Court battle looms over coal mining at Hwange National Park

Animals enjoy a drink at Nyamandhlovu waterhole in Hwange National Park.
Animals enjoy a drink at Nyamandhlovu waterhole in Hwange National Park.
Image: Gallo Images/GO!/Villiers Steyn

An environmental lobby group has taken the Zimbabwean government and its Chinese partner to court in a bid to stop a joint coal mining operation in the heart of Hwange National Park.

The park is home to scores of mammal species, of which 19 are large herbivores and eight large carnivores, and 400 bird species. The most notable of the species is an elephant population of about 44,000.

However, armed with a special grant, the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Zhongxin Mining Group Tongmao Coal Company last week started operations, putting the existence of the game park in danger.

Outraged, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) and Fedelis Chima, a Hwange local resident, on Sunday filed an urgent chamber application at the high court.

“The issuance of the special grant in February 2019 before environmental impact assessment is in violation of section 97 of the Environmental Management Act,” Zela and Chima argued.

The court application said the special grant violated the country’s laws because it was granted by the mines and development ministry without first consulting the ministry of environment, climate change, tourism and hospitality, where an environmental impact assessment certificate is issued.

“The upending of the legislative process entailed failure to provide interested and or affected persons an opportunity to participate in the administrative decision making. As a result the decision makers failed to avail themselves of the benefit of all the relevant factors and considerations.

“Authorisation of, and commencement of, mining in a protected national park is in breach of the constitutional duty on all respondents to prevent ecological degradation and promote conservation in terms of section 73(b) of the constitution of Zimbabwe,” read the application.

Environmentalists argued that if mining continued, animals would migrate to other parts of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area - namely Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. This would negatively affect the tourism sector and environment. - Additional reporting by John Ncube.

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