Scenic Shurugwi loses lustre

Boterekwa escarpment is under threat due to illegal mining activities in the area

In its heyday, Shurugwi was among the country’s tourist spots, thanks to a number of scenic tourist resorts and natural attractions.

Apart from being famed as home to former Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith, Shurugwi boasted of the famous Boterekwa valley and many other tourist spots, which included Ferny Creek Botanical Gardens, Bonza Ruins, Danraven Falls and Peak View, among others.

Ferny Creek, which is to the north-east of the town, was popular with tourists in the early 1980s as it attracted a large chunk of foreign tourists.

Today, the place has overgrown grass that dwarfs the remnants of the botanical gardens.

The swimming pool and other infrastructure at the place have fallen apart.

Ferny Creek was home to Zimbabwe’s national flower; the Flame Lily (Amakukhulume in Ndebele or Kajongwe in Shona).

A stone’s throw away from the botanical gardens was once a 19-hole golf course, which was turned upside down by Chinese-owned chrome mining company — Zimasco.

The golf course, which was popular with tourists, hosted high profile tournaments, but is now just heaps of earth resembling sand dunes.

Boterekwa valley, which is famed for the escarpment road, formerly known as the Wolfshall Pass, was built by Italians and was a popular attraction for hordes of travellers and tourists.

The valley had the Danraven Falls and many other species of flora and fauna.

A recent visit to this mineral-rich community, 32km south east of the Midlands capital Gweru, showed that all the tourist resorts in the area have been neglected, with infrastructure now virtually white-elephants.

Illegal gold panners have taken over the land and are foraging for gold at the expense of the environment.

“Shurugwi used to be one of the country’s top tourist attractions, but if you go around you will realise that the scenery has gone to the dogs,” said a resident, Morgan Musungwa.

“Illegal gold panning activities have taken a toll on the flora and fauna here and it's messy.”

Entering the mining town from either side of the highway along the Zvishavane/Masvingo-Gweru road are billboards inscribed: “Welcome to Scenic Shurugwi.”

However, that is no longer the case. These are just old billboards overtaken by events, residents say.

“People are digging everywhere searching for gold, they don’t care about the environment anymore,” said Jericho Takavarasha, a resident and a former Shurugwi town councillor.

Takavarasha said apart from robbing the district of its scenery and destroying the latent tourism, illegal mining activities are causing environmental degradation.

“The water in our local rivers and streams is  now heavily polluted,” he said.

“Take a look at the water in Mutevekwi River, close to Boterekwa, it’s heavily polluted.

“The Boterekwa escarpment is under threat as miners are mining willy-nilly, without due care.”

This publication established that the water in most rivers, especially in Mutevekwi River is contaminated with mercury and cyanide.

Despite a number of miners having been caught on the wrong side of the law for flouting environmental regulations, miners are resorting to open cast mining and vat leaching, which discharge huge amounts of toxic waste.

A 2020 survey carried out by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) suggested that 11 163 hectares of land and a stretch of 1 555km riverine ecosystems in Zimbabwe have been degraded by illegal mining activities.

According to EMA, the agency, in partnership with the law enforcement agents, has put in place strategies to protect the environment.

Last year, Ansh Blue 4/8, a gold mining company owned by Chrispen Mahara in joint partnership with Chenjxi, a Chinese company, was fined $400 000 for flouting environmental regulations.

Several miners in Shurugwi have been found wanting when it comes to adhering to mining regulations.

However, natural resources governance and climate change expert Tapuwa O’bren Nhachi said EMA was not carrying out its mandate, hence rampant environmental degradation.

He said the Environmental Management Act and the constitution were clear on what to do and what not to do when it comes to environmental degradation as a result of mining activities.

“According to the law, EMA is supposed to arrest and stop the continuation of environmental degradation that is being caused by mining activities,” Nhachi said.

“We also have to come up with a new Mines and Minerals Act, which is clear on the rehabilitation and clear on regulations on mining activities.

“EMA should ban, EMA should put punitive fines so that those that would have committed an offence would not  dare repeat.”

Shurugwi Residents and Ratepayers Association Trust interim spokesperson Pardon Machocho expressed dismay over how mining activities have caused Shurugwi to lose its lustre.

“Our concerns as residents and taxpayers have fallen on deaf ears as we have on several occasions engaged responsible authorities on massive environmental degradation that is being caused by mining activities in Shurugwi,” he said.

“Our town has dilapidated over the years; mining activities have taken over, especially with the advent of the Chinese mining companies that are all over the place.

“For instance, attractive places like the golf course were turned upside down by the Chinese and they never rehabilitated the area.

“Just recently, two children drowned in pits in the area.”

Machocho said the proliferation of small-scale miners in the area was a cause for concern as most of them were discharging toxic waste in the rivers.

“Small-scale miners are all over Shurugwi and they are using chemicals such as cyanide and mercury, which at the end of the day are discharged into rivers to the detriment of the lives of human beings and animals,” he said.

“There is also rampant leaching spearheaded by the Chinese companies in the Boterekwa area, resulting in the discharge of toxic effluent into the rivers.”

Machocho said as residents, they had since approached relevant authorities like EMA to no avail.

He said the police were equally compromised as they are doing nothing to curb illegal mining activities. He accused them of colluding corruptly with the illegal miners.

Shurugwi district development coordinator Romeo Shangwa said the government was working with a number of partners to deal with environmental degradation.

“What is happening is that we have continuous monitoring of mining activities by EMA and council on compliance issues which are inherent in Environmental Impact Assessments of established mines,” Shangwa said.

“We are penalising errant miners as well.

“We are also monitoring the implementation of post-mining rehabilitation plans and programmes by miners.”

Shangwa said the government through EMA, secured funding from the Food and Agriculture Organisation for environmental reclamation and rehabilitation programmes on all damaged dry lands.

“After reclamation the Forestry Commission is leading a reforestation programme on reclaimed places.”

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