The journey towards environmentally sustainable mining, energy generation


guest column:Tadiwa Pasipanodya

THIS article serves as a brief synopsis of the mining that was taking place in one of Zimbabwe’s protected areas namely Hwange National Park. The article will start with an in-depth analysis of the laws that regulate the mining industry in Zimbabwe and then proceed to discuss the current unenviable situation which has seen mining take place in a national park. It will then conclude on a sombre note as it discusses the conflict between environmental conservation and the need to stimulate economic growth, moreso in a situation where there is a desperate need to achieve the latter.

What law regulates mining in Zimbabwe and what are the procedures contained in the law?

The main piece of legislation that regulates mining in Zimbabwe is the Mines and Minerals Act (hereafter referred to as the Act). The first aspect one would note when perusing through it, would be that in section 2, the Act vests the right to mine in the President of course subject to the Act. Although this is not the main purpose of this piece, it would be worth noting how more progressive jurisdictions have handled this key introductory section. For instance, in South Africa the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) enlists the State as the custodian of mineral resources for the benefit of all South Africans. That is a notable distinction which will be explored on another day.

For one to start mining in Zimbabwe, the following procedures must be satisfied. The process naturally starts with a prospecting licence. In the Hwange National Park instance, the Chinese-owned company by the name Yuxian County Zhingxin Coking Company Ltd (hereafter referred to as the Chinese company) which was working in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), was supposed to be in possession of a Zimbabwe Investment Authority certificate. Then in turn apply for a prospecting licence from the Mines ministry or any of its offices as prescribed by section 20 of the Act. Section 23 of the Act further provides that the prospecting licence will be valid for a period of two years and gives the holder the latitude of prospecting and pegging mining claims anywhere in Zimbabwe subject to certain limitations.

At this point, the holder of the prospecting licence can go on to physically peg the area the prospector is interested in as prescribed by section 27 of the Act. However, this should happen after delivering prospecting notices to the land owner. There is a caveat, however, provided in section 31, namely that certain areas are not open to prospecting which, therefore, means they cannot be pegged.

Such areas include dams and cultivated dip tanks. Once the requirements prescribed in the Act have been satisfied, individuals interested in mining can then move to apply for registration at the Mines and Mining Development ministry offices and the following must be attached: Prospecting licences, prospecting notice, discovery notice, notification of intention to prospect to the land owner, a map in triplicate to the scale of 1:25 000. Upon filing these documents and when the provincial mining director is satisfied that all procedures have been followed, a certificate of registration will be issued. One can begin mining once other conditions such as the Environmental Impact Assessment have been satisfied. In a nutshell, these are the requirements which must be met for one to start mining operations.

How did mining in a protected area commence?

In this case, a legal creature found in section 291 of the Act, known as a special grant was the authorisation that was used for the mining activities to begin. Firstly an application is made to the secretary of the Mining Affairs Board (MAB), which considers every application before it and then reports to the minister with its recommendations. In considering the application, the MAB will take a look into the background of the applicants, their programme of work, proof of technical experience, whether the applicant is a fit and proper person to be issued with a special grant, the financial status of the applicant and whether it would be in the national interest to issue the special grant. I humbly submit that the application should have failed on the last ground, this is because of the delicate nature of the national park and the importance it has to the tourism sector. In my view the very fact that the process to get a special grant goes through the Mines minister whose mandate is to promote mining and not through the minister who is responsible for the environment, poses the danger we have seen in this case. Namely mining in an environment which cannot reasonably support the activity.

The status of Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is classified as a protected area under Zimbabwean law. The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines a protected area as a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed through legal or other effective means to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.