Court Battle Looms Over Coal Mining In Zimbabwean National Park

An environmental lobby group has taken the Zimbabwean government to court in a bid to stop coal mining in the heart of Hwange National Park. The park is home to scores of animals, including large herbivores, carnivores, and many species of birds. The park’s most notable residents are its elephants, of which it hosts a population of about 44,000. Armed with a grant, the state-owned mining development corporation and its Chinese partner company started their operations without consulting the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality.

The Zimbabwean Environmental Law Association (ZELA) has filed an urgent chamber application to the high court, arguing that the groups’ special grant, issued before an environmental assessment was made, is in violation of the country’s Environmental Management Act. The application to the high court read, “Authorization of, and commencement of, mining in a protected national park is in breach of the constitutional duty on a respondents to prevent ecological degradation and promote conservation.”

By mining without a certificate, these groups are endangering animals and putting the existence of the park in danger. Mining poses an acute risk of irreversible ecological degradation, as it destroys an area’s biodiversity. The decision to grant the coal mining concession comes at the same time as the unexplained deaths of 22 elephants near the national park.

Environmentalists have argued that if mining continues, animals would flee Hwange and move to neighbouring countries. This would be a big blow to Zimbabwe’s tourism sector. Simiso Mlevu, Media Liaison and Project Officer at the Centre for National Resource Governance, also reported that coal mining within the park could increase human-wildlife conflict. When animals leave the park and range into human communities, both the community and the animals are put in danger. The mining corporations’ failure to address this and other issues, ZELA argues, is a serious environmental crime.

The mining also has human costs. People living around the park will be exposed to respiratory and skin diseases, and few Zimbabweans will profit. As many agencies warn, the only Zimbabweans to profit from the mining contracts are low wage “general hands” workers, with the Chinese employees receiving most of the benefit. Chima, a local resident, said that “the upending of the legislative process entailed failure to provide interested and/or affected persons an opportunity to participate in the administration decision making.” As a result, the decisionmakers failed to give all relevant factors consideration.

Hwange National Park was founded in 1928. The park has been exposed to poaching incidents and hunting incidents leading to the death of many animals. It was back in the year 1893 when coal was discovered in the park. In February 2019, the Zimbabwe government okayed the mining of coal, risking the environment and the wild.

Mining fossil fuels like coal leads to soil erosion and the contamination of surface water, ground water, and soil. This dirty energy brings a negative impact to the whole country. Like its neighbors, Zimbabwe should reject coal and turn to clean and sustainable energy sources, like wind and sun. Although renewable energy also carries risks of social and environmental injustices, its positive effects, like reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved energy security, are worth the cost.

Due to the recent drought, exacerbated by climate change, Zimbabwe’s hydro-generated electricity production has been subdued. It’s understandable that the many parts of the country which rely heavily on hydroelectricity would exert more pressure for coal mining. But coal mining will only lead to environmental degradation. Instead, Zimbabwe should push for greater investment in cleaner power sources. The Zimbabwean government should prioritize sustainable environmental programs, like tourism and wildlife conservation, and stop the Hwange mining project immediately.

Rhoda Nduku
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