Zimbabwe: How Coal-Fired Power Stations Threaten Livelihoods of Hwange Community

Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth is a flick of nature; the earth…

Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth is a flick of nature; the earth packed with metal ores like gold, lithium, diamond, granite and coal along the vast seams in this part of the Southern African country. Throughout the colonial period, colonizers have exploited and extracted these mineral resources. Now, four decades after Zimbabwe attained its independence the resources remain vast.

With wealth like this, the country can be transformed. Undergoing rapid economic and infrastructure development that aids to citizen participation and sustainable development for mineral rich communities. However, residents of Hwange have a sad story to tell as the effects of coal mining activities by Tutu Investments and Dingson Colliery, part of the named Chinese owned mining companies that have gradually disrupted the environment causing ecological damage, global warming, climate change and human wildlife conflict.

The risk of irreversible ecological degradation

Marlvin Daka, team leader for Vostale Creatives Trust, a Community based organisation that promotes environment conservation in Hwange, says there are more than fourteen private owned Chinese mining companies, such as Dingson Colliery, Zhong Jian, Tutu Investments, Zimberly Investments Coal Mining and Coking, Zambezi Coal and Gasification that are in operation in Hwange District on coke (fuel), coal and brick making production.

In the mining town of Hwange, [Matabeleland North] region of Zimbabwe, community members say they are suffering from a deteriorating environment, air and water pollution as well as rising temperatures due to the coal mining activities taking place in their communities.

Hwange district once a thick forest and home to the country’s wildlife emerging to be Southern Africa’s main wildlife tourist attraction, through the majestic Hwange National Park. The wildlife a town has gradually turned into a mining town due to the mining concessions by the government of Zimbabwe and Chinese companies, such as Zhong Jiang coal mining, Zambezi Coal and Gasification, Tutu Investments, contracted by the government under the Hwange Colliery Company to improve electricity generation capacity in the country.

Zimbabwe president, Emmerson Mnangagwa according to local media has been granting mining concessions to the stated Chinese mining companies.

Thick grey-dark mist of dusty clouds hovers the atmosphere, in the district of Hwange with coal dust being raised by front end loaders ferrying minerals from coal mining shafts to the Hwange power station as the government of Zimbabwe through its power generating companies seek to improve electricity generation capacity for the country and for exports.

Coal mining in Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife reserve- What are the gains?

Community members in Hwange blame mining operations being carried out by Tutu, Chilota Investments, Zambezi Coal and Gasification Company, Zhong Jiang Coal Mining and Hwange Coal Unification Companies, which are the most active mining companies for the devastating impact of coal mining on the ecosystem and biodiversity. They say, “The coal mining activities are contributing to climate change, environment degradation and water as well as air pollution.”

Lazarus Tshuma, a 38-year-old livestock farmer in the Dinde community, is one of the many villagers affected by mining activities in the area.

Dinde community is in Ward 14 of the Hwange Rural District Council. The community and many rural communities in the district such as Deka, Lusumbami have been subjected to environment destruction, water and air pollution, villagers challenged to relocate due to Chinese mining operations taking place in these communities.

“Dingson Colliery, Zhong Jian Investments, Tutu Chilota Collieries are some of the Chinese companies contracted by Hwange Colliery Company Limited involved in coal mining projects in the rural district of Hwange. Their mining activities are very destructive in nature as they affect biodiversity and livelihoods of community members,” Tshuma says.

Zim-China mining relations alternative for growth and development

China has been one of Zimbabwe’s main investors in the mining sector. Since [the late] Mugabe’s administration, China has been a major political ally of the government of Zimbabwe under the ‘Look-East’ policy aimed at boosting the country’s economy following economic sanctions imposed by western countries as a result of the country’s tainted governance, human rights violations and volatile political environment.

The government of Emmerson Mnangagwa, when it came into power in 2017 embarked on a policy drive to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to promote economic recovery and growth aiming towards becoming a Middle-Income economy by 2030 embodied with the mantra, ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business.’

Under the ‘Zimbabwe is open for business mantra’, mining is a key anchor to the achievement of this vision, and this is reflected in key policy documents like the USD 12 Billion Mining Economy by 2023 Strategy. As the country poses for rapid investment and economic growth, China emerged as a key investor with significant investments in critical sectors such as mining.

Why China is keen on funding coal mining in Zimbabwe?

Vostale Creatives Trust’ Marlven Daka says Chinese owned, such as Zhong Jiang, Zimberly Investments Coal Mining, Tutu Chilota Collieries are some of the companies contracted by the government of Zimbabwe under Hwange Colliery to carry out their operations on state land for coal mining and power production on behalf of the government.

“Most of the companies such as Sino Hydro, Zhiong Jian, Tutu Investments, Dingson Investments, Zhong Jian have their operations on state land, contracted by the government through Hwange Colliery (Zimbabwe’s main thermal power production plant based in Hwange), to mine coal for electricity generation. Chinese nationals with Special Grants issued by the president of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa, for exploration have toured villages, drilling without engaging locals or conducting environment impact assessment,” Daka says.

Villagers are now subjected to forced relocations and displacements to pave way for mining explorations within their communities. Main sources of drinking water for human and livestock- Nyantuwe and Deka Rivers have been affected by pollution due to the mining exploits,” added Daka.

How Chinese owned companies gain permission to explore for coal

The Mines and Minerals Act states that Special grants give the holder the right to carry out mining operations within an area which has been reserved. A special grant is issued by the president upon recommendations by the Minister of Mines.

Chinese owned companies with close links to the president, politicians and the government have been granted mining rights through Special Grants, subcontracting smaller companies in other locations. The government in 2017, extended the tenure of Special grants for Chinese owned Zambezi Gas Zimbabwe Private limited for a period of twenty-five years, from 2017 to 2042.

Civil society groups’ responses to mining regulations

The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA), an environmental law organisation that seeks to promote environmental, economic and cultural rights of communities in Southern Africa, states that The Mines and Minerals Act of Zimbabwe gives too much power to the Minister of Mines to offer tax exemptions to mining companies without public or parliamentary scrutiny for appropriateness.

ZELA states that there is the existing old and colonial piece of legislature which does not deal with environmental protection, transparent issuance of mining rights and public disclosure of mining revenues.

They held further that: “State participation in mining through state owned companies has led government to abdicate its duty to protect the people. Mining causes loss of land, displacement of communities without compensation, pollution of rivers and loss of livelihood sources.”

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), a research and advocacy civil society organisation that promotes governance of natural resources and equity for poor communities) reports that Chinese private companies conducting coal, coking and brick moulding mining activities in Hwange are subsidiaries of Chinese companies contracted by government through Hwange Colliery for electricity production.

“Coal mining is being initiated by Chinese Companies contracted by government through Hwange Colliery Company to boost electricity generation in the country. Such mining companies, such as South Mining Company are in operation on state land and communities come closer to residential areas. Their operations although approved by the government are destructive in nature affecting communities and livelihoods of people and livestock,” says CNRG Executive Director, Farai Muguwu.

Residents of Hwange town and its vicinity are complaining of coal dust pollution caused by blasting and trucks that carry coal to the coking plants and power stations, and water pollution along the Deka River caused by Chinese mining such as Zimbali Mining Company.

Emelia Mukombwe, like many other villagers whose homes are 200 meters from the mining activities, claims she is exposed to coal dust in her home and is now concerned of developing respiratory infections or lung diseases. According to Emelia, when the China owned companies are doing their unscheduled blasting, they affect people including schoolchildren attending class.

“Coal dust can take more than two hours to settle and this interrupts learners in class. Coal blasting also exposes black shell, which then pollutes the air and sometimes causing underground fires exposing community members to injuries. In terms of safety health and environment, Hwange community has been affected,” Emelia says.

Environment and Climate action policies in Zimbabwe

The Greater Whange Residents Trust, an association that advocates and lobbies for good municipal service and local governance records an increase in the number of children burnt by coal fires. According to the association, coalmines endanger the lives of Hwange residents and cattle due to fatal pollution.” The mushrooming of Chinese miners that are being granted mining contracts without environment assessment has exposed villagers to wildlife conflicts. Hwange has a national park and Safaris, coal-mining sites are in these animal reserves. The coal mining operations being conducted by companies such as Zambezi Coal and Gasification Company, Zhong Jian Coal mining and Hwange Coal Unification Company has disrupted the natural ecosystem. Wildlife in the natural reserves have been exposed and end up invading residential areas.” Fedelis Chima, chairperson for Greater Whange Residents Trust.

According to the Zimbabwe National Development Strategy, January 2021 – December 2025, Zimbabwe government is party to international conventions and protocols to pursue national interest and sustainable development on Climate Change, Environment and Wildlife Conservation as well as Human Rights; it has gradually suspended such commitments in favour of rigid investments in the mining sector and the quest to meet a US$12 billion mining economy by 2023.

Fidelis Chima, chairperson for Greater Whange Residents Trust, says the government has been petitioned on several occasions by civil society, environmental and climate change activists raising concern on issuing mining and exploration rights to Chinese mining companies without carrying out Environmental Impact Assessments.

“There has been a rising concern on government’s response in protecting and preserving the environment. The government has been petitioned against issuing mining concessions to Chinese owned companies, but it has remained silent despite the threats of coal-seam fires and environment destruction.

Lack of government’s response on the community concerns shows that the government is focused on its US$12 billion-dollar mining economy by 2023 target at the expense of ensuring human rights, sustainable development and environment protection amid the effects of climate change,” says Fidelis Chima of Greater Whange Residents Trust.

Regardless of being a signatory to Climate Change conventions such as the Paris Agreement aimed at reducing global warming. Zimbabwe relies on fossil fuels for electricity generation and has been intensifying its investments in the industry amid worldwide resolutions to phase it out.

Coal- a metallic black sedimentary rock that is part of fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming and climate change.

Environment Management Agency (EMA), a statutory entity responsible for ensuring sustainable utilisation of natural resources and protection of the environment is mandated to regulate, monitor and promote sustainable management of natural resources under the Environmental Act, Chapter 20:27.

The Act provides for the establishment of the National Environmental Council, the Environmental Management Agency, and Environment Management Board. It provides for the formulation of environmental quality standards and environmental plans, for environmental impact assessments audit and monitoring of projects and for other matters relative to management and conservation of the environment.

ZELA however, reports that within the confines of, EMA has been failing to apply and implement the concepts of business and human rights as enunciated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and has not been compliant with and monitoring of Environmental Impact Assessments to address potential impacts and risks on communities by mining companies and environmental authorities has been very weak.

EMA Matebeleland Province authorities have admitted to receiving reports that Chinese mining companies, Dingson Colliery and Zhing Jian Investments, contracted by Hwange Colliery Company Limited where discharging their mining water into rivers polluting water sources and were fined for contravening Environmental Protection Orders in terms of section 37 of the on disposal of effluent in a manner as to cause environmental pollution.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Matebeleland Provincial Manager, Chipo Mpofu-Zuze says the agency is working with mining companies to ensure that measures are put in place to effectively reduce pollution, environment and ecological damage. “The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has been engaging with the Zimbabwe Power Company in Hwange to find ways of minimizing dust pollution in the mining zone. EMA has also engaged been working with mining companies to ensure that air pollution and environmental damage is mitigated. Ema has an oversight role that seeks to ensure environmental protection as well as coming up with mitigation strategies due to air pollution from the coal mining,” says Mpofu-Zuze.