathing difficulties,” they said.

They expressed concern that while villagers haven’t been officially displaced, they might be forced to move due to dust and noise pollution.

“At the moment, no one has been displaced, but we believe people will be forced to move on their own because it’s difficult to live in such a dusty and noisy area. If all processes were followed properly, villagers were supposed to be resettled somewhere, but they didn’t do that, likely to evade expenses. However, villagers will likely be forced to relocate on their own.”

They added that the road infrastructure is deteriorating due to the frequent use of heavy vehicles in the area.

“We haven’t seen any assistance from the company as a community. They have destroyed our dams, where our livestock used to drink, and covered one of them with their overhead lines.”

The community leaders said they have requested the company to drill boreholes, scoop dams, and supply them with school furniture, but they have not received any assistance.

“We saw a claim somewhere that they had drilled 12 boreholes for us, but we haven’t seen them. The problem is that they lie a lot. Last week, government officials visited and lied about assisting. As the leadership, we couldn’t contradict them in front of the officials.”

The leaders believe there is no hope that the mining company will help the vulnerable in the community, as they are unsatisfied with the recruitment process.

Meanwhile, Lungile Masuku, the Director of the Gwanda Community Economic Justice Development Trust, echoed the concerns, emphasising the lack of clear communication channels for addressing grievances.

“The road runs through the middle of villagers’ homesteads, so the dust is excessive and unbearable. It affects many wards, including 11, 14, and 18, from Ntepe up to Mahongola, where the mine is located.”

She added that cultural practices have been disrupted as the mine has cordoned off areas containing graves.

Masuku called for improved communication and engagement between the community, authorities, and those responsible for addressing these issues effectively.

“Currently, they don’t know where to take their grievances, whether to the chief, the Ministry of Mines, or the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). There is a lack of knowledge at the community level about how to address their issues,” Masuku said.

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