16 October 2018

Malawi: Communities Gang Up Against Miner in Phalombe - DC Suspends Phosphate Mining Activities

People of Thundulu in Phalombe have ganged up against Optikem 2000 Limited, a company "exploring" Phosphate mining prospects in the area for allegedly failing to fulfill its corporate social responsibility obligations.

Phosphate is a mineral which is used in manufacturing fertilizer.

The people's anger towards Optikem seems to be accelerating out of hand, prompting Phalombe District Commissioner Gossam Mafuta to seek the intervention of the Department of Mines, Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) and other stakeholders.

"I summoned a meeting on Friday where Optikem could not agree with the people on their concerns. I directed that mining be suspended for a week pending our next meeting this Tuesday at Phaloni FP School," wrote Mafuta to NRJN and others.

He added: "Another bone of contention is on whether Optikem has an exploration licence or mining licence. It appears they are mining while they are telling us they are on exploration".

Mafuta collaborated by Symon Thipa, Programs Coordinator for Ufulu Wathu Community Based Organization and a member of NRJN, who said it is very sad that Optikem uses individuals to influence the communities.

"Whenever communities demand corporate social responsibility projects and accountability, the company refers them to fellow community members who do not help them at all," Thipa explained.

According to Thipa, the people of Thundulu have suffered in the 11 years Optikem has been operating in the area.

Efforts to speak to Optikem and the department of mines proved futile.

But a video clip of Friday's meeting which Nyasa Times has seen, shows Optikem Chief Executive Officer a Mr Bobby blaming Mafuta for suspending mining operations, saying the decision is a distraction to duty.

"We have done nothing wrong. If there are any issues, we will sort them out," Bobby is heard saying.

He went on to spell out his company's future endeavours in manufacturing, transportation and marketing of fertilizer once "exploration of Phosphate is concluded".

"Until we are able to do these things, then we will evaluate ourselves and see where we stand in terms of corporate social responsibility," said Bobby.

NRJN Chairperson Cossam Munthali said the Thundulu scenario which is similar in many mining sites across the country, shows that Malawi is not ready for mining, be it solid or liquid.

"Our Laws governing the sector are out of tune, outdated and archaic which promotes secrecy in all angles. We have no capacity in the sector. We need to put our house in order first. Very few will continue benefiting at the expense of the poor Malawians," he pointed out.

"We need up to date Mines and Minerals Act (MMA) in this country which should be able to put the interests of Malawians first. The current 1981 MMA is out of tune and its a bleeding ground for corruption, bribery and also key in nursing amnesty. We need a Law that will clearly spell out how communities in mining sites can benefit through Community Development Agreements (CDAs)," concluded Munthali.

The development comes after communities from Tradition Authorities (T/As) Makanjira and Namabvi in Mangochi on Wednesday petitioned President Peter Mutharika, demanding for immediate action on 'illegal gold mining activities' taking place in their areas.

According to the petition, the communities are accusing government for not being serious on measures to stop influx of illegal miners who are said to have been causing irreversible environmental damage to the areas since March 2017.

Their spokesman Dickens Mahwayo said the villagers are demanding for eviction of all illegal miners ; deployment of Malawi Defence Force (MDF) personnel within one week from the date of the receipt of the petition and passing of the revised mines and minerals Bill in the next sitting of Parliament.

Presidential spokesperson, Mgeme Kalilani has said Mutharika received the petition a day after it was presented to him through Mangochi District Council and has promised to act on concerns. But he said there is no timeframe for the action.

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