By Leopold Munhende
GOVERNMENT departments implicated in granting Chinese firm, Afrochine, a controversial special mining grant inside Mavuradona Game Park were on Monday summoned for a crisis meeting in which they traded blame, leading to government suspending the company’s operations, NewZimbabwe.com can exclusively reveal.
The meeting, held in Harare and chaired by Local Government minister July Moyo, was attended by executives from the ministry of Mines, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ), Muzarabani and Guruve Rural District Councils (RDCs).
According to sources who attended the crisis meeting that sought to address public outcries arising from Afrochine’s irresponsible mining activities inside the wildlife reserve, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was unanimously agreed the Chinese company should immediately fold operations.
“There appeared to be consensus that the mining is not doing any good to the conservation of our natural resources in the Mavuradonha Wilderness,” the source said.
“It was established that some of the miners had papers but actually breached conditions set. Some had no papers at all but claimed to have authority to operate in the conservancy while others had authority from Guruve RDC but encroached into Muzarabani,” the source added.
The suspension will be regarded as a win by Chief Chiweshe, who over the weekend put his head on the line by standing up to the Chinese, for long regarded as King Makers in the ruling Zanu PF party and Zimbabwean politics.
He is among the many who challenged Afrochine’s chrome exploration and extraction within the wildlife conservancy which has been maintained in its original state since 1988.
Added the source: “The NMMZ said the area is a national monument and it is a criminal offence to alter material and cultural heritage of the area. EMA was actually saying it depends on what stakeholders are voicing in issuance of EIA certificates, if people turn them down then EMA has no right to right to proceed with issuing a certificate. It also raised points to the effect Mavuradonha was already being considered for global recognition by making it a World Heritage site hence any such activity might jeopardise this.”
“Only the Guruve RDC supported mining activities in the area although it was noted they were least affected and the ministry of Local Government made it clear licensing mining in areas such as Mavuradonha without its approval was illegal. It was agreed that all mining activities are suspended pending a decision made by a higher authority,” the source added.
Chief Chiweshe told journalists wide gaping holes being left by the Chinese were no longer a danger only to animals and the environment but humans as well.
He expressed concern they were neither respecting local traditions or laws governing mining not just at Mavuradonha Wilderness but across the country.
Chief Chiweshe accused government officials of being bribed to ensure Afrochine gets approval to mine in Mavuradonha Wilderness.
“The challenge is corruption where everyone is now aiming to get a 5 percent kickback fro every investor, here we call it hukopokopo,” said Chief Chiweshe.
Afrochine through its proxy Allen Mashumba constructed gravel roads within the Wilderness to transport equipment and ore.
More roads to new “sites” were under construction when journalists visited the area over the weekend.
According to staff at Mavuradonha Wilderness, the Chinese had indicated they wanted “dark” soil at one of the conservancy’s wetlands, a breeding ground for Kudus, Zebras, Impalas and Wildebeests, for an unspecified reason.
These species have since time immemorial called the place home.
The mine’s representatives were invited into the meeting but their submissions failed to change the outcome.
To illustrate the scale of the environmental degradation, another Chinese mining company left hundreds of white granite blocks it cut off a mountain and cabins employees used as shelter, without any attempt to rehabilitate the site.
The destruction is unbelievable, a floor almost a third of a football pitch lies unused, with no sign anyone can use it for anything.