Hwange residents in another showdown with Chinese mining company

By Tinashe Mungazi

CHINESE company, Afrochine which was offered a special grant to mine coal next to the Hwange National Park is headed for a showdown after residents and safari operators strongly objected to the move.

Afrochine Smelting (Pvt) Ltd is a subsidiary of China’s second-biggest stainless steel products manufacturer, Tsingshan Group.

The Company currently operates smelters for ferrochrome smelting in Selous and recently fired up its coke oven plant at Lukosi in Hwange.

It is one of the companies that was initially offered a special grant to explore and mine coal in Hwange National Park last year, a move that was strongly resisted by residents, conservationists, safari operators and environmental activists forcing government to reverse the decision.

However, in a recent development, which is set to reignite the issue of mining in or near National Parks and Protected Areas, government issued Afrochine the green light to mine in Deka Safaris Area, a wildlife corridor.

The move has irked residents and safari operators who have come out guns blazing arguing that the development had detrimental effects on livelihoods and tourism.

In a statement on the proposed coal mine released today Greater Whange Residents Association (GWRT) said they strongly objected to the exploration and mining activities in the Deka Safari Area.

“Greater Whange Residents Trust strongly objects the exploration and any mining activities to be carried out in the Deka Safari area of Hwange by Afrochine. As much as we appreciate that the company was awarded a Special Grant to prospect and mine for coal, as inhabitants of Hwange, we feel any mining activity in the aforesaid area has detrimental effects on our livelihoods in the near future. We have noted with concern that the areas being targeted for mining activities are within the confines of Hwange National Park and most notably where there are reliable water drinking points (Deka and Lukosi River, Mandabvu dam as well as Masuma and Shumba Pans),  for animals,” read the statement in part.

Residents said they feared that any mining activity in the said area would affect water bodies leading to pollution, land degradation and will deplete wildlife population. 

“We believe mining activities strain the already low water table, which means less water will be available for the wildlife. Water bodies such as rivers near the affected area are likely to be polluted due to mining activities putting the lives of people and animals in danger. Of course, we are aware of the immense contribution of energy being realised from coal to our country’s economy, but we believe greater are the benefits we can obtain from conserving our fauna and flora.”

They added that while jobs would be created through the mining activities they would be short-lived as minerals depleted.

“It is important to take note that mines’ lifespans depend on the availability of a resource and once depleted only a trail of environmental degradation will remain as a sorrowful reminder for generations to come. Yet proper wildlife conservation management is a lifetime benefit to the country.”

 According residents, the proposed mining project also stands to destroy and violate local people’s cultural sites and ancestral shrines.

Safari operators have also expressed concern at the latest development with some calling on government to reverse the award.

“We received a notice from SustiGlobal Consultancy that the Chinese company has been given a special mining grant at the Deka Safari Area which is a wildlife corridor. We understand they were given 3710 hectares of land close to Hwange National Park to do coal mining. Our worry is the effects that it will have to the wildlife and tourism in general. Mining in safaris affects the tourism ecosystem and is detrimental to the environment. We do not agree with mining in safari areas. Besides that the area is also close to Shangano cultural site, an important heritage site for the Nambya people and these mining activities will affect culture. As safari operators we have since sent a statement to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to reconsider issuing of special mining grants in safari and national parks areas,” said Elisabeth Pasalk, chairperson for Association for Tourism Hwange.

Through its consultant, SustiGlobal Consultancy the company has since issued questionnaires to various stakeholders in Hwange as part of the consultation process to assist it to identify potential environmental, social, economic and health impacts as well as suggest mitigation or enhancement measures for the proposed project.

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