PLANS by a local company to embark on natural gas and petroleum oil explorations inside Mana Pools National Park which was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has drawn the ire of wildlife conservationists and civil society organisations, triggering massive objections to the project.
On Thursday, 2 560 people across the globe signed 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.
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 estimates of 2020.
The heritage site covers 676 600 hectares, spanning the Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore safari areas.
However, on Friday last week, 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 area that covers 130 000 hectares of Mana Pools.
Part of the General Notice issued by the Mashonaland West mining board chairperson Pfungwa Kunaka reads: “It is hereby notified, that in terms of section 87 (4) of the Mines and Minerals Act, that Shalom Mining Corporation has applied to the Mining Affairs Board for an exclusive prospecting order, over an area described in the schedule, in the Mashonaland West mining district,” reads the Government Gazette of 28 April.
“The applicant intends to prospect for petroleum oil and gas within the area which has been reserved against prospecting pending determination of this application. Prospecting authority is sought upon registered base mineral blocks within the reservation.”
On Thursday, Dennis initiated the online petition objecting the move in a bid to “protect the World Heritage site”. The response has been overwhelming. Conservationists who signed the petition expressed anger over plans to carry out mining operations inside a game park.
Anne Carrolle wrote: “Mana Pools is a World Heritage site and has a unique and fragile ecosystem to be protected, not polluted and destroyed by mining. Operations which open the door to poaching and trafficking of wildlife.”
Malvern Mupandawana weighed in, saying: “I care about the environment and want future generations to enjoy it too.”
“Politicians and greed are not what we need on this planet. Wild animals have more right to live in Mana Pools. Now back off and out of Zimbabwe,” wrote Cathrine Nicole.
Another conservationist, Anne Maseko, stating her reasons for signing the petition, said flora and fauna in the game park had to be protected for their survival.
Centre for Research and Development (CRD) director James Mupfumi decried the planned mining project inside Mana Pools National Park in an interview with The NewsHawks.
“The current mining blitz taking place in Zimbabwe is unaccountable to national values, culture and public benefit. It is a tragedy that the 9th Parliament of Zimbabwe is coming to an end without government tabling legislation that empowers local authorities and traditional leaders to protect the wildlife, environment, culture and national heritage sites from wanton exploitation by a predatory mining regime,” he said.
Farai Maguwu, the director for the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), said it is unacceptable for mining to be allowed in a game park.
“As an organisation, we are surprised that government is even considering and has received an application for oil and gas exploration in Mana Pools National Park. The National Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. It is home to several animal species including elephants that number 12 000, buffaloes which are more than 16 000 and there are hundreds of bird species in that area. Apart from that, it is a very natural wilderness and I think that is what has earned it the World Heritage Status. And it is something to be proud of when you have such a place of global significance. It means it is area that markets Zimbabwe by virtue of its World Heritage Site status.
“It can evoke interest among global citizens to visit Mana Pools National Park. The status does not come on its own. It gives government a huge responsibility to uphold that status, not only for the current generations but for the future. I think that is why such a site was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a heritage that we inherited from the past that we must also bequeath to future generations.
“So opening this area to oil and gas exploration is a very selfish expedition that is against the values and virtues of the committee that oversees World Heritage Sites. They have made it very clear that mining and drilling are incompatible with World Heritage sites. As CNRG, we are writing an objection to the ministry of Mines. We will be hosting a Twitter Space on what it means to have such a prestigious place opened to oil and gas exploration, knowing this causes water and even air pollution, speeding climate change, affecting animal migration routes, and even killing the animals when they drink contaminated water.
“I think government will make the right decision to reject that application. There is a cabinet decision made on 8 October 2020 which banned mining in all national parks in Zimbabwe. We called on government to translate that into law. We still call on government to translate the decision into law that bans mining in all national parks and conservancies in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Objections to Shalom Mining company’s application need to be submitted to the Mashonaland West mining board by 19 May, according to the Government Gazette notice.
In 2020, the government announced that it would ban any mining in national parks. This was after public outrage when conservationists had discovered that two companies, Afrochine Energy and the Zimbabwe Zhngxin Coal Mining Group, had been granted prospecting concessions inside Hwange National Park.
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.”