LEGISLATORS, as well as Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda, on Wednesday took to task Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, Mines deputy minister Polite Kambamura and Environment minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu over the impending invasion of Mana Pools National Game Park by a local company which intends to carry out oil and gas exploration in the United Nations World Heritage Site.
As reported by The NewsHawks, last week on Friday there were revelations in the Government Gazette through General Notice 608 of 2023 that Shallom Mining company had approached the Mashonaland West mining board with an application for exclusive exploration of natural gas and petroleum oil in an area that covers 130 000 hectares of Mana Pools.
The development saw 2 560 people across the globe signing an online petition protesting the plans in the first eight hours of its launch on the change.org website. The petition was organised by Sally Dennis, a wildlife conservationist.
In the latest development, several MPs cornered ministers during Wednesday’s question-and-answer session in Parliament demanding to know why a process to invade a national park has been kick-started by the government.
Magunje legislator Cecilia Kashiri set the ball rolling when she asked Ziyambi to clarify government policy on the issuance of mining exploration licences in World Heritage Sites.
“The government does not issue any exploration licences on Heritage Sites in order to preserve them, thus there is no policy on mining in those areas,” replied Ziyambi.
Kashiri then posed a supplementary question.
“My supplementary question arises from a Government Gazette of 28th April, 2023 via the Mines Affairs Board where a company is seeking an exploration order in Manna Pools Resort Area which is a World Heritage Site. So, if our Government policy states that there should not be any issuance of such licences, what is the honourable minister’s stance?” she asked.
At that point, deputy Mines minister Kambamura stood up to respond.
“The ministry of Mines and Mining Development received an application from the said company. As a matter of procedure when we receive those applications, they go through the Mining Affairs Board. Then they are gazetted for public opinion and for the public to also object if they are not in favour of the application. That is the procedure. After the gazetting is when the Mining Affairs Board would now sit to deliberate on whether to issue the EPO [exclusive prospecting order] or not. So that EPO has not been issued and it is just a matter of procedure that is happening that we put that application in the Gazette,” he said.
Not satisfied with the response, Norton Independent legislator Temba Mliswa pressed further, demanding additional answers from Environment minister Ndlovu.
“On a point of order, Mr Speaker Sir! I think it is a blessing that we have the minister of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry here as well. It would also be interesting to ask him why his ministry did not object to that since they are the custodians of the environment. If you understand what I am saying that they are responsible for environment, yet these applications are happening and other people do not have the resources to do that. Why can they not object to that to protect the environment? This is just what I needed to indulge from you,” he asked.
Speaker Mudenda also implored Kambura to clarify on the issue.
“The minister must answer why they allow such issuance of licences where there are Heritage Sites? Where people are not allowed to do so. So the honourable minister must answer that,” said Mudenda.
“As I said before, that licence was not issued. It is like when one applies for a job and is not yet granted that job but waiting for an interview. We cannot say just because he applied for the job, he has been offered the job. We are still going through the processes but, all the same, all natural heritage areas are taken as reserved areas. When one is applying for an Exclusive Prospecting Order (EPO) or if we are to grant an EPO; those reserved areas are protected areas and we do not issue any licences on such areas. I would like to urge honourable members to allow the ministry to go through its processes. As of now, no licence has been issued. It is still an application to be considered,” replied Kambura.
However, Harare North MP Allan Markham again pressed further on the matter.
“The leader of the House (Ziyambi) answered in his first response that there is no need to answer the question because Heritage Sites are protected. There is no requirement for a mining law there because they are protected. Why are we going through a procedure in an area that is protected by mining rights? The minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in his first response answered perfectly and said they are protected. Why are we now in his own words considering a job application when there is no job?” asked Markham.
Kambamura again sought to downplay the matter.
“What happened on the application is that it is not fully covering the protected area. It is overlapping the protected area. On the area that is not protected, we allowed to issue an EPO; that is why we allowed it to sail through. Then when it comes back to the Mining Affairs Board is when they will now consider to say, we cannot issue on this protected portion but on this portion that is open. We are allowing that process to go through then afterwards we consider the application,” he said.
However, Mliswa stood up and accussed Kambamura of not being consistent.
“On a point of order, Mr Speaker Sir! My point of order is that the honourable minister is being inconsistent. I come from Shurugwi and Boterekwa is one of the areas where the ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry did not want that to happen. How they were bulldozed into issuing a mining permit in Boterekwa where I come from, ndiko kumusha, ndiro dzinza redu and madzishe are not happy with that [that’s where I come from; the chiefs are not happy with what is happening]. The ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry had said no, but you then issued. What made you issue that?”
“That is another one, if you go to Boterekwa today, it is destroyed and madzishe hakunawo kwaanogona kuyenda kunopira midzimu yavo [chiefs do not have places to conduct rituals]. Saka chii chamuri kuita nenyika? [What are you doing to the country?] If they continuously do that, then the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) will stop and then they are bulldozed. Who is behind influencing you to do this, that must be the question?”
“Who is influencing you to go to these heritage places and issue mining licences? We cannot destroy our heritage for the sake of money because our culture is fast losing itself. We are no longer Zimbabweans without a culture, heritage and tradition ndiko kusaka tirikuramba tichingo suffer [that is why we are suffering] because muri kupinda munzvimbo dzisingapindwe! [because you are invading sacred places]” fumed Mliswa.
“Honourable minister, with that clarification, would you like to respond?” asked Mudenda, before Ziyambi chipped in.
“May I assist the honourable minister? In my earlier response, I indicated the policy. What is now following are specific issues that need to be investigated. I plead with you, Mr Speaker, if the follow-up questions are now very specific, the first question from m Kashiri was general. What is the policy as regards to those areas and I duly answered, but if there are issues that emanate from that response pertaining to specific areas, I am seeking your indulgence for that to be put in writing so that a comprehensive answer can be given,” he said amid inaudible interjections from MPs.
Harare East MP and former Finance minister Tendai Biti weighed in: “Mr. Speaker Sir, I am still going back to the policy. The esteemed minister of Justice says the policy is that if there are protected areas then mining rights cannot be granted but that policy needs clarity from the Minister of Mines. Currently, before this august House is the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill. That Bill actually allows invasion of those protected sites, including cemeteries and our homes.
“We need policy clarification and statement that you cannot invade and allocate mining rights to protected areas including national parks. Right now, as I am talking to you — in Mutoko the homestead of Njapi, the Queen of the Buja people — Shumba Nyamuzihwa is being invaded by Chinese people who are mining in this area.
“What is the policy with regards to this?” he asked.
At that stage Mudenda put the matter to rest and asked that specific questions be put in writing for ministers to bring comprehensive statements.
Located in Mashonaland West on the southern bank of the Zambezi River that serves as the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, Mana Pools National Park hosts an estimated 12 500 elephants, 3 000 hippopotamuses, more than 260 lions, cheetahs and wild dogs, according to 2020 estimates.
The Mana Pools World Heritage Site spans 676 600 hectares, spanning the Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore safari areas.
Civil society leaders like Farai Maguwu, the director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) and James Mupfumi who fronts the Centre for Research and Development (CRD) have also expressed anger over the intended plan to invade the heritage site for the purpose of mining.
Section 35 of the Mines Act allows the government to protect certain areas from prospecting and pegging. However, the Mines Act gets precedence over other laws, such as the Water Act or the Environmental Management Act, leaving many parks vulnerable.
The Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill which is under consideration in Parliament leaves room for such mining work, but on strict conditions.
The proposed law states: “In deciding whether or not to grant a mineral right or title, the Cadastre Registrar shall take into account the need to conserve the natural resources in or on the land over which the mineral right or title is.”