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Land degradation courts villagers’ ire

MUTARE — Residents of Penhalonga have expressed mixed feelings over mining operations by a local company, with some urging Government not to renew the firm’s licence until it rehabilitates the area.


The company — DZT-OZGEO — a joint venture between the Development Trust of Zimbabwe and Russia’s OZGEO, has been accused of causing environmental degradation along Mutare River where it has been mining alluvial gold.

But others said the company’s operations were environmentally-friendly and better than most firms operating in the country as DZT-OZGEO always rehabilitated areas it would have mined.

Apart from that, they said, the company was involved in several social responsibility programmes that have helped the development of the area.

However, one of the residents, Paradzai Chikwekwe of Tsvingwe, claimed that the gold mining company was not reclaiming gullies that resulted from its operations.

“Honestly, there is a lot of land degradation caused by DTZ-OZGEO in Penhalonga. For the ministry to give them back the mining licence before they rehabilitate the area will be unfair to the community,” said Chikwekwe. “The gullies left unattended are becoming a trap and we are living in fear.”

He added: “The gullies have also become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and our community is becoming a malaria-infested area. Something should be done to combat the situation.”

Another resident, Andrew Zimunya said government should ensure that the company has clearly spelt out mechanisms to plough back to the community as infrastructure such as roads are being damaged without repair.

“Just like in other mining communities around the country, we also want our share from these resources,” said Zimunya.

“However, it’s not only DTZ-OZGEO which is mining here. All those involved in mining around this area should plough back to the community. What’s left for us is just massive water and air pollution, dilapidated infrastructure and gullies everywhere.”

Zimunya questioned why DTZ-OZGEO was allowed to mine along Mutare River while artisan miners were prohibited.

“We are left with no option but to go into illegal mining because we cannot afford to see all our resources being squandered without any benefit to us,” said Zimunya.

But some residents said failure to renew the company’s licence would cause untold suffering in the community as hundreds of households were directly or indirectly benefitting from the company’s operations.

Lawrence Bingandadi said the closure of the mine had brought untold suffering to the workers and their families.

His sentiments were echoed by Samson Chituko, who said that life had become since mining operations were halted.

Chituko said he could hardly afford to pay school fees for his children, clothe them and properly feed his family following the stopping of mining operations.

Another elderly man from Tsvingwe, Kassam Ali said he has always been surviving on the philanthropy of DTZ-OZGEO.

Another resident, Tembo David from Tsvingwe said he was earning a paltry US$60 a month from NSSA and the closure of the company had affected his family because he was a beneficiary of the company’s charity.

When The Standard news crew visited the mining areas last week, scores of illegal panners had invaded the banks of Mutare River, damaging the land that DZT-OZGEO had rehabilitated, causing serious environmental degradation.

We are doing our part, says DZT-OZGEO

DZT-OZGEO top managers recently made the plea when they appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment to speak on its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) compliance, as well as their corporate social responsibility programmes.

The committee is chaired by Zanu PF MP, Annastancia Ndhlovu.
DZT-OZGEO director, Ismael Shillaev said the ban was causing viability challenges to the company and was also impacting negatively on the livelihood of their employees.

He refuted allegations that the company was destroying the ecosystem, saying DZT-OZGEO had qualified people who were carefully rehabilitating the area after mining.

“We have already rehabilitated where we have mined before. We only opened space where we are mining now. We have rehabilitated around 80 hectares since we started mining,” said Shillaev.
“Proper rehabilitation is one of our company’s policies. We hire experienced people for that. In fact, rehabilitation is our image.”

He added: “When mining, we have never interfered with Mutare River. We have our closed circuit dams and we use water from those dams to wash our plant. We don’t use any chemicals as alleged.”

Shillaev said land degradation was being caused by illegal miners, who had invaded the area, digging areas that the company would have rehabilitated.

“Maybe those who pollute the water are illegal panners,” he said. “DTZ-OZGEO use environmentally-friendly methods and in Russia we are very experienced in alluvial mining.”

The DZT-OZGEO director said the company, together with EMA take water samples from Mutare River every month to test for chemical pollution.

The results have always been negative.

DTZ-OZGEO has also contracted an environmental consultant, Gary Goss, who is also working with members of the Green Zimbabwe to plant trees across Penhalonga.

People are now planting maize on the rehabilitated land.

Last week, Green Zimbabwe senior official, Richard James said his organisation intended to plant thousands of trees in Penhalonga area, targeting schools.

He collects some seedlings from DTZ-OZGEO’s nursery.

Shillaev also dismissed allegations that uncovered gullies were becoming a death trap to humans and animals, saying the areas were always properly fenced with intruders prohibited.

“We have fenced our mining area and there are sign posts too,” he said. “Ordinary people cannot go inside but only those with a hidden interest, illegal persons go through. Being inside our mines is illegal.”

Commenting on allegations that DZT-OZGEO was not doing enough to plough back to the community, Shillaev said they have been involved in charity projects in areas surrounding Penhalonga for a very long time.

“There must be some regulations because we have built an orphanage, classroom blocks in different schools, we have given computers, we are planting thousands of trees in Penhalonga and at one time we helped build new a water network at Tsvingwe and roads too,” he said.

“We are a mining company and we should concentrate on our business. Our main target is to prospect and mine minerals. It’s not possible that the mining company can solve all the community problems.” he said.

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