Zimbabwean villagers oppose Chinese coal project near wildlife sanctuary

Ecological conservationists in Zimbabwe are trying to mobilize opposition to a Chinese project to operate coal mines in an area that is home to Zimbabwe’s largest national park. Critics say local people and wildlife will suffer, and they are urging authorities to move away from coal production and toward renewable energy.

Most villagers in the village of Dinde in the Hwange region say they oppose the Beifa Investments coal project there, but many are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals.

About 600 families fear they will lose their homes if the mine project goes ahead. Maurice Spanda is one of them.

I’m worried that I might be evicted from my home, and at the same time, we have a river called Nyantuwe where we get our water from,” he says. It’s our main water source. If this coal mine gets done, I’m definitely worried about the toxic acids that will be in the river.”

Other villagers are concerned that the coal mine project will take away land where domestic cattle and wildlife graze.

However, North Development Investment Company continues to embark on the exploration project. The Zimbabwean government says they consulted with the people of Dindai village before approving the development of the coal mine.

Amkela Sidange, education and public relations manager for the Zimbabwe Environment Management Authority, said the environmental impact assessment report had addressed and clarified the concerns of the village of Dindai.

Their concerns have been addressed,” she said. In fact, our office will always monitor the EIA report as long as it has been done. There will be no aspect of the exploration activities that will go beyond the agreement of the EIA report.”

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), a local NGO, is opposed to the coal project in Dingdai in part because they have not seen any clear plan for resettlement if the villagers are forced to move.

The reasons don’t stop there. Farai Maguwu, the center’s director, says coal mining undermines Zimbabwe’s plans to build a green economy and reduce carbon emissions by 33 percent by 2030.

“But this cannot be achieved as long as the country continues to invest in dirty energy – as is about to happen in Dindai. We will not allow the government to talk left and go right,” he said.

Like most of the villagers around him, Spanda said he doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Villagers fear that more coal mining projects will be approved, which will erode Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife reserve, the Wangeai National Park.