Connect with us

Support The NewsHawks


Chinese company mining in Zim Unesco biosphere reserve



AN illicit alluvial gold mining operation, run by Chinese and Zimbabwean nationals, is happening in Haroni Rusitu Botanical Reserve, a threatened lowland moist evergreen forest, and a core area of the Unesco Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve, without an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and the knowledge of the Environmental Management Authority (Ema), The NewsHawks has established.


The reserve is home to many much-sought-after rare bird species – some globally threatened by extinction –making the forest patches a magnet for avian tourists.

Clinging to the southern foot of the Chimanimani mountains, on the southern tip of Chimanimani National Park where the Haroni and Rusitu rivers meet to flow into Mozambique, the botanical reserve is Zimbabwe’s last fragment of the ecologically sensitive lowland evergreen forest.

It is a rich biodiversity hotspot under the control of the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks).

The ecologically sensitive area is part of the Nyanga-Chimanimani montane forest-grassland ecoregion which covers the mountains that extend along the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is over 1 000 metres in elevation with a maximum elevation of 2 592 metres on the Nyangani Massif in the north and 2 400 metres in the Chimanimani Mountains.

Its fragile habitats are many and varied, but all constituting a critical high-altitude watershed area for both Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Forests of this region are pregnant with very rare species which are only found in this region and nowhere else in the world.

The eco-region supports highly diverse plant species. There are at least two endemic mammals in this eco-region, the arend’s golden mole and the silinda rock rat, besides the rare bird species thriving there. Most of the mining activities are occurring in Haroni River despite the fact that riverbed mining was outlawed by the Zimbabwean cabinet in 2014.
It even forced the closure of Russian mining concern DTZ OZGEO which was mainly mining on riverbeds in Chimanimani and Penhalonga.

Although the latest company which has invaded the area is still unknown as there is no formal signage, some Chinese nationals have been seen frequenting the mining site.

The NewsHawks contacted the ZimParks spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo, over mining in the reserve but he had not responded to our questions by time of publication.

This is despite sending him questions and pictures of an excavator in Haroni River showing the mining activities. Calls went unanswered.

BirdLife Zimbabwe chief executive Julia Pierini said news of the mining activities was devastating as the area is part of one of the richest ecological complexes in Zimbabwe.

“It is devastating to hear that the Haroni Rusitu Botanical Reserves are under renewed attack with big machinery clearing the forest. This should stop immediately.

“The reserves were designated to protect one of the richest ecological complexes in Zimbabwe. They form part of the nationally and internationally recognised key biodiversity area that also falls within the Unesco Chimanimani Biosphere Reserve, particularly for their botanical importance as they represent one of the few areas of lowland forest in Zimbabwe.
“The hot wet climate is responsible for the 50-metre tall lowland forest dominated by newtonia with maranthes and xylopia,” Pierini said.

She said there are more than 200 birds that have been recorded in the area, which could nor be decimated by the Chinese miners, including two which are globally threatened by extinction.

“Two hundred and thirty-three bird species have been recorded in the area, two of which are globally near-threatened: Circaetus fasciolatus and Athreptes reichenowi,” she said.

Ema told The NewsHawks it has not issued any company an EIA to enable it to embark on riverbed-mining along the Haroni River. The unknown company is also clearing part of the forests which some locals have also been illegally supplanting with banana plantations just a few metres from the confluence of the Haroni and Rusitu rivers.

“We are yet to receive their papers, if there are any to come,” Steady Kangata, rhe Ema communications manager, told The Newshawks, noting that they have no idea as to which organisation is conducting the mining activities.

“If nothing has been submitted by a proponent, there is no way we can tell exactly who is behind this, unless we conduct an investigation.”

Kangata however said Ema will take the necessary corrective action.

“If whatever is being done is in contravention of the law, then the necessary corrective action will be taken,” Kangata said.

Centre for Research and Development (CRD) director James Mupfumi said the illegal mining activities are being facilitated by political elites and securocrats who are out for self-enrichment at the expense of environmental integrity and the rights of indigenous communities.

“Mining in the Unesco Biosphere Reserve in Chimanimani demonstrates continued flagrant disregard of the Zimbabwean people’s rights to the preservation of culture, heritage and diverse ecosystem by the Chinese working in cahoots with political elites and securocrats to plunder minerals for self-enrichment,” Mupfumi said.

The head of the natural resources governance watchdog lamented how powerful illegal mining cartels are instilling fear in government departments and agencies that ought to be enforcing the country’s laws in responsible resource extraction and management.

“It is appalling that agencies of government like Ema, ZimParks that have an obligation of protecting the environment and wildlife heritage in the area have been reduced to bystanders for fear of victimisation,” he said.

Mupfumi said his organisation demanded that the regulatory bodies remain faithful to their constitutional mandates and enforce the law without fear, favour or prejudice.

“CRD calls upon the responsible authorities to adhere to the constitution and stop the Chinese from destroying Chimanimani heritage sites,” Mupfumi said.

The Chinese, who are also mining in yet another river – Chiambuka River in the government-owned Allied Timbers’ Tarka Forest, where again they are operating without an environmental impact assessment – are joining a decades-long gold rush to the region.

The NewsHawks saw two white Toyota Hilux double cab vehicles leaving the Chiambuka River mining operations, one with black folks ahead of one with Chinese nationals at around 1.30pm on 9 April. 

The discovery of gold saw thousands of artisanal miners and other fortune seekers flooding the region in the mid-2000s.

The extent of the damage caused by gold panning can be seen from satellites images, revealing massive destruction of riverbeds and banks. It threatens not only human health but also fragile ecosystems.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *