By William Milasi
The once majestic Kwekwe based chrome ine the African Chrome Fields (ACF) which used to employ over 1000 workforce at its peak now stands forlorn and abandoned after operations ground to a halt about 2 years ago, sending workforce into retrenchment.
The operations of the mine which is in Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy (MBRC), an animal sanctuary rich in flora and fauna has left scarred evidence of how unforgiving mining can be to nature.
A former employee with ACF told this publication that issues such as workers welfare were as not the mine’s top priority not to speak of land rehabilitation.
“Issues such as workers safety and welfare were not at the top a priority of the mine. We used to sleep in tents before we protested , and the company then availed some containers as accommodation. If you are to go to the ground besides piles and piles of chrome residue there is nothing to show that it was once a functional mining site. We even survived on poaching of game which used to come near to the mine. Therefore, the issues of environmental conservation and rehabilitation where not a top priority I guess,” a former employee said.
At its commissioning ACF owner Zunaid Moti, a South African based business tycoon promised land rehabilitation and restoration after mining operations however, nothing of that sort has happened after the mine has scaled down operations.
“We understand that the removal of the topsoil, along with the vegetation and alluvial bed has a significant immediate effect on the environment and that re-establishment of such an area takes time,” Moti said.
“When we first started on the site, no rehabilitation had been implemented which is why it is so important to us that we follow through. Continuous monitoring has been introduced to oversee the mined versus rehabilitated areas on every site, and these are categorized in the various stages of rehabilitation. The survey department also takes monthly measurements of the rehabilitated areas and plots them on the mining plans,” he said.
The MBRC however, thinks the mine has not done much in terms of land rehabilitation.
“We cannot be conclusive as yet on whether they have failed to rehabilitate the land as yet since ACF trimmed down operations. There might be a possibility of them coming back. However, they promised to rehabilitate the land which they were mining on but nothing much has been done. We are hopeful that maybe they will honour their promises,” MBRC Conservator, Brilliant Chibura said. in an interview.
The major challenge for the Conservancy, Chibura said was the issue of habitat loss.
“Habitat loss is the major challenge we are facing as well as the destruction of ecological processes that support biodiversity,” he added.
MBRC has one of the biggest populations of plains game in Zimbabwe, the conservancy is home to leopards, sable, eland and impala.
However, through mining activities there have been a serious depletion of the environment characterised by the destruction and devastation of underground water systems and the siltation of dams.
An environmental watchdog in the country, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance CNRG, has urged government to exercise environmental stewardship. .
CNRG in its message was concerned with massive unregulated mining activities which are, “characterised by serious environmental challenges which range from deforestation and degradation, water pollution caused by acid drainages from the mines and poor waste management, new investments in dirty energy, high carbon emissions and climate change.”
Environmental issues in the country are under the purview of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).
EMA Environmental Education and Publicity Manager Amkela Sidange said mining operations are governed by EMA statutes in the areas of environmental rehabilitation after mining activities.
Mining Sidange said mining activities remains under a prescribed project listed under the first schedule of the Environmental Management Act (cap 20:27),and according to the same act section 97,and as read with Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007,all such projects require an Environmental impact assessment)
“(EIA)report and certification before implementation…contained in the EIA is the environmental management plan(EMP) under which such projects include a decommissioning plan meaning that on cessation of operation the project developer is compelled and bound by the plan to rehabilitate the degraded area and restore its productivity…leave it in a state necessary to allow it to be restored to its previous state or productive state…failure to comply to the conditions of the plan, the project developer is liable to prosecution…and supposed to bear the cost of rehabilitation or both.
“These projects are bound by law to notify the Agency on ceasationcessation of project to allow for monitoring of rehabilitation process. Actually, through the EIA principle they are bound to submit quarterly reports to the Agency, failure to which they are liable to prosecution,” she said.
Parliamentary portfolio Committee Chairperson on Mines Edmond Mkaratigwa explained that the legal recourse regarding environmental degradation after mining activities has been broadly under the Environmental Management Authority Act.
Mkaratigwa said EMA through the Environmental Impact Assessment requires mining firms among others to identify the impacts that would be caused by the mining activities mostly environmentally and socially.
He however, said there are some challenges when it comes to the implementation of the EMA Act.
“In the meantime, implementation of the EMA Act itself has been having challenges and the challenges may have to be addressed. There are many issues arising from the current practices where mining companies particularly suspend operations or close shop. Workers’ welfare interests post mining are not adequately ring fenced against abuse and the land is usually unusable post mining while people also get exposed to dangerous materials in case where a mechanism for sealing off is not done and where take over by government is not feasible,” he said
Another law maker Settlement Chikwinya said there is a need to relook the issue of Mining Investment Laws.
“Our Mining Investment Laws are too porous when it comes to Community Share Responsibility including the Investor’s participation in land rehabilitation after mining. Many a times our communities are deprived of development from proceeds emanating from mining activities as investors are comfortable with lining pockets of highly placed politicians at the expense of the affected communities,” Chikwinya said.
He noted that African Chrome Fields was not an exception.
” ACF is no exception as it is public record that their operations were safeguarded by members of the Presidium in both the current and former despensation. The Kwekwe community benefitted nothing and if anything the Mvuma road is now a pale shadow of its self after heavy haulage trucks damaged the tarmac. We need to invest in strengthening our laws to force any investor to pay attention to the community development and land rehabilitation processes,” Chikwinya said.
Government has put in place policies and legal frameworks focusing on providing solutions to the land degradation challenges.
The policiespolicies, however, lacks implementation.
Some of the policies adopted to improve sustainable Land Management include the Environmental AssesmentAssessment Policy, National Environmental Policy which seeks to address issues relating to land degradation, biodiversity loss and management of forests, Poverty Alleviation Policy frameworks and programs.
In the Mines and Minerals and Amendment Bill, Section 257E, the government has proposed the introduction of the Safety Health and Rehabilitation Fund which shall be used for rehabilitation of the environment with regards to environmental degradation associated with mining.
According to EMA the mining industry is not contributing to the 2% Environmental Fund, the current environment levy is not being enforced.
Environment and Tourism Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said government is coming up with ways of ensuring environmental stewardship within mining operations.
“We recently came up with a policy which is called Orderly Mining Initiative working with the Ministry of Mines where both departments , EMA and Mines, will first make sure that no mine operates without what is called Site of Works Plan, which indicates how the mining set up will be structured and whether it conforms to best standards,” he said.
EMA will continue with the issuance of Environmental Impact Assessment and ensuring that there is compliance by the mines on a regular basis.
Ndlovu said the emphasis now is that as mines operate during their useful lives, they continously rehabilitate the land.
“We have too many legacy issues in mining, asset mine drainage resurfaces years after certain mines have closed. Some even in Hwange, iI think we have about 5 mines which are giving us problems. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to address that,” he said.
Ndlovu further said that when a mine closes shop it usually becomes the burden of the state to rehabilitate.
“Our desire would have been to have an Environmental Fund which is coming from a levy, but we are not getting the levy because many companies are also saying that they are heavily taxed.”
Ndlovu said government was coming up with innovative ways to ensure that the damage is controlled on a regular basis.