Map showing the China Africa Sunlight Energy mining concession. (Halfway House, on the main Victoria Falls-Bulawayo road, is located roughly in the centre of the map).
Concerns are being raised over the activities of mining company China Africa Sunlight Energy in the wildlife rich Gwayi Conservancy, bordering Hwange National Park, in Matabeleland North province. The company is accused of leaving a behind trail of environmental destruction.
China Africa Sunlight Energy, a 50/50 joint venture between Zimbabwe’s Old Stone Investments and Shandong Taishan Sunlight of China, plans to spend $2.1 billion in the next five years on power generation, coal mining and methane bed gas extraction in Matabeleland north.
The firm is one of the 20 companies controversially issued with special grants to explore and extract coal-bed methane gas in the area and has already completed an initial Environmental Impact Assessment.
China Africa Sunlight Energy says it will complete its coal mine and a 300 megawatt power station at its Gwayi concessions by 2016. The company’s deputy general manager Charles Mugari said as part of the first phase of the project the company will build a modern residential complex for 2,000 workers, a coal mine and power plant. “By 2016 we hope that the mine will be up and running,” he said.
He said second phase of the power project will focus on methane gas extraction and another 300MW plant to be completed in mid-2017. The company intends to establish another 400MW plant powered by methane gas. “We have embarked on a very comprehensive exploration process and by end of this year we will know exactly the minable reserves of methane gas,” he said.
Mugari said the projects, which would be carried out on 100,000 hectares of land would create 4,500 jobs in the next two years. The company is also planning to build hotels and business complexes. “This is going to be the beginning of the creation of an economic zone which will attract more foreign direct investment,” he said.
China Africa will also establish a coking plant for coal required in processing of steel.
“We have also completed our environment impact assessment for the mine and right now we are working on the EIA for the power generation and the documents are with the Environment Management Agency,” he said. The company is also working with the water ministry to assist in the construction of the Gwayi-Shangani dam which it seeks to benefit from.
Recently another company, Shangani Energy Exploration (SEE), said it has plans for $780 million gas project and build a 400 megawatt power station in the same area.
According to the Hwange/Gwayi Conservation and Tourism Association (HGCTA) and Gwayi Intensive Conservation Area, the Chinese's exploring activities have caused water aquifer bursts and massive pollution of rivers in the area. "Before the commencement of the actual mining, the exploration process has already caused serious environmental damages. As I speak water is oozing from the ground at eight aquifers which have exploded because of drillings. The most affected are Chimwara and Good Luck farms," said Langton Masunda the chairperson of HGCTA who is also a safari operator in the conservancy in an interview with New Zimbabwe.com.
Mark Russell, the chairman of Gwayi-ICA, said his association and other stakeholders were side-lined from the assessment process. "We are actually shocked that EMA gave this project a thumps up without our input. Gwayi ICA is the custodian of the land but surprisingly our members who have been affected by the exploration activities were ignored," said Russell.
Masunda said the area which the company wants to mine is a buffer zone for Hwange National Park and any mining activity would also have drastic effects on wildlife farming in the area. "After a proper analysis, we have established that there is greater value in preserving the area as it is rather than allocating it for coal mining activities," said Masunda.
China Africa Sunlight Energy managing director, Retired Colonel Charles Mugari dismissed the concerns insisting the mining project would bring foreign direct investment of $2,1 billion in four years and create up to 4,500 jobs. "This project will bring national benefits such as power generation, chemical and brick moulding plants. Only people who are not doing anything on their farms are most vocal about in opposing this project," said Mugari.