River-polluting diamond firm defies environment laws

Diamond Mining Company, operating in Marange, continues to defy the Environmental Management Agency’s directive to comply with the country’s environmental laws as it exploits its alluvial gems, The Zimbabwean has learnt.

DMC’s operations in the mineral-rich area pose serious health risks to the communities that draw water from Save River, where it is reportedly discharging harmful substances.

DMC, together with Anjin Investments and Marange Resources, were taken to the High Court in 2012 by villagers in the area over the pollution. The villagers were represented by the Zimbabwe Environment Lawyers Association.

The three were last year accused of polluting Save, Singwizi and Odzi rivers with sewage, chemicals and metal deposits. The allegations surfaced following a scientific study commissioned by Zela and conducted by the University of Zimbabwe.

The study indicated that the inhabitants of villagers living along the Save, Singwizi and Odzi riverbanks were at the risk of contracting diseases such as cancer, cholera and typhoid.

Reports have further indicated that some of the villagers’ livestock could have died after drinking the polluted water. Zela’s head of programmes, Shamiso Mtisi, maintained that the three diamond firms were still defying the environmental laws of the country.

“DMC, Anjin and Marange Resources are the major culprits. They are failing to respect and adhere to the environmental laws of the country simply because they have political backing,” said Mtisi.

Investigations by The Zimbabwean indicated that Mbada Diamonds, Anjin and Marange Resources had since adopted environmentally friendly mining strategies, which was confirmed by the Environmental Management Agency.

“Anjin and Marange Resources are no longer discharging waste in the (Save) river, as of last year,” confirmed EMA provincial manager Kingstone Chitotombe.

“Our problem is still with DMC. They still discharge harmful substances in the (Save) river, but we have since intervened. They have installed a thickener, which separates solids and water, but it is not yet working and I’m not aware when it will. So it means pollution is still there,” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from DMC management were fruitless at the time of going to print, but Chitotombe believes the problem stems from the company management.

He added that they were frequently fining the firm. The environmental watchdog, which has the authority to stop operations of defiant companies, had been reduced to a mere “fining agency” as companies carried on polluting regardless.

The companies, which are fined $5,000 after being found guilty of an offence, can easily afford to pay the penalties from the millions they are generating from the exploitation of the gems.

Mtisi said EMA had no teeth to coerce the politically connected diamond firms to comply.

“EMA is trying to do its best considering the political environment in the country. So you have to bear with the agency. They have a lot of challenges such as manpower and underfunding,” he said.

Mtisi believes it is a matter of political will for EMA to operate without limitations so that environmental laws are respected.

Director of the Zimbabwe Natural Resources Dialogue, Freeman Bhoso, is of the same view, arguing that the political landscape was not conducive for EMA to execute its duties freely.

“The epicentre of this problem is the nature of the mining contracts signed by these companies. They are given under the heavy hand of securocrats, thereby making it difficult for a government agency to rein in organisations backed by highly placed political figures.”

Mtisi questioned the apparent reluctance of the new minister of environment, water and climate, Saviour Kasukuwere, to address the Save River pollution.

He argued that the minister should approach the matter with the same urgency as when he dealt with the Mazowe River pollution and elephant poisoning at Hwange National Park last year.

In response to questions from The Zimbabwean, Kasukuwere promised to stamp his authority on offending companies. He also acknowledged having received reports and said what the three diamond firms were doing was “totally unacceptable”.

“We will ensure that they comply with the laws of the country. They are not above the law. We won’t tolerate such behaviour from any institution or organisation, even diamond companies. We will continue to monitor their operations,” he said.

Kasukuwere said his ministry would give EMA “teeth to bite”.

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