MUTARE– The Environment Management Agency (EMA) has feigned ignorance of rampant deforestation caused by artisanal gold mining in Mutasa district.
Provincial manager for EMA, Kingstone Chitotombe seemed to suggest that the environmental watchdog is not privy to developments in an area of its jurisdiction, where hordes of local artisanal miners have invaded in search of gold.
Chitotombe was virtually addressing a stakeholder dialogue meeting organized by the Centre for Research and Development in partnership with the Penhalonga Residents and Ratepayers Trust (PRIT).
Representatives from Mutasa Rural District Council, the local government authority and residents of Penhalonga also attended this meeting.
Quizzed on what EMA has done to curb the rampant deforestation and wanton destruction of the environment by artisanal mining, Chitotombe said he was not aware of these activities, despite the wide spread knowledge of the gold rush.
According to PRIT chairperson Weston Makoni, the illegal mining activities have become extensive, stretching from Redwing Mine, owned by business mogul Mze Khumalo.
Redwing Mine which is under care and maintenance halted operations years back, but syndicates ostensibly working as sub-contractors, others operating which protection from politicians and chancers have invaded the mine.
Makoni says while officially the mine is not operational as it is currently under care and maintenance, mining activities has continued carried out by subcontractors and syndicates backed by politicians.
“The situation in Penhalonga is public knowledge and for EMA to say they are not aware it’s insincere.
“Redwing Mine subcontracted a contractor to mine at their site under their Exclusive Prospecting Order (EPO) or lease agreements, claims are being exploited by syndicates but we are not aware if they are tributary agreements for mining subcontractors,” he said.
“We just want to know what the nature of this arrangement, whether it is subcontracting or ceding of tributary agreement, the legal processes that should be followed, have they complied with them that’s what we need to know as a community.”
Other residents lamented the continuous emission of dust by operation without the environmental watchdog intervening, pleading for redress and protection of their rights to a clean environment as enshrined in legislation.
“Dust pollution issues, from 2017 we have been talking about this issues, we suggest that we come and address the people on the ground. We have lost vegetation in our environs and the future generation is being robbed of knowledge of their flora and fauna heritage.
“We are dusting our homes every day, our vegetables are covered in dusts soot and this is a challenge to us, yes you may have opened a case but we are slowly dying from this pollution,” said Mrs Musiyazviriyo, a member of PRIT.
Chitotombe remarks understandably drew the ire of residents as they rely on EMA to enforce environmental rules, but the provincial boss says it is the duty of a sister organization the Forest Commission to protect forests.
He blatantly refused to acknowledge the rampant deforestation in Penhalonga and sought to deflect it as a matter of the Forestry Commission.
“I am not aware of what is happening in Penhalonga. I will have to check on the nature of their agreements, I say so because I do not want to rush to respond on this issue because I want to address the issue with the full knowledge on the nature of their agreements.
“I will take this information to the Forestry Commission that regulates forestry. We will forward to our counterpart so that corrective action can be taken to correct an anomaly. It’s an issue that you have brought up this issue with us we will check in our records to see if we have that within our offices.
“Tree cutting has emerged as a problem within the country and we appeal to communities to also assist monitoring agencies to protect our environment,” said Chitotombe.
Centre for Research and Development (CRD) is conducting community audit of the impacts and benefits of mining says government agencies should be more adept to developments in jurisdictions they manage.
Director James Mupfumi said communities should rely on government to protect their environmental social and economic rights, and not to be complicit in their violations by failing to play their part.
“EMA is the foremost agency that deals with protection of the environment and as a government body they should be following developments within their jurisdictions. The issue of gold mining is not new in Penhalonga.
“We are conducting a community audit to track if there are any tangible benefits which have accrued from mining activities, pushing for local benefits through devolved management of natural resources as enshrined in the constitution,” he said.