MARANGE — At one point Lucia Karenyi (57) thought that the discovery of diamonds in her home would transform her family life for the better, but today — five years down the line — she contends the gems were a curse as the discovery of the precious stone has plunged her deeper into poverty.
Beginning 2009, official diamond mining began after several companies were licenced to exploit the alluvial diamonds in the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
These included Mbada Diamonds, Anjin Investments, Marange Resources, Jinan and Diamond Mining Corporation, among others.
To date, Karenyi has lost more than 30 cattle and countless
other small livestock as a result of contaminated water from the Save River.
The diamond-mining companies have been under fire from villagers like Karenyi who are demanding compensation for the loss of over 500 cattle owing to chemicals which are used to purify the gems.
Villagers attending a provincial mining indaba recently accused the diamond-mining companies of discharging mineral waste and raw human waste into Odzi, Singwizi and Save rivers.
Most of the effluent is believed to contain toxic chemicals.
As a result of the pollution, the villagers say the water in the rivers is no longer suitable for domestic and agricultural use.
“The number of cows that I have lost is increasing every day,” said Karenyi.
“This is because the companies are disposing toxic chemicals in Save River where my cattle drink water from. We say so because
before these companies started operating here we did not experience this,” said the visibly emotional Karenyi.
“The cattle have been a source of my livelihood. I sell the cattle to raise school fees for my children. Now that the cattle are dying I no longer have any source of income.
“I also used the meat and milk for domestic consumption, but
we are now hungry and this is double tragedy. Without my cattle I am finished,” said the disgruntled Karenyi.
Chief Gilbert Marange said his people had traditionally depended on the rivers for their sustenance including using the river water for drinking, bathing, watering livestock, gardening and fishing for many years before commencement of mining activities along the riverbanks.
“The pollution of the rivers has destroyed aquatic life like fish and disturbed the ecosystem in the rivers. The waste discharge is exposing us villagers to risks of contracting diseases such as cancer, cholera, typhoid fever, dental and skeletal fluorosis,” he said.
Another villager Kasikai Chawada, 64, said: “We are drinking raw human waste here. We have been exposed to various diseases.
“The river’s (Save River) water quality has sharply decreased,
and is no longer safe for consumption, domestic use, or even irrigation. We have tried to raise the issue with the mining companies, but to no avail.”
Memory Chikubvu, 65, said she has been suffering from a rare skin disease for the past three years after bathing in the heavily contaminated Save River.
“My skin becomes itchy, even on my private parts if I bath using the water from Save River. At one time it got worse after my whole body swelled and was itching all over and turned pinkish red,” she said.
Villagers, however, have only questions, but no answers.
“Whenever we report the deaths of cattle or health problems, samples of the water, people, or cattle are taken, but we never hear anything,” said Shepherd Zengeni, another affected villager.
Zenegeni said 16 of his cattle and two sheep had also perished.
“I need compensation for the loss of my livestock. It is unfortunate that the company made it clear that they did not accept responsibility for the deaths,” he added.
Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers’ Association (Zela) head of programme Mutuso Dhliwayo said imposing deterrent penalties was the only way to stop diamond-mining companies operating in Marange from polluting rivers, which are a source of livelihood for several hundreds of families.
He said: “Continued pollution of Odzi and Save rivers by diamond-mining firms is evidence that penalties imposed by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) are not a deterrent.”
Dhliwayo added: “The government should impose heavy penalties on diamond-mining firms that are flouting environmental laws by polluting rivers.”
He said mining companies were seemingly comfortable with polluting rivers than investing in water management projects.
Responding to the villagers’ concerns, Marange Resources plant manager Prosper Chimunhu said the community had so many expectations from his company.
“As you know the company is 100% owned by the government. Some procedures and processes will take time, but we are working timeless to mitigate the issue,” he said.
“I know that the villagers are very concerned, but, what I can say at the moment is that we are going to have a meeting with all the diamond companies, stakeholders and villagers affected so that we map the way forward.
“It is unfortunate that I cannot comment on behalf of other companies, but something is being done to avert the situation.”
But the Environmental Management Agency has said Mbada Diamonds, Anjin Investments and Marange Resources had since adopted environmentally friendly mining strategies.
EMA provincial manager Kingstone Chitotombe said: “Anjin and Marange Resources are no longer discharging waste in the [Save] river, as of last year.”
“Our problem is still with DMC. They still discharge harmful substances in the [Save] river, but we have since intervened. They have installed a thickener, which separates solids and water, but it is not yet working and I’m not aware when it will. So it means pollution is still there,” he said.
Environment, water and climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, said his ministry would address the Save River pollution.
“I have received reports from the concerned villagers and what the diamond firms are doing is totally unacceptable.
“We will ensure that they comply with the laws of the country.
They are not above the law. We won’t tolerate such behaviour from any institution or organisation, even diamond companies. We will continue to monitor their operations,” he said.