GWAYI — Zimbabwe faces a possible row with neighbours Botswana and Mozambique after it emerged that planned mining activities in Matabeleland North could disturb wildlife and contaminate the Zambezi River, according to a conservation group.
Zimbabwe, through a special presidential grant, has allowed China Africa Sunlight Energy to mine coal in the Gwayi valley. But a conservation group is up in arms, saying the project may damage relations with regional partners, degrade the environment and affect the tourism sector adversely.
Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area chairperson Langton Masunda said the Gwayi and Shangani rivers spill into the Zambezi and if there is contamination in either of them, then people downstream in Mozambique will be affected, leading to possible conflict.
Masunda said coal mining would result in the contamination of underground water streams because chemicals such as ammonia, benzene and carbon would be released into the ground as a result of coal-mining activities.
He said Zimbabwe also shares wildlife population with neighbouring Botswana and mining activities in the Gwayi valley “would be disastrous because wildlife would be pushed into Botswana, which is well known to have dryer conditions than us”.
This, he said, would mean Botswana would have to find artificial water supplies for the wildlife.
Masunda said the mining activities would also affect the habitat of the hundreds of elephants that President Robert Mugabe decreed in 1990 would be kept safe from culling or hunting. He decreed that the elephants that roam the scenic safari area of the Hwange National Park were protected.
Matabeleland, Masunda said, has for many years planned to relieve the region of its water woes through the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, which would rely on the construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam. Coal-mining activities in the area, he said, would affect the construction of that dam.
However, China Africa Sunlight Energy has said that it started consultations this month for a mining environmental impact assessment to listen to all concerns.
The miner has tasked a private company, Environmental Guardians Services, to conduct the assessment in part of the
120 000-hectare area.
Environmental Guardians Services said it has scheduled meetings at which it will hold talks with various stakeholders that include chiefs, local authorities in Lupane and Hwange and the Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area.
Michael Montana, a consultant with Environmental Guardians Services, said they expected the concerns raised by the conservation body to be presented to its stakeholders meetings.
But China Africa Sunlight Energy does not appear to be waiting for the outcome of the environmental impact assessment.
The company’s spokesperson, retired Colonel Charles Mugari, said it has already secured water rights from the ministry of water resources, a power generation licence and finalised modalities related to the national grid connection with Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.
Mugari said his company had contributed $1 million to a community share-ownership scheme under the controversial indigenisation programme.
It would also invest $2,1 billion to carry out three projects: thermal coal with a planned output of three million tonnes a year, washed coal peas at one million tonnes a year and coking coal at 500 000 tonnes a year. Mugari said most of the mining would happen underground, “hence very little negative environment impacts can be expected”.