KWEKWE – The Parliament of Zimbabwe has been told of extensive looting of gold and environmental degradation by Chinese investors.
During a meeting of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines held last week, miners took turns to blast the Chinese for their business practices and called upon the country’s August house to intervene with measures that will combat practices that prejudice Zimbabwe of its wealth.
Located in Zimbabwe’s Midlands region, Kwekwe is one of the biggest districts where gold is mined.
It has recently been at the centre of controversies around the invasion of mines owned by foreigners.
One of the miners suggested that government should consider introducing levying prospectors for land reclamation.
Leading mining executive, Evans Kadenhe said Zimbabwe was losing a substantial amount of gold to the Chinese through looting.
“We need serious security and scrutiny when it comes to investors in the country,” Kadenhe told the committee hearing.
“I want to draw your attention to the Chinese investors. The Chinese are not only looting our gold but they are also not accountable. There is need for security and transparency. The Chinese don’t build permanent structures but there only loot and leave our land in a mess,” Kadenhe said.
Another miner, Silas Chaduka, blamed the Environmental Management Agency for sleeping on duty.
“The Mines and Minerals Act is a wonderful piece of legislation that is only lacking implementation. People just prospecting and mining as they see fit without any ramifications because the implementation of law is very weak,” he said.
“The rate in which we are losing our environment is quite alarming. It is like we don’t have an environmental agency in place” Chaduka told the committee.
Chinese embassy officials were not available for comment on Tuesday.
But while Chinese nationals have been accused of looting Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth, no concrete evidence have been provided to back the claims.
But a report by the Johannesburg based Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) said in 2013 that Chinese investors, who now dominate Zimbabwe’s troubled chrome mining sector, had violated environmental laws, leaking poison into Ngezi River and threatening its delicate aquaculture, the environment and downstream communities.
Ngezi River flows through the chrome-rich Midlands province where Kwekwe is, and is generally dominated by Chinese investors.
SARW said the scale of environmental hazards posed by Chinese chrome mining had reached alarming levels as some had even started operations without Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA).
“In Zimbabwe mining companies generally, the Chinese and Russians included, violate sections of the Mines and Minerals Act on land reclamation,” SARW said in its report, which also looked at Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“There are specific cases of the disregard of the environment by Chinese enterprises. In the Midlands province, Chinese companies are illegally mining chrome without the requisite EIA reports. One of them had set up a chrome washing plant on the banks of Ngezi River in contravention of the country’s environmental laws,” the report added.
SARW’s report said thousands of families in both existing and abandoned mines were at risk following the contamination of rivers.
Hard labour, exposure to risky conditions, violation of labour laws, long working hours, non-payment of overtime, disregard of public holidays and use of Chinese language in corporate literature were among extreme conditions faced by workers at most Chinese interests in Zimbabwe, the SARW report said.
“The culprits are the small Chinese mining companies, said SARW.
Most Chinese mining firms exceed the legally stipulated working hours of eight hours per day. They generally work 12 to 18 hours.
“At Makwiro platinum concessions, workers complained that they do not get overtime for the 12 hours per day they work, and are instead asked to take time off. Local holidays are not observed. Protective clothing (if any) was also said to be in short supply, and workers had been observed wearing their own clothes for work,” the report said.