By NQOBANI NDLOVU
Asea of poverty pictures Lupane in Matabeleland North, a district sitting on an untapped lucrative coal bed methane gas resource, which has witnessed several ribbon-cutting ceremonies ostensibly to kick-start an energy project worth billions of dollars.
It has been a tale of unfulfilled promises from the government, which has continuously threatened to ensure the natural resource is commercially exploited to generate thousands of jobs and millions in potential revenue.
The government granted the exploration of gas in Lupane a national project status in 2007 and announced several deadlines for the full exploitation of the resource to start, but without success decades later.
According to findings, Zimbabwe’s gas reserves are estimated to be more than those of all other countries in the region combined.
The Sadc gas resources are said to stand at 420 billion cubic metres of coalbed methane, while it is estimated that Hwange and Lupane in Zimbabwe areas have over 800 million cubic metres per square kilometre.
It is estimated that the country has more than 40 trillion cubic feet of potentially recoverable gas in the Lupane-Lubimbi area, enough to generate millions of dollars in potential revenue and jobs for the unemployed in the district.
However, poverty, and underdevelopment mirrored by poor social services infrastructure is all that villagers of Lupane have to endure despite being situated in a district with tonnes of coal gas.
“It appears there is lack of government commitment and goodwill to see the project taking off.
“We continued to read in the media that an investor has been found and the project will start soon but nothing has ever happened,” said Vumani Ndlovu, the coordinator of the Rural Communities Empowerment Trust, a Lupane based non-governmental organisation.
“Not much has been done except surveys, which were carried out.
“Even the Lupane community is not aware of what is happening, the plans around that project as well as how they can benefit from it.”
Natural gas reserves were discovered in Lupane decades ago, but commercial exploitation has been failing to take off despite exploration showing that the resource can be harvested commercially for domestic and industrial use.
Methane gas is mostly used in power generation and fertiliser production. The resource is an important source of energy being predominantly utilised in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries.
Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs minister Richard Moyo who is also the ruling Zanu PF party chairperson in that province regretted failings to bring the gas mining project into life.
“We were told by the Mines ministry that an investor has been found, but as far as we know, there is no activity,”Moyo said.
“As a province, we keep pushing the relevant ministries to find an investor to tap into this resource to ensure economic benefits to the people of Lupane and the province as a whole.”
Mines minister Winston Chitando demanded written questions when asked about progress on the project.
Chitando, however, did not respond to the questions by the time of going to print.
In January reports said South African mining company Tumagole Consortium was committed to investing as much as R55billion on the coal bed methane gas project, but nothing came out of it.
In September 2019, the government said Chinese firm Sinosteel was interested in the project. It has been the same announcements as in previous years, but zero movement on the ground.
Analysts are not amused by the failure of the Lupane gas mining project to take off, with Effie Ncube arguing that this only exposed government’s commitment to its marginalisation policy.
“This symbolises the unwillingness of the government to invest in poverty eradication, education, job creation and economic development in the Matabeleland region,” Ncube said.
The Lupane gas mining project is among other failed projects in Matabeleland such as the Ekusileni Hospital, legendary Nkayi road and the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) among others.
“The government is so committed to its marginalisation policy that despite the billions of dollars that Lupane gas will give the country and the role of the MZWP in guaranteeing food security and industrial development,” Ncube added.
“When it comes to the region, the policy is very clear, keep it poor forever.”