Parly on Dinde mining project fact-finding mission

By Tinashe Mungazi

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Tourism and Climate, Thursday, descended on Dinde in Hwange district on a fact-finding mission following a petition by villagers that sought to block a coal mining project in their area.

The Dinde community has been locked in a protracted standoff with Beifer Investment which they accuse of failing to consult them and subsequently producing a ‘doctored’ Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

The villagers through the Dinde Residents Association petitioned Parliament seeking an investigation into the EIA report produced on behalf of the Chinese company by Geovannal Consultancy which purported that the community had consented to the project.

In the petition, the villagers argued that they were never consulted by the company’s consultant as is required by law and the proposed project infringes on their human, land and environmental rights.

“Respectfully show that your Petitioners: being citizens of Zimbabwe whose rights are enshrined and protected by the constitution. Recognizing that the Constitution of Zimbabwe mandates Parliament of Zimbabwe to make laws, carry out executive oversight and discharge a representative role, as well as protect the Constitution and democratic governance in Zimbabwe; cognizant that Section 59 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe grants every person the right to present petitions. Your petitioners are mindful of the fact that section 13(2) of the Constitution states that the State and all institutions and agencies must endeavour to facilitate rapid and equitable development and that people must be involved in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programs that affect them,” read the petition in part.

The villagers contended that on the conduct environmental regulatory authority, EMA over its handling of the EIA process before calling for investigations into the awarding of the license.

“The Environmental Management Agency accredited Geovannah Consultancy to be Environmental Impact Assessment consultants. Your petitioners are informed that Geovannah Consultancy was engaged by Beifer Investments to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment of a mining project to be implemented in Dinde. Katambe villagers in the Dinde area, who are peasant farmers, would naturally be affected by any proposed mining operations in their midst. They are therefore a stakeholder. Your petitioners believe that Geovannah Consultancy, acting on behalf of Beifer Investments, ought to have engaged the community in the EIA consultative processes. However, the consultations never included affected community members, if ever there were any stakeholder consultations,” read the petition.

The committee queried the petitioners on how in some instances the same people in the petition were also appearing on the consultant’s registers.

“I have an issue that I seek clarity on how is it that some of people appearing on the Consultant’s documents are the same that are petitioning the consultation process which you argue was not done. What we have noticed is that some names of locals are also present in your petition yet you are crying foul of not being consulted, ” queried Hon Sibonisiwe Moyo.

Villagers speak on the controversial coal mining project

One of the petitioners, Barnabas Dube explained to the parliamentarians that this was caused by the fact that people had signed attendance registers which the consultant later used to say the people had consented and been consulted.

Hon Miriam Chikukwa raised an issue as to why some of the petitioners were not residing in the area but signed the petition.

Committee chairperson, Hon Yvonne Musarurwa said the committee would come up with a report before making recommendations to Parliament but could not be drawn to say when that was likely to happen.

“We came here to hear out the views and concerns of the villagers who petitioned Parliament. Our role to listen and verify information so that we have a better understanding of what is going on. Thereafter a report will be tabled with recommendations from the committee before Parliament for debate and way forward. I cannot say when this whole process is likely to take place it can be next week or month but we will ensure that it is dealt with,” she said.

Some village heads told the committee that they were told by Chief Nekatambe to accept the project since it had the blessing of government.

“We did not know what was going on too as village heads. We were summoned by the chief after noticing and querying on the sudden activities that were taking place of Chinese nationals who were drilling behind homesteads with consulting or informing anyone. The chief told us that it was government program which needed to be supported as it was going to develop the area. We didn’t agree immediately as some people allege but we deliberated over the issue. When some of us informed the people in our villages we drew their anger as they argued that the investor had shown great disrespect and disregard for the owners of the area by not consulting them, ” said the village head.

The company which arrived in the area armed with a Special Exploration Grant in 2019 has since started exploring for coal in the area regardless of the villagers’ resistance.

Several initiatives by government including sending a delegation led by the Minister of Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Matebeleland North, Richard Moyo to break the impasse have failed prompting the villagers to seek legislature intervention.

The standoff has also seen the arrest of activist, Never Tshuma who is facing a charge of incitement to commit violence following skirmishes that took place when workers from Beifer Investment started drilling in the area.

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