HomeEnvironmentMineral wealth at the expense of ecology

Mineral wealth at the expense of ecology

This is a question I have lately found myself asking seeing how we keep discovering buried treasures in a country where the economy is given prominence over all else.

There has for the past months been so much controversy following the rampant invasion of conservancies that previously sheltered the country’s wildlife, one of the natural resources Zimbabwe had been lucky to be richly blessed with.

Those that have taken over these places that previously qualified as wildlife sanctuaries, although operating under the guise of being farmers, have of late proven to all who have cared to follow up on the issue, that farming is in actual fact the last thing on their minds.

Their agenda is clearly to benefit as fast and as much as they possibly can, while they still can, from any resource that is to be found in these areas.
Naturally, the wildlife has proven to be their main target. There have been reports of a lot of animal killings going on, with the poachers targeting mainly elephants, for their tusks. When they are not killing animals, they are cutting down trees to sell as firewood.

In the invaded Chiredzi River Conservancy for instance, dead elephants continue to be discovered, with their tusks plucked out. The situation is the same in Save Conservancy and all the other conservancies that have since been invaded.

In fact, seeing how things are going, I doubt if we can really still call these areas wildlife conservancies as the animals are clearly not safe there anymore.
While we anxiously awaited action to be taken by the responsible authorities to restore sanity in the conservancies, yet another bomb was dropped recently, which dampened my spirit even further. Another conservancy has been invaded, this time by mining companies.

A number of mining companies have reportedly been granted mining licences at the Hwange, Gwayi and Dete Conservancy, an area  in Matabeleland North that falls under the Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area, a joint venture between Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
The establishment of trans-frontier parks between neighbouring African countries has been hailed as a great way to conserve the continent’s treasure — wildlife —  as well as a good way to boost tourism and creating major opportunities for socio-economic growth.

The tourism sector in Zimbabwe contributes significantly to the country’s GDP, and if the attractions were complemented, it would contribute even more.

That is why news of mining companies having been granted licences to mine for coal, a resource reported to be in such abundance in the Hwange region that it is estimated mining it will last an average of a thousand years, comes as a major slap in the face.

The Hwange area is home to much of what is left of Zimbabwe’s wildlife as that is where the country’s largest wildlife reserve is located.

According to the chairman of the Hwange, Gwayi and Dete conservancy, Langton Masunda, the area is the second biggest tourist revenue generator, next only to the majestic Victoria Falls.

What is further vexing about the whole saga is how the mining companies are reported to have begun operations before Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) were carried out.

Mining at the trans-frontier park is a move that, if pursued (and I am sure it will be), is going to have a devastating impact on the environment and the tourism sector. Already, the wildlife in the area is reported to be slinking away into neighbouring Botswana. As for those animals that will remain, I feel for their safety as I can bet my last dollar that besides the mining operations, poaching will soon be rife in the area.

And because the area where the four companies have started mining lies very close to the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, there is a major likelihood of the waste flowing into the water reservoir, posing a serious danger to the people.

Mines and Mining minister Obert Mpofu is reported to have uttered this statement: “The mining law supersedes any other law because that is where the economy is.”

This is a statement that clearly tells us that as a country, the economy comes before any thought of ecological balance.

It means that our representatives consider environmental issues to be secondary. This means all the talk about “greening the economy” and restoring the battered environment has been nothing but rhetoric meant to hoodwink the public and the international community into thinking, like most forward-thinking governments, Zimbabwe also cares about the environment.

At least the minister’s statement helped us see exactly where the authorities stand on environmental issues. This also gives some validity to the argument that the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), despite all the talk, does not actually have much of a say when it comes to environmental matters that really matter.

This reminds me of the building on wetlands issue; in spite of loud proclamations by EMA against projects of that nature, the construction of a hotel by the Chinese on the wetland near the National Sports Stadium goes on even as we speak.

As for the Environment ministry, I would swear such an institute is non-existent in Zimbabwe!

And so is the situation in Zimbabwe, where the economy is given prominence and where, as long as there is money to be made, every other factor automatically becomes secondary. Even more pathetic is the fact that the economically viable but environmentally hazardous projects have failed to bring economic relief to the majority and up to now, has only benefited a few well-connected individuals.

I could go on and explain the negative effects that coal as an energy source will have on the environment, but I doubt if that would really change anything.

For feedback, email at cmasara@standard.co.zw

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