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Illegal mining, land degradation and dwindling biodiversity; the case of Chimanimani Mountains

By Tendai Guvamombe (Environmental Reporter)

Chimanimani Mountains, a renowned domestic tourism site, national boundary and a local heritage for the surrounding community is currently degrading at the hands of illegal gold miners.

Biodiversity and natural ecosystems will be the most affected as human beings are said to have lost harmony with nature. The endangered species, flora and fauna are reported to have dwindled in numbers.

The natural conservancy has fallen prey to a syndicate of external miners who continues to harm the environment at the expense of the local community.

The area is officially designated under the authority of Zim-Parks and Wildlife Authority.

It is believed that illegal gold mining activities became more rampant at the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown period where more harm has been caused.

Collen Sibanda an Environmentalist and Vice Chairperson of Chimanimani Tourist Association(CTA) spoke to Spotlight Online News Africa on the effects of mining activities to the environment and biodiversity.

“The fact that illegal miners have gained access to mountains means that all the natural ecosystems will be affected. This will see animals running away from the mountains to the villagers thereby causing human-wildlife conflicts,” he said.

Sibanda, a local tour guide added that the degraded park is nolonger safe for tourists as the mining activities have also encroached to strategic places and historic Bubbling Hotspring.

“Major places in the mountain park are no longer safe for tourists due to land degradation. The mining activities have also encroached into the Bubbling Hotspring which is no longer showing up,” he added.

The trans boundary area resides under Chiefs Ngorima, Muusha, Saurombe and Chikukwa. This is where the name Chimanimani is derived.

Julia Pierini Birdlife Africa CEO said the Chimanimani represents an area of top biodiversity concerns which deserves protection. About more than 90 species are accommodated in the natural ecosystem.

“Chimanimani is a top area of biodiversity where more than 90 species are found and we say the area deserves a national protection.”

Chimanimani Mountains has a range of 40 kilometers which gives rise to the development of major rivers the likes of Musapa, Bundi, Haron and Chisengu.

According to the Chimanimani map the mentioned rivers confluence with Rusitu River which heads directly into Indian Ocean.

Against this background Pierini noted a high level contamination of major rivers due to effluent disposals by illegal miners.

“Mercury used by gold miners is spilling directly into rivers and this is evidenced by frogs and fish seen floating on water,” she added.

Chimanimani District Development Administrator Joseph Manyurapasi confirmed the illegal mining activities saying his office had already engaged Zim-Parks and the Police among other stakeholders to chase away all illicit activities in the area.

“Yes I can confirm that there are some serious mining activities in the Chimanimani Mountains but we have since engaged Zim-Parks, police and other stakeholders so that illegal miners can be chased away from the mountains.”

Game rangers are believed to be conniving with illegal miners in an act of corruption over the past few years.

Spotlight Online News Africa held a telephone interview with Tinashe Farawo Zim-Parks and Wildlife Authory Public Relations Manager said they have not yet received any reported case of rangers conniving with illegal miners. Advised people with evidence to report such cases.

“Illegal mining has been happening but we have been working with law enforcers to chase them away from the mountains. About suspected corruption cases between our rangers and illegal miners, we have not received such reports but we urge those with evidence to make a report.”

In the past week photos showing the degraded mountains of Chimanimani were awash on social media sparking interest among journalists and environmentalists. This also came to the attention of Minister of Environment, Climate,Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mangaliso Ndlovu.

The Minister responded during a Post Cabinet Press Briefing where he promised to launch some investigations into the matter. He also tasked Environmental Management Agency(EMA) to work with Zim-Parks and law enforcers.

“I have tasked EMA to work with Parks, Wildlife Authority and law enforcers so that we deal with illegal gold mining taking place in Chimanimani.”

The minister also promised to investigate the alleged corruption activities by Zim-Parks rangers where reshuffling of staff will be imminent to allow investigations to take place. Urged people with knowledge and evidence pertaining the corrupt scandals to report.

“There is going to be a reshuffle of Chimanimani Zim-Parks staff to allow investigations to take place and we urge those with evidence of corruption to report such cases to the police.”

Meanwhile the Environmental Management Agency EMA has noted that most of illegal mining activities escalated during COVID-19 Lockdown period.

“The Agency noted that restrictions associated with COVID-19 pandemic ushered in complacency within the public resulting in the surge in environmental violations,” says Amkela Sidange EMA’s Spokesperson.

The Agency says it has put in place plans to counter illegal mining activities in Chimanimani through a joint operation with law enforcers. This was indicated in EMA’s Media brief.

“The Agency is working with law enforcers to protect environment from further damage.Currently teams are on the ground to contain illegal mining activities in Chimanimani mountains in Manicaland.”

Zimbabwe is a signatory of the International Convention on Biodiversity which was adopted on 22th May 1992 in Nairobi and 168 parties ratified the treaty. It was entered into force on 29 December in 1993 during the Rio “Earth Summit”.

Tendai Guvamombe