23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Chinese Mine Pumps Poison Into Ngezi River

CHINESE investors, who now dominate Zimbabwe's troubled chrome mining sector, have violated environmental laws, leaking poison into Ngezi River and threatening its delicate aquaculture, the environment and downstream communities, a report has revealed.

Ngezi River flows through the chrome-rich Midlands province which is dominated by Chinese investors.

The Johannesburg headquartered Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) said the scale of environmental hazards posed by Chinese chrome mining had reached alarming levels as some had even started operations without Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA).

"In Zimbabwe mining companies generally, the Chinese and Russians included, violate sections of the Mines and Minerals Act on land reclamation," SARW said in its report, released last year, which also looked at Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"There are specific cases of the disregard of the environment by Chinese enterprises. In the Midlands province, Chinese companies are illegally mining chrome without the requisite EIA reports. One of them had set up a chrome washing plant on the banks of Ngezi River in contravention of the country's environmental laws," the report added.

SARW's report said thousands of families in both existing and abandoned mines were at risk following the contamination of rivers. An old report by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) said at least 6 000 families in decommissioned mines across the country were in danger of contracting diseases as toxic chemicals from abandoned shafts have contaminated their water sources and the environment. EMA, which has lashed out at mining giants for neglecting mines once they exhausted mineral extraction, did not mention vice by Chinese investors in the extractive sectors.EMA warned that the large amounts of harmful chromium increased people's exposure to skin rash or sores. If swallowed, some chromium compounds can seriously damage the throat, stomach, intestines, kidneys, and circulatory blood system. It is difficult, however, to regulate Chinese investors in Zimbabwe.

In a much publicised incident, government courted public ire after granting a Chinese firm the greenlight to construct a hotel in Harare even as an EIA had warned of dire consequences to fauna and flora. Zimbabweans providing cheap labour in the fast-growing Chinese mines bear the brunt of extremely harsh conditions and low wages.

Hard labour, exposure to risky conditions, violation of labour laws, long working hours, non payment of overtime, disregard of public holidays and use of Chinese language in corporate literature were among extreme conditions faced by workers at most Chinese interests in Zimbabwe, the SARW report said. "The culprits are the small Chinese mining companies, said SARW.

Most Chinese mining firms exceed the legally stipulated working hours of eight hours per day. They generally work 12 to 18 hours.

"At Makwiro platinum concessions, workers complained that they do not get overtime for the 12 hours per day they work, and are instead asked to take time off. Local holidays are not observed. Protective clothing (if any) was also said to be in short supply, and workers had been observed wearing their own clothes for work."

Zimbabwe has depended on Chinese investments for a decade and appears politically weak to speak out against excessive violations taking place in these mines.

The Chinese built the National Sport Stadium over two decades ago, and recently funded the construction of a defence college, the ZANU PF hall in Gweru and donated a US$11 million plane, fortifying their influence in the country.

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