ALTHOUGH the Environment, Water and Climate ministry has ordered the cessation of alluvial mining operations by Chinese companies in Matabeleland South following massive land degradation along major rivers in Insiza and Umzingwane districts, agricultural experts and villagers say the damage has already been done.
Tanzanite Mining operated at Killarner Mine in Phikelela village in Insiza South along the Insiza River from May this year while Yuan Hang Corporation operated at Special Grant 5780 Mine at Hlangano Ranch in Mbalabala along the Umzingwane River from August, without environmental accreditation.
Digging within riverbeds and banks resulted in the siltation of rivers downstream of the mining operations. Johnson Langa, chairperson of the Phikelela Village Development Committee said the siltation of Insiza River would result in the shortage of water at the Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme.
“People’s lives would be affected because many people depend on irrigation for survival, but now because of siltation, water supplies to Silalatshani would be affected,” Langa said.
The Chinese conducted their mining operations 3km upstream of Malubamba Dam and the reservoir’s capacity has been compromised.
The 369 hectare Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme is one of the biggest and most productive irrigation schemes in Matabeleland South and is a source of income and subsistence for 853 families.
Umzingwane district agricultural extension officer Judia Ncube said the flow of the Umzingwane River that provides water to Potberry Irrigation Scheme has been compromised affecting almost 100 households who depend on farming. Yuan Hang entered the Umzingwane River at its confluence with Incema River and mined for gold within the riverbanks.
“There is not much taking place now because the flow of the river has been diverted. There is need for sand abstraction to restore the natural flow of the river,” Ncube said.
Matabeleland South provincial environmental manager Sithembisiwe Ndlovu said mining operations along Umzingwane River resulted in a 300m stretch of the riverbed being diverted while along the Insiza River 400m of the riverbed and bank were eroded.
Ndlovu added that the water quality was also compromised as affluent from these mines was allowed to flow back to the rivers thereby endangering the lives of people and animals who drink the water.
The Chinese also caused massive vegetation loss as equipment used included front-end loaders and excavators and villagers say indigenous trees that lay along their rivers would take years to be replaced.
“It will take us ages to replace the trees that have been destroyed here. If only the government could provide us with trees so we can replace those that have been cut down,” Langa added.
The Chinese were also using mercury in their mining operations and villagers fear it would impact on their health in the long run. Environmentalists confirmed mercury affects the body’s nervous system and may lead to pregnant mothers giving birth to deformed babies.