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Mine blasts threaten houses and schools in Pumula

Priscila Ngwenya is not the only resident in Pumula North suburb, Bulawayo, who is worried that her house might collapse anytime following the ongoing blasts from a Chinese quarry mine.

Some residents blame the blasts from Hualin Quarry Mine for cracks to their houses.

Most residents in the suburb fear their houses will collapse any minute and they will not have anywhere to stay or anything to leave as a legacy for their children.

Hualin quarry mine was given the nod to operate in the suburb by Bulawayo City Council (BCC) and the contract is valid for 10 years.

 Investigations by CITE revealed that the schools and the houses close to the mining site have now developed cracks following the heavy blasts at the mine which the residents likened to an earthquake.

The investigation was supported by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Society Association (ZELA) as part of the climate change, environmental justice and corporate accountability project.

The blasts which normally happen in the morning and in the evening also triple the ZESA transformer which is also located close to the mine.

“The challenge we are facing is the cracking of houses following heavy blasts from the Chinese mine,” said Ngwenya, one of the residents. 

“We don’t know how we can be assisted with this mine that is within our household. We were never consulted, we only saw this mine here, we now live in fear because these houses are our only heritage. We hope that if we die one day, we may leave these houses for our children, but we are no longer sure due to these heavy blasts.”

She said the heavy blasts which take about three minutes, or more are often heard underneath their houses.

Another resident, Concilia Moyo said she has lost five glasses due to heavy blasts.

“In a community meeting last year, the Chinese promised to go around assessing the situation, but we have not seen them,” said Moyo.

 She said even the heavy-duty vehicles which now frequent the suburb to ferry quarry also have an effect on the road infrastructure.

 “We will die in our houses one day, thus what we are expecting now, they don’t even have a sorry. We don’t even know where to report this matter, he (the Chinese mine owner) even told us that as Pumula residents we are being difficult as he had the same company in Harare but did not experience any challenges,’ said Moyo.

Another resident who also identified herself as Mrs Ngwenya said her house now has two cracks.

“Before this mine my house was perfectly fine. Every time it explodes my house shakes. The house will be shaking as if the miners are underground. Ever since they came in, we now have this challenge. At first the children used to run away as they were not aware of what was happening and they thought it was a gun,” she said.

“These cracks are continuing, and I fear that my house will collapse on the other side, so we are appealing for assistance. We have tried to engage the leadership in different meetings and the Chinese promised to go around seeing the impact, but they have not done this, and we haven’t received any assistance,” said Ngwenya.

She added, “We live in fear as they do this when children are just knocked off from school, the school might even collapse.”

 Another resident said the blast destroyed the door frame, windows and her precast wall.

“I now fear that the wall might collapse any time. It started as a small line but now it has even destroyed the door frame. Another crack has expanded to the electricity lines, and I fear that it might explode anytime,” she said.

“This other day my window shuttered at night, and I still haven’t fixed it. Even on the road, the heavy-duty vehicles caused my precast hall to fall, I don’t even have the money to rebuild it. I think even the ground is now even loose.”

The resident added, “EMA was moving around and told us that the mine’s contract has expired and asked us whether they should renew the contract, but I told them that on my own analysis I don’t want this company here.”

“We fear that if there is heavy flooding here, our houses might sink in, we are not even sure whether the underground is still safe as it feels like an earthquake whenever there is a blast.”

Meanwhile, another resident Celani Webster Sibanda said the other challenge is the Chinese Company is located 100 metres away from a power station and every time there is a mine blast, residents lose power.

“There is a school which is 200m away from this company, even the houses are cracking, this is really painful. When we ask our councilor, she tells us that when she came in, these Chinese were already granted permission to have a company here. We are not getting any assistance from here, she tells us that this company is coming from the president, we even asked EMA to explain to us about this mine, but they are not clear about this company,” said Sibanda.

He also conquered that the trucks coming to the suburb to ferry quarry are depleting the road and mostly evading roadblocks, “they fear paying fines to the police, so we don’t know where we will get a solution.”

“These Chinese have fake promises, they promised to put a jojo tank, fix the road but we no longer want them here as they have fake promises, our houses are collapsing, what they are promising us won’t even fix the collapsing houses.”

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) Organising Secretary for Ward 17 Nqobizitha Moyo said the Chinese company came during the Covid-19 era and there were no consultation meetings.

“Residential houses are also affected, the challenge is that when these Chinese came here it was during Covid-19 and we couldn’t call for meetings to ask residents whether they want him, only committees from BURA, BUPRA, VIDCOS were called. We were made to fill in some forms where they asked us which development we wanted, due to our illiteracy we wrote what we thought were developmental projects, however that made this Chinese company to settle here,” said Moyo.

 He said the other challenge Is that there was no transparency within the leadership itself.

“Some of them are not clear of what they want as they are benefitting which makes it hard for us to take necessary steps.”

Moyo added, “We had hoped to see development, but we are not even getting anything whether schools or clinics.”

 He said other wards are also affected, “Maswazi Primary School in Magwegwe , Mthimkhulu primary school which is also affected.”

Contacted for a comment, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) Corporate Communications Manager, Nesisa Mpofu said the City has received complaints from the residents though their area councilor.

“The councillor and the Ministry of Mines was requested to carry out regular inspections of the mine to ensure that blasting in the mine is done in terms of laid out guidelines as provided for in the Mines and Minerals Act to safeguard properties within the Pumula Suburb,” said the BCC spokesperson.

Mpofu said at the moment, the local authority does not have a specific number of the affected households.

Meanwhile, Mpofu also confirmed that they have received reports from other surrounding suburbs being affected by quarry mine blasting activities.

“There was a reported case from JW Mthimkhulu Primary School in Magwegwe we sent an Interdepartmental committee together with other external organisations that were tasked to investigate, and a report of findings is yet to be compiled,” she said.

Mpofu said if there are damages in the households, the mine operators are expected to compensate the affected residents as per the conditions of the lease agreement.

Questioned on whether the mine is in the city’s plan, Mpofu said master plans give broad guidelines on the development within the city.

 “Thereafter there are other statutory documents that include local plans, local subjects plans and layouts which then detail the establishment of specific uses,” she said.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Bulawayo Provincial Manager, Sithembisiwe Ndlovu, said they are currently seized with the second consultations in the area, following that the mine’s first application has expired.

Ministry of Mines and Mining Development Permanent Secretary, Pfungwa Kunaka, confirmed that the Ministry of mines received the report of Hualin quarry mine.

 “We have checked with our Provincial Mining Director for Matabeleland North in Bulawayo who has confirmed that his office had received the complaints about the blasting activities at Haulin quarry mine, a registered mine situated in ward 17, Pumula, Bulawayo,” Kunaka said.

 Kunaka said upon receipt of the complaints, the Provincial Office sent its inspectors to the ground who have since advised the miner on appropriate mining methods.

“The Ministry is yet to establish evidence of cracked houses as raised by residents,” said the mining ministry official.

Efforts to access Hualin Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from EMA have been unfruitful.

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