Save River pollution sparks cervical cancer fears

Defiant Marange diamond miners discharging harmful substances into the Save River have sparked cervical cancer fears among women residing in the affected areas.

Jane Muyambo in Save River.
Jane Muyambo in Save River.

Since 2010 the river has been reduced from a source of livelihood to a death-trap owing to the toxic discharges by mining firms, emanating from hazardous chemicals used to clean rough diamonds.

The contamination has not only affected the Save but also the Singwizi and Odzi Rivers, which used to be a thriving sanctuary for fish. There are no longer any fish and over 1,000 cattle as well as numerous goats, sheep and other livestock have died due to unspecified illnesses.

Investigations in some of the affected areas in Buhera South, Hotsprings and Chimanimani West indicate that villagers are at great risk. Though men appear to experience fewer side-effects the same cannot be said about women. Elderly female villagers had to defy cultural and traditional practices of shying away from sensitive issues as they spoke of genital infections as a result of drinking and bathing in the contaminated rivers.

Health experts indicated that anything that causes disease around women reproductive systems is considered a risk factor that can cause cervical cancer. “Here in Mangwadza village (Buhera South), we depend heavily on Save and Singwizi Rivers. We don’t have a choice but to drink and bath in the rivers as we do not have boreholes here. Women have been experiencing a skin rash and our private organs are itchy and provide discomfort right up to our womb. We now fear the worst,” said Jane Muyambo.

Cows dying

Maruwa Jena of Hotsprings said she suffered from the same illness until nurses advised her to stop using the water and she has been well ever since. Scores of women, their spouses and traditional leaders confirmed this.

Most interestingly, many cows drinking from the same water points have suffered stillbirths and died. Ward 5 (Hotsprings) councillor Reuben Bvurume, 68, said cattle in the area last gave birth to healthy calves in 2011 – just a year after diamond mining started in Chiadzwa.

Villagers engaged the Mutare Veterinary Department to ascertain the cause of death of their female cattle but have been denied access to the results, despite one Dr Tapondo having taken samples on September 16 last year.

The refusal by the vet department has been cited as a clear sign that the findings might expose the diamond firms and at the same time cost the whistle-blowers their jobs due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Save-Odzi Community Development Trust, which has made frantic efforts to obtain the test results, said they were advised to dispose of all their cattle drinking from the rivers – another sign that the water substances pose a great risk to humans and animals.

PMD Dr Patron Mafaune could not comment on the matter referring all questions to the Health Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa, who could not be reached for comment.

However, a health expert who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter said there were sufficient grounds to believe the pollutions could cause cancer.

No coincidence

“It cannot be a coincidence that women and female animals are facing similar symptoms here. And as health practitioners, we value human life and there is need to carry out a study into this. Anything that causes diseases around women’s private organs is considered a risk factor that can cause cervical cancer and should be attended to immediately. This is very serious and government needs to look into it – unless they value minerals over human life,” said the expert. Separate research studies by the Environmental Management Agency and Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association highlighted that the diamond miners have been discharging toxic substances into the rivers. EMA has been issuing quarterly fines to the mining companies.

Zela which dragged the miners, namely Anjin, Marange Resources and DMC, to the High Court in 2012 over charges of pollution has threatened to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.

“We have dragged these mining companies to court. We have a legal case at the High Courts that we instituted since 2012 but unfortunately the legal system has been very slow. And in 2012 we did not have a constitution which gave people the right to clean water. But in 2013 we had a new constitution that enshrined this clause and we are in the process of instituting a constitutional case,” said Zela.

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