Growing public concern over Chinese mining projects in Zimbabwe

Mining is recognised in Zimbabwe as a key sector for attaining National Development Strategy 1 (NSDI) goals. But indiscriminate mining has become a matter of concern in the country. China’s engagement with Zimbabwe in the mineral sector is very high and it has secured direct equity interests in copper, coal and manganese reserves. But local Zimbabweans were worried about the ill effects of mining activities by Chinese companies without proper social and environmental assessments and rehabilitation policies.

Communities in mineral rich Great Dyke which forms parts of the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe have expressed concern over increasing environmental and infrastructure degradation in the region, leaving trails of open pits which are now death traps for human and livestock. White ASB Gold Mine, operating along the Dohwe river near Mberengwa Rural Service Centre, was licensed to undertake rubble, open-cast and reef mining, it had reportedly encroached into the Dohwe River catchment. The company was allegedly using heavy equipment in the region such as excavators, front-end loaders and tripper trucks, resulting in massive environmental destruction. Communities living in the downstream area along the Dohwe river were particularly apprehensive about their health and safety considering the use of mercury in mining activities.

Mining activities

Another Chinese Company Jinding Mining was exploring quarry mining in a village in Mutoko district of Zimbabwe. The Chinese company reportedly asked the villagers to leave their homes to make way for a granite quarry. Although the Chinese company was not forcibly driving the people out from their ancestral village, there was no transparency. However, the Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe claimed that Chinese companies were working for the betterment of the country. Nevertheless, mistrust persists among locals.

Despite Zimbabwe government’s new statutory provision for environment management (control of alluvial mining) and regulations being imposed since 2021, including efforts by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to prevent over exploitation, a Chinese mining company continues to defy the government ban on alluvial gold mining. Villagers in Zimbabwe’s Mudzi district’s gold-rich Makaha area have appealed President Emmerson Mnangagwa to stop Chinese-owned mining company, ‘ZIMCN’ from seizing their lucrative gold mine. The villagers sought Mnagagwa’s intervention after ZIMCN, occupied their mine in 2021. They also accused the provincial mining Director of Mashonaland East for siding with the Chinese miners. The locals also filed (2021) an application at the High Court seeking to bar ZIMCN from mining at the site but the matter was dismissed on technical ground.

In yet another instance, Zimbabwe villagers (Dinde village) opposed Chinese coal mining project near wildlife reserve in Hwange district. The project was being implemented by Beifa Investments. Locals apprehended that they would be evicted and their main source of water, the river Nyantuwe, would be polluted by toxic acids
as a result of mining activities. About 600 families fear being displaced if the coal project was continued by Beifa Investments.

Zimbabwe’s problems

Zimbabwe was apparently in the process of reviewing mining laws and policies to ensure communities benefit from their resources and to improve transparency. Edward Mukaratigawa, Chairperson of the portfolio committee on Mines and Minerals Development noted that there was consensus on the need to review the mining laws in Zimbabwe, particularly the Principal Act – the Mines and Minerals Act. However, the proposed review had not taken place as yet and Chinese companies were taking advantage of loopholes in the laws. Zimbabwe intends to have a green economy by 2030 and reduce its carbon emissions by 33%. But observers viewed that if the country continues to invest in coal energy, it would be hard to achieve these goals.

The increasing resentment in African countries against the Chinese investment in mining activities could be an issue of concern for Beijing. Africa plays a critical role in provision of key minerals, for the Chinese economy. In the case of minerals China is almost exclusively reliant on Sub-Saharan Africa for its cobalt imports and significantly dependent for manganese (primarily from Gabon, South Africa and Ghana) and Chromium (mainly from South Africa, Medagaskar and Sudan). Although Beijing was not dependent for iron ore on Africa, it has evinced growing interest in the mining belt of central southern Africa, comprising Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. This area was well endowed with copper, iron, gold, manganese, and other base metals. China now imports US$100 billion worth of base metals from Africa every year and consumes over 25 percent of the world’s supplies.