Hwange women rise up against errant coal miners

Female activists pushing for respect of laws in the extractive sector

Fed up with unchecked pollution of the environment and lack of accountability by coal mining companies, women in Hwange are taking matters into their hands by staging protests and demanding answers  from some of the errant firms.

A group of women recently staged a peaceful demonstration in Hwange against heavy pollution by haulage trucks that transport coal in the Matabeleland North town, saying lives of their families were now in danger.

At the same time villagers, mainly women from Madumabisa outside Hwange, were organising a meeting where they wanted to take Chinese-owned South Mining to task for the damage it is allegedly causing to the environment.

The mounting protests come hard on the heels of an investigation by The Standard in partnership with Information Development Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting investigative journalism in Zimbabwe and southern Africa, which revealed growing discontent over South Mining’s operations in the Madumabisa area.

Villagers accused the miner of disrupting their farming activities after their fields were heavily polluted with coal dust from its coal washing plant.

They also blame South Mining for the pollution of Deka River, which is  threatening aquatic life and villagers’ livestock as the river is the major source of water in the dry area.

South Mining, which has its headquarters in Harare, has two operations in Madumabisa and Chaba with an output of 100 000 and 200 000 tonnes of coal per annum respectively.

On June 1, a group of about 30 villagers assembled near the company’s plant with the intention to demand answers from South Mining officials over the pollution, but the company only sent two security guards.

The disgruntled villagers, who were assisted by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, dismissed the duo as they accused the Chinese miner of taking them for granted.

Safia Ncube, who is an aide to village head Arabia Sibanda from Madumabisa said South Mining had disrespected the community by failing to send senior representatives to address the villagers.

“What they did is very embarrassing coming from a company, which was recently quoted in the media pledging its commitment to working with the community on matters of mutual interest," Ncube told The Standard.

"This meeting was organised to give them a platform to explain some of their unfulfilled promises such as the construction of a school and a health centre.

“Our fields are now heavily polluted with coal dust, which is making it difficult to plant crops.”

Frank Dhlamini (70), a villager from Madumabisa, took a swipe at South Mining management for ignoring the invitation from the community to discuss rampant pollution of the environment.

“There are a lot of things that are not being done properly (by the miner) and we just wanted clarity,” Dhlamini said.

“They decided to send two security guards whom we politely advised to leave the meeting as they did not have a clue on what was happening.”

A fuming Mishat Sibanda said the villagers would not give up the fight as their lives were at stake.

"It is back to the drawing board as we unani mously agreed to call for another meeting in the near future where management will also be in attendance," Sibanda said.

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