Zimbabwe's mines ministry is being accused of 'encouraging' the ongoing destruction of the environment, after it emerged it is handing out explorative mining licences in forestry areas.
This was revealed by the head of one of the country's largest timber companies, while raising concerns about the onslaught of illegal settlers on forestry land.
Dr Joseph Kanyekanye, the CEO of Allied Timbers, was quoted in the Herald newspaper this week saying that many people were coming into forestry areas with mining permits, handed out by ZANU PF led Mines Ministry, because it is believed there could be gold and diamonds in timber forests.
"The government does not allow any settlements on forestry land, any offer of land is given by the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement only," he said, adding that 'special grants' were being issued by the Mines Industry.
Kanyekanye said: "People are coming in with letters and these include Chinese, Russians and many others."
Zimbabwe's timber federation has said it will petition the government over the destruction of forestry areas, which has included the invasion of land by illegal settlers. Thousands of people have moved into the areas, burning down the trees to make room for crops. Kanyekanye has said that more than 4,000 families across the country had invaded 12,000 hectares of forestry land.
"US$200 million has been lost because of these culprits, these people are destroying our economy," he said.
Meanwhile the impact of mining operations on Zimbabwe's environment has already been red flagged, with reports of devastating pollution levels at the Chiadzwa diamonds fields and the destruction of conservancy land due to coal mining operations.
The Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area has complained about the growing number of coal mining companies operating in the conservancy, fearing their operations would destroy tourism. During a consultative stakeholders meeting last month it emerged that open cast coal-mining activities have affected 32 farms in the conservancy where more than 1,000 people reside.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that, combined with the government's 'blind eye' towards illegal settlers, the environment was on the verge of total destruction.
"This is a big problem and it is all linked to impending elections. The only way the ZANU PF regime can win is to let people do whatever they want and give them whatever land is available," Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues also warned that the failure to conduct proper environmental impact assessments during mining explorations was contributing towards a very bleak future.
"If the corruption and lawlessness continues then we will soon have a massive problem, and we are leaving a legacy of destruction," Rodrigues said.