A Chinese-owned company plans to push forward a coal mining project in western Zimbabwe despite protests by local residents that the activity threatens to contaminate their natural water supply, Voice of America (VOA) reported Monday.
The Zimbabwean government recently granted Beifa Investment, a Chinese-owned mining company, special permission to search for coal in Zimbabwe’s western Hwange district, located within the confines of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife sanctuary. Beifa Investment began setting up heavy machinery at a targeted mining site in the Hwange village of Dinde months ago ahead of the project’s formal launch. Dinde residents have protested the planned coal mining since then, arguing the activity will negatively affect Dinde’s unique ecology, pour pollutants into a local water source, and possibly displace over 600 villagers.
“My fears are — one: we shall be evicted. Secondly, we have a river called Nyantuwe [where] we get water. That’s our main source of water. Definitely, if this mine succeeds, my fear is that toxic acids may be found in the river. We don’t have boreholes; we have no anything,” Dinde resident Morris Sibanda told VOA. Beifa Investment’s planned coal mining project further threatens to eliminate grazing land used by cattle, a vital element of Dinde’s local economy.
The Zimbabwean federal government claims it “consulted” Dinde residents before giving Beifa Investment permission to mine in the area.
“Amkela Sidange, the education and publicity manager for the government’s Environmental Management Agency, says an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report addressed and cleared all of Dinde’s concerns,” according to VOA.
“An EIA for exploration was done and public consultation was also done,” Sidange told the U.S. government-funded broadcaster.
“Their fears are all taken care of. In fact, as long as the EIA was done, it is being monitored by the agency. So, nothing is going to be done which is outside what the agreement was in the EIA for exploration,” she added.
Photos posted to social media in April appeared to show Beifa Investment’s mining equipment exploring for coal near local gravesites in Dinde, sparking outrage from Zimbabweans online. The Chinese-owned company issued a statement on April 27 denying the allegations as false and insisted its official drilling site was “nowhere near” the graves of Dinde residents.
“Beifa Investments (Pvt) Ltd categorically denies ever desecrating any graves in the Dinde Community as alleged or at all,” the statement read.
Zimbabwe is a member of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which allows China to expand its reach worldwide by funding and building infrastructure projects in developing countries. China has established several mining sites in Zimbabwe through the BRI in recent years. Chinese nationals managing the sites often clash with local Zimbabweans over various issues.
The Chinese-owned Premier Estate mining site in Mutasa District, Manicaland Province, faced criticism in late November 2020 after it called off a search for ten illegal Zimbabwean gold miners believed to have been “buried alive” inside a mine shaft earlier that same month. The Chinese manager of the mine claimed the excavation equipment used to conduct the search mission was too “expensive” to continue operating.