By Terry Mutsvanga
Renias Magorimbo (66) painstakingly negotiates his way through the deep open and water full pit that has become a permanent feature turned into in his field.
The recent rains that are being experienced in Mutoko have brought much relief to the old man and many villagers who had just survived the devastating drought brought by the El Nino weather pattern last season. However, such dangerous open pits are proving to be a major obstacle if Magorimbo is to experience a bumper harvest since they chewed a greater part of his field leaving him with only a small stretch of land that he has managed to put his maize crop.
“Imagine if these pits were not in my field, I could be growing plenty of maize but that won’t be possible. There is nowhere else I can go and farm as most of the land here in Mutoko have been ravished by these open pits and this will negatively impact on yields despite the heavy rains that we are experiencing here in Mutoko ,’ he said.
Magorimbo is not the only affected villager who has lost land as a result of such open pits that have been left behind by granite mining companies that have been conducting mining operations in the area since the 1970s.A number of villagers under Chief Mutoko have been affected as a result of the environmentally unfriendly mining that is taking place and the government and relevant authorities including the Environmental Management Authority(EMA) have done virtually nothing to ensure that the mining companies rehabilitate land after carrying out operations or desist from invading villagers fields.
According to site visits carried out in Mutoko a total of 15 open pits were discovered with some filed up by the heavy rains that have pounded the district since the onset of the rain season. Some of these pits resemble ‘mini dams’ thus becoming serious death pits for both human and animal life.
‘I lost my calf after it plunged in the open pit and drowned and im not the only one in this village to loose livestock ’, lamented Sheila Gurupira of Chirongoma village. Human life has not been spared as a result of the open pits and according to a police report at Mutoko centre, three adults including a minor died in one of the open pits between 2014 and 2016.
The deaths are as a result of falling inside these pits mostly at night as a result of failing to recognise them in the dark.
To make matters worse accoding to the villagers, the mining companies only provide compensation in the form of coffins and foodstuffs as funeral expenses but refuse to provide any financial compensation to victims families or those who might have been injured in the dangerous pits.
For instance, Danmore Gurupira was injured after falling in one of the disused mine pits left by Natural stone in 2014 and he suffered a broken leg and arm .He had to foot his own medical bills as the authorities at the mine refused responsibility.
‘I fell in one of the pits left by Natural Stone in 2014 and suffered serious leg injuries but they refused to even pay for my medical bills.I suffer from frequent pain eversince and my life has been rendered difficult and I wish mining operations in this area should be stopped immediately as we are being affected severely ,’ he said.
Chief Mutoko expressed dismay over the manner in which the mining companies are carrying out mining operations inn his area as well as the failure by the Government to make available the Community Share Ownership Trust (CSOT) funds which was promised to his people.
He added that since the 1970s there hasn’t been any meaningful development that granite mining has brought in the area except environmental damage the destruction of people’ s houses as a result of dynamite blasting taking place on a daily basis.
‘I’m not happy towards the manner in which the mining companies are conducting business in my area since their operations are seriously affecting the people. They are damaging the environment on a daily basis as well as damaging my people’s houses as a result of dynamite blasting that takes place almost on a daily basis.
Again I haven’t received any funds from the Community Share Ownership Trust Fund which was launched by President Robert Mugabe some time back .However, i urge the government to intervene so that the mining companies compel and grant us the funds,’ he said.
A local councillor Robert Mabvuta said that the companies were reluctant to contribute to the CSOT since some politicians are proud owners of granite mines and also shareholders.
‘The problem is some politicians own quarry mines here in Mutoko hence some mining companies are reluctant to contribute to the Community Trusts,’ he said.
Politicians who own quarry mines in the area include former ZANU PF Member of Parliament Simbaneuta Mudarikwa who owns Natural Stones granite mine.
Some of the companies including Natural Stone refused to disclose their Environment Management Plan (EMP) which compels mining companies to outline their mining operations, environmental effects as well as rehabilitation plans. EMP falls under the EMA ACT (Chapter 20:27).
Further investigation carried out along the Mutoko-Harare Highway an average of three blocks of granite rock which weigh an average of 15 tonnes tonne are being ferried out of the mines in heavy trucks on a daily basis.
A tonne of black granite fetches an average of US$1 800.00 on the international market yet the local council receives a US$1 per tonne.
Again it seems the council is being ripped off as there is no’ weigh bridge’ that determines the correct weight of the rock as this is done by ‘eye estimation’.
Mutoko Chief Executive Officer Paul Sigauke bemoaned the meagre remittance which council is getting from the mining companies labelling it as peanuts.
He added that before granite mineral was classified as a mineral, the District Council managed to build two secondary schools and the new District offices from the granite proceeds taxes and nothing tangible has been realised ever since it was classified as a national resource.
‘Before black granite was classified as a resource and we used to collect reasonable taxes from the mines and that changed when government classified it as a mineral. From then onwards, all the proceeds are being managed from the Ministry of Finance and we are not receiving g anything except the US$1 we collect per each tonne,’ he bemoaned.
Furthermore there is no weigh bridge to weigh the granite and council uses ‘eye estimates to determine the mass of the stone.
EMA Chief Executive Officer Mutsa Chasi said some mining companies operating in Mutoko are operating without EMPs regardless of the organisation penalising them. She added that frequent raids and fines haven’t achieved much in curtailing the rampant environmental damage taking place in the area.
‘As EMA we have tried several times in engaging with these mining companies so that they operate in a manner that is friendly to the environment but it seems that has not been achieved. In 2016 we have fined 5 companies operating in the area and they paid different fines ranging from $500-$5000 for various offenses.
However it seems they are not feeling the pinch of the fines and we are coming up with other stringent stiffer fines that will compel them to adhere to environmental friendly policies, she said.
Mines and Minerals Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa said that he was aware of the manner of which mining companies are operating in Mutoko and said that he will look in to the issue.
‘I am very much aware of the mining of black granite in Mutoko and will commission a task force to look into such issues,’ he said.
Further efforts to get clarity on the commencing of the task team were fruitless as the Minister has not been responding to questions ever since.
Granite rock is one of the many minerals in the country that is being heavily exploited in the country with President Robert Mugabe openly admitting that the country lost an estimated US$15 billion in diamond revenue.