NewsWe Investigate

Lithium haulage trucks chaos: Villagers at risk as mine neglects road safety

Heavy trucks transporting lithium ore from Sandawana to the Gwanda lithium mine (plant) in Mandiwongola are leaving a perilous trail of boulders along the Causeway/Ntalale road, posing significant risks to villagers and motorists.

An investigation conducted by CITE has uncovered critical safety lapses contributing to this pressing issue and shedding light on the broader impact of the mine on the local community.

The investigation revealed that these heavy trucks lack proper top covers, allowing large boulders of lithium to spill onto the road, endangering anyone in their path. Additionally, the absence of a weighbridge for the trucks results in overloaded vehicles, further compromising road infrastructure such as bridges.

Villagers of surrounding areas are grappling with the presence of these boulders, which now litter the landscape, posing imminent dangers. The situation underscores the detrimental effects of the mine on the Gwanda community.

The concept of responsible mining states that mining activities should not harm the environment or amount to a violation of human rights. It also speaks of mining companies being responsible in the value chain.

Gwanda Lithium Mine is jointly owned by Crawford Mineral and Dinson Mining Investment, a subsidiary of the Tsingshan Group of China.

The mine commenced operations in 2022.

However, its presence has not been without consequences for the surrounding wards, with villagers lamenting the degradation of road infrastructure and environmental pollution caused by the frequent passage of heavy trucks.

The trail of lithium boulders stretches from Ward 13, Garanyemba, to Mandihongola, posing hazards to both pedestrians and motorists. Villagers expressed concern over the speed at which these trucks navigate the roads, citing instances of accidents and damage to vital structures like the Elliot bridge. While efforts are underway to repair these damages, the overarching issue remains unresolved.

 The road which is used by the heavy trucks also passes just in front of Ntalale business center and the Gwanda lithium mine has moved to put speed humps which are now a menace to drivers using small vehicles.

The villagers also complained that some major bridges now have potholes which is a threat as they may collapse at any time.

A villager Gift Sebata said there is a need for the Gwanda lithium mine to continuously repair the road as heavy trucks damage the road.

“When they first came here, they graded the road and we were happy, but we now believe that they are only here to pave a way for them, to get minerals and leave. Their trucks are damaging the road, there is a need for continuous maintenance of the road,” he said.

Sebata said the heavy trucks have now pushed villagers using scotch carts, bicycles and those using small vehicles off the road.

“When I was going to Gwanda, I was counting the boulders on the road, they are bout 175 from Ntalale bridge to Causeway turn, not just small ones but huge boulders, drivers driving by the night are at a risk, as these are hazards.”

He added, “When we try to ask the truck drivers if the mine owner is aware of this they told us that the road is bad when they are driving, their trucks vibrate leading to the falling of the boulders, but what will happen if it falls when a school child is walking or another vehicle is overtaking what will happen, people will die, they are living these stones there.”

In addition, a villager Dube said the Chinese mine is only rehabilitating the road where they see that their trucks are struggling to pass.

“What caused the boulders to fall from the truck is the ridges in the road, as villagers we use scotch carts, it’s now difficult to use the road, we now using the paths close to the road.”

“The Chinese are only patching where they think they face a danger, there are areas which are left unattended,” said Dube.

Meanwhile, Gwanda Community Economic Justice Development Trust, an organisation which focuses on social injustices happening in the extractives and environment sector, team leader, Lungile Masuku said the community of Mandihongola is complaining about the dust emissions, boulders being dropped on the road.

“We saw the huge boulders and villagers are complaining about the road accessibility especially those with small vehicles.”

“The community thinks that if there may be engagement with duty bearers and also relevant Ministries such as EMA and Ministry of Mines maybe there may be a solution regarding land degradation and issues to do with treatment of employees, even dust emissions that is there. We assist the communities on how to engage duty bearers and relevant ministries,” said Masuku.

She said the organisation conducted research concerning issues of Mandihongola where they were comparing what was written on the EIA vs what the Chinese miner promised.

“We have seen that there is a crisis,” she said.

“When we went to ZINWA they attested that they had promised to drill boreholes but we are just surprised that there are no boreholes, they had also promised that they will fix roads, but they are still the same, there are boulders that are falling but there were mitigation measures that they had said they will implement and reduce speed when using the public road but it seems they are over speeding,” said Masuku

She added, “I think we need to go back to the drawing board with EMA and say the villagers have concerns so that there may be a review of the document.”

One of Gwanda lithium mine directors/ partner, Ngonidzashe Choruma who is based in Harare said he was not aware of the matter before referring the reporter to the mine’s Public Relations Manager, Nickson Katsaranga

“We try to have meetings with the locals, MPs, and village heads, it’s a matter that has not come to our attention. The villagers are quite free to go to the mine and say their grievances, thus why I am surprised it has reached this level, it should have been dealt with at the ground level,” he said.

“We have people at the mine, an HR person, it’s not a matter that had to come all this way up because villagers have got a communication channel.”

Choruma said the lithium mine has water suppressors meant to deal with pollution challenges.

“The minister was there and all those things came up, the water suppressors bowsers are there at the mine, they are meant to go up and down that road,” he said

The mine PR manager, Nickson Katsaranga said he was still consulting authorities.

Contacted for a comment, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Matabeleland South Provincial Manager Descent Ndlovu said the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Mines.

Matabeleland South Provincial Mining Director (PMD) Tariro Ndhlovu confirmed the matter.

“I sent some officers on the ground, it is indeed true, there were quite many boulders on both sides of the two roads leading to Gwanda lithium mine. There are huge boulders which are a danger to society,” said Ndhlovu.

He said they Instructed the mine to ensure that the boulders were removed from the road within 24 hours

“It’s all about safety, while I am new in this province, I don’t know where their mining pit is relative to their processing plant, because if they are using a public road like that, that’s why you see if you drive from Hwange to Bulawayo, you see those trucks carrying coal they have got a top cover which prevents coal from spilling all over the place and also those trucks goes through weighbridges to make sure that they are carrying the correct load on them, and what we are seeing here is basically from my assessment those trucks are overfilled,” said Ndhlovu.

“We will look into that including dust as well if they are passing through a community, it is their responsibility to make sure the road is watered so that the amount of dust is controlled and villagers are not inconvenienced in that respect, but it’s an issue that we will look into and make sure that they comply with the safety regulations governing mining in this country,” he said.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button