Maputo — One of the worst polluters in the Maputo region, the Portuguese-owned cement company, Cimentos de Mocambique, has tried to blame the electricity company, EDM, for the clouds of cement dust that frequently belch out of its factory in the southern city of Matola.
Protests against the pollution from the factory caused by the dust have been made by Matola residents and other nearby factories, including the country's largest food processor, the Companhia Industrial de Matola (CIM), for years.
Finally, on Saturday, at a seminar organised by the environmental NGO Livaningo, the cement company produced an explanation. Jose Machado, representing the company, claimed that the electro-filters that should prevent the dust from entering the atmosphere have been damaged by oscillations in the electrical current.
"We want to hold back all that dust", he said, "but due to the constant oscillations in current, the electro-filters don't last very long. This obliges the company to import spare parts and this has not been a very easy exercise".
Machado said he believed that EDM is working to solve the problem, by erecting new sub-stations which should improve the quality of the electricity used by the factory.
Machado denied that the dust emitted by the factory is toxic, or that the equipment the company uses is obsolete.
Indeed, he claimed it was more modern than that used in many other African cement factories.
"We are investing in modern technologies, and with good quality electricity we will be able to do much more and better", Machado said.
He announced that Cimentos de Mocambique intends to invest over eight million euros (about 10.3 million US dollars) over the next two years in environment-friendly technology.
Machado's explanation does not convince environmental activists, who told AIM they believed that the factory should only operate when its filters are functioning properly, and should cease production at other times.
They also wanted a more profound analysis of the damage caused by the pollution spewing out of the factory.
For while it may be true that cement dust does not qualify as a toxic substance, inhaling it, as people living or working nearby are obliged to, is not recommended. As for the difficulties in importing spare parts - the obvious question is - why does the factory not have a stock of such parts ? After all, the major shareholder is the Portuguese cement giant CIMPOR, and CIMPOR would never be allowed to operate a factory with such levels of pollution in Portugal itself.