By Sam Noko
THE recent return of Chinese alluvial miners along the Insiza and Umzingwane rivers in Matabeleland South has created a storm and divided stakeholders, amid revelations that authorities are clandestinely supporting the venture much to the chagrin of villagers.
Cite understands that the Insiza Rural District Council (RDC) and the District Development coordinator’s office, political and traditional leaders support Chinese alluvial mining along the rivers, despite objections from the community.
Indications are that the Chinese are connected to the top Insiza district traditional and political leaders (names withheld) while Insiza District Development Coordinator Zacharia Jusa and Insiza RDC Chief Executive Officer Fedris Manhombe are reportedly conflicted and struggling to balance the interests of the local leadership and villagers.
Community members want the alluvial mining activities stopped because it leads to the siltation of rivers and dams, resulting in water problems in the drought-prone district.
However, politicians, on the other side are suspected to be working hand in glove with the Chinese miners and are facilitating the controversial mining activities.
Highly placed impeccable sources in Insiza briefed CITE that six Chinese miners arrived in the district last month, despite the Covid-19 lockdown regulations and restrictions which ban foreigners from entering the country.
The Chinese, according to the sources, were booked at a local Inyanda Lodge used as a Covid-19 quarantine facility, where health officials regularly visit to check on them. Indications are that they are still booked at the lodge.
The development comes at a time when the villagers are still angry with the previous Chinese miners who thronged Insiza to alluvial mine along the rivers resulting in the siltation of water sources.
Tanzanite Mining operated at Killarner Mine in Phikelela village in Insiza South along the Insiza River from May 2013, while Yuan Hang Corporation operated a Special Grant 5780 Mine at Hlangano Ranch in Mbalabala along the Umzingwane River from August 2013.
CITE could not immediately ascertain if it were still the same entities that are currently on site.
District office sources revealed that the council and the Chinese struck an agreement for operations to commence at the site.
“The local leadership is so much interested in the mining activities, but the community cries foul because the project created serious siltation along the Insiza River in the past,” said a community member who declined to be named for fear of victimisation.
“A lot of cattle died because of natural places that held water were silted. This also affected Silalabuhwa Dam.”
The source added that the Chinese mining claims were fast-tracked by the local leadership against the feelings and interests of locals.
The villagers suspect underhand dealings between the local leadership and the Chinese, something they said was making their leaders feel comfortable to give away natural resources.
The affected rivers are Insiza, south of Filabusi centre and Umzingwane, which feed into dams that supply Bulawayo city with water.
Siltation of the two dams could spell doom for the country’s second-largest city which is battling a sapping water crisis.
She said people were not happy with what was happening adding they had since registered their concerns with the DDC.
One of the traditional leaders in the community, Chief Ndube, distanced herself from any dealings with the Chinese miners although she confirmed they had arrived in the district with a map and papers from the Mines Ministry.
“This issue is complicated to comment on as it appears it involves a lot of people said to have allowed this kind of mining to take place, but I do not know about that and I am not aware that Chinese nationals are staying at Inyanda lodge,” Chief Ndube said.
“What I saw were those who arrived in the district carrying maps and papers from the Ministry of Mines which permitted them to dig in the rivers saying they have an operation aimed at removing siltation in rivers. We then directed them to Filabusi offices for them to go and introduce themselves. They went there and what I heard is that they were told not to work before a meeting with all stakeholders, leadership and the community is done.”
Chief Ndube further said she had not yet heard of the meeting taking place and she was not aware if the Chinese had started working.
“They told us that they wanted to work on the siltation of the rivers and dams and I am not aware if that is what they are doing or not. In this regard we need the help of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to help with knowledge,” she said.
“What is wrong is the destruction of natural resources and wildlife and I will not allow that to happen here. The problem might be those in high offices who will allow them. If they are coming to destroy our natural resources, I will not allow that.”
Contacted for comment Insiza RDC boss, Manhombe was evasive claiming either to be going or attending meetings before referring this reporter to the DDC.
“I have been attending meetings and even now as we speak I am with DDC; we are driving to another meeting. You better talk to him (Jusa) Manhombe said on Thursday.
Interestingly, Jusa also appeared elusive repeatedly saying he was attending some meetings.
“Yesterday (September 2) I was attending a meeting and as you call I am driving to another meeting, call later,” Jusa said.
On Wednesday (September 2) Jusa had asked this reporter to call at 2 pm but at that time when called he would either switch off the phone or not answer it. He also did not respond to questions sent to him via WhatsApp.
On Wednesday the local leadership which includes the officials from the RDC, DA’s office, local political leadership, among others held a meeting to deliberate on the Chinese issue.
Revelations were that there were divisions among them with some saying they must be kicked-out while others said they should stay put.
Matabeleland South EMA Public Relations Officer, Simon Musasiwa, said they had not yet received any complaints from Insiza villagers over the river mining activities.
He admitted that submissions for the venture were submitted and insisted that nothing is happening on the ground.
“We have not yet received any reports of active operations taking place there. Yes there are submissions for mining activities to take place but nothing has started on the ground, because for one to start mining activities he or she needs to acquire an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate and provide evidence of community engagements before undertaking mining activities,” Musasiwa said.
But villagers are adamant that alluvial mining activities are already taking place and have to be stopped.
Matabeleland South Provincial Mining Director Tichaona Makuza said the issue if done properly does not damage the rivers and instead, it aids its water holding capacity.
“The issue is very simple. When alluvial mining is done properly it is not supposed to damage the river and cause siltation but it instead must improve the river’s water holding capacity as it will be opening up the river,” Makuza said.
He, however could not confirm the names of the companies that are conducting the river bed mining, though he indicated alluvial mining along rivers was permissible in Zimbabwe.
Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs Minister Abednicho Ncube was not reachable for comment.