The tendency by the government to turn a blind eye to Chinese investors showing complete disregard of laws meant to protect the environment has become a major concern for communities and environmentalists.
Tourism minister Walter Mzembi last year told journalists that wetlands will not bring development to Zimbabwe when he was asked to explain his support for a Chinese hotel being built on a fragile area near the National Sports Stadium in Harare. Environmentalists fought a losing battle to stop the construction of the hotel despite advancing a plausible argument that the wetland must be preserved to protect underground water in the city. The area is also part of the Conservation Society of Monavale (Cosmo) Project, which is known worldwide as an important breeding ground for five rare southern African bird species.
Another mining company, Sunlight Africa Sunlight Energy, was also late last year given the green light to mine coal in Matabeleland North despite concerns the activities will result in massive pollution of Gwayi and Shangani rivers. The two major rivers in the province will form the main component of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project that is viewed as the only permanent solution for water shortages in the dry southern parts of the country.
A committee on the Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area warned that the mining activities would negatively impact on any prospects of Bulawayo getting a lasting solution to its water problems, but its concerns were brushed aside by the government.
On Tuesday, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) board came face to face with the destruction in Umzingwane in Matabeleland South where the Chinese are mining gold. EMA chairman Sheunesu Mupepereki, after being shown the damage, called on the affected villagers to resist the “invasion” by the Chinese and drive them away. “Resist the Chinese in the same way the Svosve community did at the start of the land reform until some people in Harare noticed that it was community resistance,” he said. “Organise yourselves and camp at the mines.”
The outburst followed a briefing by Umzingwane Rural District Council chief executive officer Ndumiso Mpofu who said they had been ordered not to interfere with the Chinese miners by senior government officials. This is despite the fact that they are destroying the environment in Umzingwane, which is a catchment area for all of Bulawayo’s supply dams that have been drying up prematurely because of siltation. Mupepereki’s anger is understandable, but calling for violence against the Chinese is downright irresponsible. Zimbabwe has adequate laws to deal with such transgressions and they must not be applied selectively. Government officials who are abetting these illegal activities must be exposed and made to pay for their sins. The Chinese and all other investors should be subjected to the law just like any citizens, not to turn Zimbabwe into some kind of Animal Farm where some are more equal than others.
Xenophobia is not the answer, otherwise the villagers would not be any different from these criminals.