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The Zimbabwean government has permitted Chinese companies to mine coal in Hwange National Park which is the country’s flagship wildlife conservation area and home to one of the largest populations of elephants remaining in Africa.
(African Stand) — Conservationists have accused Zimbabwe’s government of giving Chinese mining firms permission to dig for coal in one of Africa’s greatest and oldest wildlife sanctuaries.
Police tried to detain several Chinese miners setting up camp in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, only to be told the miners had permits allowing them to do so.
The 9,000-square mile park was established by British settlers more than 90 years ago in north-west Zimbabwe and has the second largest population of elephants in Africa.
The Bhejane Trust, which works with Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, says concessions to explore for coal within the parks have been given to two Chinese firms already working in Zimbabwe.
In a document released earlier this week, the Bhejane Trust named the Chinese companies as Afrochine Energy and the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Mining Group.
Trevor Lane, a veteran conservationist who runs the trust, says his monitoring teams intercepted the two firms’ workers conducting exploratory drilling in the area.
“We followed up on this and discovered the Government has allocated two coal mining concessions in the middle of the Park,” he said. “It was a shocking discovery.”
He said rangers from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority were alerted and the Chinese miners were arrested by Zimbabwe Republic Police.
However, the Chinese miners soon reappeared with a permit giving them the right to carry on drilling.
“They did this without any consultation with Hwange National Parks’ area manager and seem to feel they have a right to go wherever they like,” he added.
The mining permits appeared to be ‘Special Grants’ which apparently can only be issued by the office of Zimbabwe’s president.
Park rangers are understood to be furious at the presence of the Chinese miners and have threatened to shoot them if they remained there. “These Chinese will never, ever, ever mine for coal in the park,” said one. “Never, over our dead bodies. We will arrest them again and again. We will shoot them.”
Afrochine is a subsidiary of Tsingshan Steel of China, the world’s largest producer of stainless steel. Two years ago, Tsingshan was reported to be in talks to set up a £2.5bn billion plant in Zimbabwe, which could become the largest stainless steel processing plant in Africa.
Last month Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, visited the offices of both Afrochine Energy and Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Mining Group in Hwange, about 50 miles from the park.
During the visit, he said that Zimbabwe intended to become an energy exporter. “We must see also that this area changes and responds to growth and modernization,” he declared.
About a third of Zimbabwe’s electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants. Hwange Park is home to around 44,000 elephants, roughly of Zimbabwe’s total elephant population.
In 2013, poachers killed at least 100 of them after poisoning their waterhole with cyanide, in one of the largest illegal wildlife killings in Southern Africa in recent times.
The park was also home to “Cecil”, a lion whose killing by a US big game hunter in 2015 sparked worldwide outrage.
Colin Gilles, another prominent Zimbabwean conservationist who has monitored the country’s elephant population, said of the mining permits: ”We want to believe this cannot be true.
“It is unimaginable that anyone could ever even consider allowing any investigations into mining at any time in the Hwange National Park. We will do whatever it takes to stop this.”
He praised the Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which has stayed fully on duty during four months of COVID-19 lockdown, for alerting the police to the miners.
Dennis Shoko, company secretary of AfroChine Energy in Harare, Said that the company did have a permit for exploratory drilling in Hwange, but that work had not yet begun. Zhongxin Coal Mining Group declined to comment, as did the Zimbabwean government.