BY Abigail Halimani recently in Penalonga
THE rush for minerals has resulted in land being severely defaced as panners – mainly illegal – go about digging willy nilly in search of gold, diamonds or other precious metals that may have been rumoured to be available beneath the earth,
Visits to places such Kwekwe, Mutawatawa, Chiadzwa and banks of the river Mazowe, among others, will confirm the sad story of environmental degradation taking place there, a development that is giving organizations such as the Environmental Management Agency sleepless nights, as they run endless battles with the ruthless destroyers of the environment.
Mr Kingstone Chitotombe, the EMA provincial Manager for Manicaland, says his organization has had to be strict in invoking the Environmental Management Act Chapter 20:27, which was passed into law in 2003 with an aim to save the land from damage, especially by those who carry out mining activities.
“Everyone – established or small-scale – has to be responsible for their operations, but it is unfortunate that not all the players are playing ball.
“While we don’t have many problems with big companies such as Dorowa, Mbada, Redwing, Shava, Nyamukwarara and DTZ OZGEO in this province, it is the small operators who are proving to be a real pain in the neck.
“The tradition has been that once one is armed with a piece of paper from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development giving them a right to a claim, the next thing that you see are holes dug everywhere where they think they may strike it rich.
“So we have had to be stern with such players whose actions do nothing but damage land extensively,” says Mr Chitotombe.
As part of the requirements of the Act, prospective miners are expected to submit a document that details how they are going to carry out their operations, complete with impact prediction and all the mitigation processes to be executed.
It is in this Province of Manicaland that a mining concern, DTZ OZGEO, has embarked on a model rehabilitation programme – the only such in Zimbabwe – at the end of each extraction process.
DTZ OZGEO is a joint trust project between Zimbabwe and Russia, which was established in 1994 as a brainchild of the late Vice President, Cde Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, to help needy and vulnerable people of the Penhalonga community.
Then, it comprised black ownership, but sought technical support from the Russians, a partnership which then gave birth to the current merger.
DTZ OZGEO is involved in opencast mining, and has a monthly alluvial gold production of 30kg. The depths of the open cast operations range between 7m-18m.
The Managing Director of the company, Victor Kuslya, says it is their wish to see land returned to its original status that they devote 40 percent of their total expenditure budget every month towards the rehabilitation process.
“Six months after we have finished mining a certain piece of land, we get into the rehabilitation process to fill it in. This has not only made the land retain its original beauty, but assisted us to be self-reliant as we turn to the rehabilitated area for agricultural produce for our staff and the local community.,” says Kuslya.
DTZ OZGEO has a staff compliment of 415 people who were all drawn from the local community as part of its broad corporate social responsibility programmes. The workers feed from two canteens situated within the premises of the mine, and all the food that is served there is grown from the tracts of land that were filled in at the end of each mining process.
Agricultural produce grown includes maize, vegetables, cabbages, onions, peas, tomatoes, carrots and herbs.
“Even the cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chicken kept here at the mine farm are fed from crops we grow from the mined and rehabilitated land,” Ismail Shillaev, another director of the company told a team of visiting journalists who had been invited to Penhalonga on a familiarization tour organized in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Environmental Journalists Association (ZEJA). The tour was aimed at making them have an appreciation of the mining operations carried out there. Last season, for instance, they realized a maize harvest of 40 tonnes.
There is also a dam constructed as a result of the mining from where the local community benefits by way of supplementing their diet with fish caught from it. An orchard has also been started and a variety of fruits are picked up from it to feed the canteen.
. In 2010 and in recognition of its clean bill of operations coupled with numerous social responsibility gestures that have made the lives of the local communities more bearable, DTZ OZGEO’s efforts were rewarded after ZNCC conferred it with two prestigious awards These were the Outstanding Company merit and the Small and Medium Enterprises Empowerment prize.
“You could say that we are well ahead of the Indigenous programme recently announced by Minister Savior Kasukuwere because for the past 15 of our existence, we have been ceding more than 10 percent of what we reap from our gold to the people of Penhalonga,” says Piyo Chiradza, who is the deputy mine manager.
Recipients of the firm’s regular donations include educational institutions such as Premier Estate Primary School, Muchena Primary School, Tsvingwe Primary and High Schools, the Robert Mugabe Orphanage situated at St Augustine Mission, Manicaland Art Gallery, Chief Mutasa’s Granary Scheme for the less privileged and the local paralympic team.
“We operate in harmony with the local populace to an extent that we even support traditional ceremonies such as the brewing of opaque beer for rains before the commencement of a particular farming season.
“We are in good books with all our stakeholders who include EMA, ZINWA, Ministry of Local Government, the Odzi-Sabi Catchment Council, Mutasa Rural District Council and all the local chieftaincy,” Chiradza told the touring media team.
Chief Mutasa, Mr Pasi Misheck Mutasa, confirmed his constituency derived a lot of benefit from the existence of DTZ OZGEO , especially in the areas of road construction and maintenance, as well as the repairing of bridges.
“We have had a fruitful relationship with the company since it began operations here in the mid ‘90s. And through their worthy donations have I been able to enhance my food bank for the benefit of orphans, the aged and the disabled in my kingdom,” says the Chief.
The Sister-In-Charge at the Robert Mugabe Orphanage, Anna Maria, says they receive groceries and a cash donation of $500 each month for the purchase of other things required by the 18 orphans resident at the institution. Two of them who finished their secondary school studies were offered jobs at DTZ OZGEO, Sister Anna Maria acknowledged.
The story of DTZ OZGEO’s efforts to give attention to the land is an initiative that has to be decentralized to all the parts of Zimbabwe if land degradation is to be curbed, Mr Chitotombe reckons.
“Introducing punitive measures alone to people who do damage to land is not enough, but we will need to borrow a leaf from the DTZ OZGEO success story and pool resources together so that we are able to spread such good examples to the country at large,” he says.
Abigail Halimani is a member of the ZEJA Central region. She is a reporter with the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (1980) Ltd