Zimbabwe: Zela Files Court Challenge Against Coal Mining Inside Hwange National Park

8 September 2020

The intention by government to grant a Chinese mining firm coal mining rights in Hwange National Park is now subject to High Court approval after the community yesterday filed an urgent appeal.

Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) filed urgent chamber application together with Fedelis Chima, a Hwange local resident, to stop these developments which pose an acute risk of irreversible ecological degradation.

"The issuance of the special grant in February 2019 before environmental impact assessment is in violation of section 97 of the Environmental Management Act," ZELA and Chima argued.

State-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Zhongxin Mining Group Tongmao Coal Company which has already started operations, Minister of Mines and Mineral Development and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) are the four respondents.

Hwange National park is home to scores of mammal species, of which 19 are large herbivores and eight large carnivores, and 400 bird species and an elephant population of about 44,000m being the most notable of the species.

There has been a public outcry from environmentalists, civil society organisations and the community over the licensing of a coal miner inside the Hwange National Park as a continuation of the catastrophic decisions by government.

ZELA argues the Mines and Minerals Development erred in awarding the special grant and violated the country's laws by failing to first consult the Ministry of Environment, Climate change, Tourism and Hospitality, for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate.

"The upending of the legislative process entailed failure to provide interested and or affected persons an opportunity to participate in the administrative decision making. As a result the decision makers failed to avail themselves of the benefit of all the relevant factors and considerations.

"Authorisation of, and commencement of, mining in a protected national park is in breach of the constitutional duty on all respondents to prevent ecological degradation and promote conservation in terms of section 73(b) of the constitution of Zimbabwe," reads part of the application.

There are fears that mining activities will disturb the ecosystem and drive animals to other parts of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area - namely Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. This would negatively affect the tourism sector and environment

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance recently produced a report condemning government's intention to upscale coal investments, as a defacto discouragement of clean energy investments that hampers the country's efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

CNRG instead, implored government to move along with international trends, of a global shift from coal financing, to allocate more financial resources towards funding investments in renewable energy.

"Coal extraction and burning not only has serious environmental impacts on land, water and air, but has social impacts on the human population too, resulting in many succumbing to chronic diseases such as tuberculosis.

"... continued reliance on fossil fuel will be merely privatizing profits whilst externalizing the cost to the community.

"However, although increasing energy supply is key, the path of relying on fossil fuels is tantamount to solving a problem by creating an even bigger one," reads part of the report.

CNRG has also produced an independent EIA in Hwange and found out that soil is heavily contaminated due to disposal of chemicals from the mining activities, which affected the growth of plant.

Government for its part has already confirmed this after the death of 22 elephants which succumbed to what the authorities themselves acknowledged as a bacterial infection from eating poisonous grass.

The High Court set aside the Special Grant 5756 on February 22 2019 and has since granted an interim relief prohibiting the Chinese miner or any other working with ZMDC from conducting any mining activities while the matter is heard.

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