Government ministers Obert Mpofu and Samuel Sipepa Nkomo are headed for a showdown after the former awarded a special grant to Liberation Mining firm for exploration and subsequent mining of coal and extraction of coal-bed methane gas in the Gwayi-Shangani dam catchment area.
The dam is seen as the backbone of Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) which could provide the panacea to perennial water shortages facing the country’s southern region.
The MZWP has been on the drawing board since 1912 but failed to take off due to financial constraints up until today.
Liberation Mining was given a special grant to prospect for coal as well as coal-bed methane gas in the Gwayi-Shangani area by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development recently.
In an interview at the weekend, Nkomo, the Water Resources Development and Management Minister, said they were seriously concerned over the proposed venture.
He added the venture would affect dam construction plans as water could be contaminated by toxic waste and oils from the mining venture.
But Mines and Mining Development minister Mpofu yesterday maintained the project would go ahead as it was a major milestone required for the region’s growth.
The spat comes at a time the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) has vowed to stop the coal-mining project to avoid polluting water expected to solve Bulawayo’s perennial water problems.
Gwayi catchment area manager Fortune Musoni said Zinwa wanted the immediate withdrawal of the coal-mining company from the site.
“We have been engaged in a series of meetings with the mining consultants and relevant stakeholders and have clearly told these people that they should immediately stop their coal-mining operations,” he said.
Musoni said they made it clear to the mining company that the construction of the dam was their first priority.
Commenting on the issue, Nkomo said: “We are concerned by the latest turn of events.
Particularly, we are, as a ministry, worried by the fact that a company has been awarded a special grant for purposes of exploring and subsequently mining coal and extracting methane gas.
“Our worry is specifically that from all these exercises, there is potential environmental degradation and pollution of water that we envisage to draw from the dam and pipe to Bulawayo.”
He revealed that he had discussed his concerns with Environment and Natural Resources Management minister Francis Nhema with whom he shared his misgivings about the company’s operations.
“I have discussed with Francis Nhema. He also shares our concerns and we have thus agreed to demand that we be furnished with a certificate that shows the company (Liberation Mining) satisfied all environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations,” said Nkomo.
Nkomo said they were curious about how the company satisfied EIA regulations when it was clear exploration and mining of the coal was within the Gwayi-Shangani dam catchment area.
“If they (Liberation Mining) give us the EIA certificate, we will look at what was not done and what was done. But it will raise questions on how that venture satisfied the regulations when in actual fact it is situated near the dam site. If they do not furnish us with that certificate, then we will obviously ask how they wanted to establish a mine without having done an impact assessment exercise,” Nkomo said.
But Mpofu retorted: “This is going to be a major venture that the Matabeleland North province requires so as to grow at the same rate with other provinces. We will be able to create jobs and get investment coming to the province. It is very important indeed.”
Mpofu however said he was yet to meet Nkomo over the matter, adding that he was ready to engage the Water minister in discussions over the matter.
“The matter you are raising has not been brought to my attention. I am not aware there are such concerns. I think the Ministry of Water (Resources) is the one whose projects are likely to be affected by this venture. If they are going to be affected, they should tell us and explain to us what dangers this project poses to their own projects.”
He said he was also waiting for an EIA from the company.
“It is only after that exercise that people can start to bring up their concerns and those shall be looked at accordingly,” Mpofu said.
The head of the firm, prominent lawyer Rainor Robinson, told NewsDay that Special Grant Number 4977 allowed them to do prospecting work for coal and coal-bed methane gas.
“The special grant authorises us to explore for coal and CBM (coal-bed methane) gas, this should not be confused with a mining licence.
Subject to compliance with applicable laws and regulations we hope to apply for a mining lease before the end of the year.
Be assured that we will only commence mining when we have been authorised to do so,” he said.
Robinson added: “The results of the drilling exploration programme will determine the size, depth and quality of the ore body which in turn will determine the size of the mine and the number of employees to be recruited.”