HARARE - Zimbabwe's conservation groups have welcomed a government ban, announced Tuesday, on all mining in the country's national parks. The government declared the mining halt after weeks of campaigns calling for a stop to Chinese coal-mining grants in Hwange, Zimbabwe's largest national park.
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association on Wednesday welcomed the government’s decision to ban all mining in national parks.
The group had filed an urgent request Monday at the Harare High Court, arguing that Chinese mining inside Hwange National Park risked permanent damage to the ecology.
Despite the apparent win, the association’s Richard Ncube said they are going ahead with the court challenge.
“The reason being that we still have a valid argument to make: as long as there are still valid authorizations that allow the mining company to continue mining in the national park we still have a case to make and we have to get an order before the court so as to stop the mining companies from mining,” he said.
The ban followed weeks of conservationists’ campaigns using the hashtag “SaveHwangeNationalPark.”
The conservationists demanded the cancellation of licenses given to Chinese companies to mine coal in Hwange, the country's biggest national park.
Minister of Mines Winston Chitando said the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) was given permission before President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power.
“The mining concession was granted in 2015 to ZMDC (Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation) who have held that mining concession since then…They haven’t done much work on the concession and they proceeded to get a partner to undertake mining in the particular area.”
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association cites Chitando and ZMDC as defendants in their High Court petition against mining in Hwange.
It also names Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency and two Chinese mining companies.
Conservationists fear that without a court order, Zimbabwe’s government could grant the companies an exemption or easily rescind the blanket ban on mining in national parks.
Simiso Mlevu is spokeswoman for the Center for Natural Resource Governance.
“Hwange national park is a unique and an important enclave because it is home to more than 45,000 elephants and all other animals which make up the big five. We don’t think there is any tourist who would visit Zimbabwe to check on production of any mine. Tourists are attracted by wildlife. We hope government will genuinely stay by its word,” she said.
Tourism is one of the industries Zimbabwe hopes will revive the country’s struggling economy.
But China is also a major investor in Zimbabwe, which hopes that investment in coal mining will help it to become a net energy exporter by 2023.