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Dangamvura Mountain mining saga: Deal shrouded in dark secrets

MUTARE – As the simmering conflict between residents and Mutare City council over the leasing of Dangamvura Mountain, rages on, laid in dark secrets, the Chinese mining company has maintained that the mining of quarry will foster economic development in the city.

Mutare City Council has leased its 6.5 hectare stand number 13415 Mutare township situated on Dangamvura Mountain to Freestone Mines – a Chinese Company.

The 10-year lease agreement will see Freestone Mines pay a meagre US$7,557 as annual fee to council in order to conduct its quarry stone mining operations.

Irate residents of Mutare are up in arms with Mutare City Council and Freestone Mines, which they accuse of starting operations without consulting the community.

The furious residents have also accused the Chinese miner of operating without undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Concerned residents have thus far rallied opposition to the quarry mining project planned in Dangamvura Mountain, which is one of the city’s treasured natural phenomenons.

Dangamvura residents have raised concerns on the impending environmental pollution that include dust, property destruction as a result of blasting and vibration activities.

Following massive criticism and pressure form angry residents, the Mutare City Council recently released a statement ordering Freestone Mines to halt operations.

“In terms of the lease agreement, Freestone Mines can only commence any activity after meeting certain conditions that are mandatory, i.e obtaining an EIA and consulting the department of engineering and technical services. The process of obtaining an EIA involves stakeholder consultation, which process should be carried out to its logical conclusion,” the council stated.

Freestone Mines director Ruoxin Qi confirmed that his company was issued with a lease agreement by Mutare City Council in 2021 to carry out quarry mining activities at Dangamvura Mountain after responding to a tender advertisement .

“The local authority started the process in 2019 and the procurement process was concluded this year and part of the conditions of the lease stipulated that we obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before any commencement of operations,” Qi said.

“For the record we had not started the quarry mining activities, but we were simply doing preparatory works as we wait for the Environmental Impact Assessment certificate. It is unfortunate that the preparatory works were misconstrued as quarry mining activities, which is not the correct picture,” he added.

“Freestone Mine will deploy modern technology which is environmentally friendly and these fears and the anticipated negative impact has been addressed well in advance. We are an organization that appreciates and promotes environmental conversation and we are already developing an Environmental Action Plan to beautify the city,” Qi continued.

“We respect the Zimbabwe-China Friendship Association which has been established for the mutual benefit of the two nations and our coming to Mutare is to foster economic development and play a part in uplifting the living standards of the people through employment,” he added.

Residents groups and observers have alleged that the whole process was mired in controversy and covered in dark secrets. They have called for the complete stoppage of the mining operations.

United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust (UMRRT) Programmes Coordinator Edison Dube said: “As UMRRT we are quite worried about this major development that is taking place at one of our prime centres of attraction in our city. You can’t be blasting alongside a water pipeline that the thousands of residents in Dangamvura have been waiting for so long.”

Dube added: “You can’t be blasting and processing quarry in Dangamvura near a residential area and why not relocate to peri-urban far away from the people? This is a very beautiful city and we need to protect the beauty that has left of it. Whoever resolved to offer that tender must rescind that decision and resolve to stop the mining operations operation.”

He added: “We do not want to see the city going down and see an open cast mining that is an eyesore in the city. There are better developments to put there. We have the Master Plan now and they must look elsewhere to have that quarry mining and not on that prime place.”

Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association (MURRA) coordinator David Mutambirwa said: “It is not only scandalous but immoral and an abomination for the City Fathers and Council Management of conniving to allocate the heritage of the country in the form of Dangamvura Mountain.”

He added: “Mountains are sacred by nature and should just not be sold like a loaf of bread. There is a need for extensive consultation including the traditional leadership, spirit mediums and all the relevant stakeholders and not few councilors and management.”

Mutare resident and the president of Mutare Informal Traders Association (MITA) Itai Kariparire said: “No mining at Dangamvura Mountain. We are against the leasing at this sacred mountain. We were never consulted about this issue. What will happen to our houses as the dynamites will be blowing and who will compensate to the cracking of the houses? What will happen to the health effects?”

Kariparire added: “When the Chinese said they want to mine quarry, what will then happen when they come across diamonds or gold? Maybe they had already knew that there is gold and they put quarry as a cover up. We will keep fighting this issue until council rescinds the lease agreement.”

It has been depicted that the whole process has been controversial and there has been opposition of the deal withing council with Mutare City Council Deputy Mayor Farai Bhiza saying there is need for an investigation how the lease agreement came to be, given the environmental concerns.

Bhiza emphasized that the council must explain clearly to the residents on who gave the Chinese miner the authority to mine quarry at the Dangamvura Mountain.

“We cannot blame residents for airing out their concerns. We want to hear from Engineering Department about who gave Freestone Mines permission to go on the ground without complying to obligations set in the lease agreement,” he said.

Recalled MDC Alliance Councilor Crispin Dube of ward nine in Dangamvura said the process of offering the lease agreement to Freestone Mines was done in secrecy.

“The whole process was done in secrecy and it was not transparent. (Zvakaitwa husiku). As a councilor I was one who objected the issue. However, the matter was then said to be administrative and we were surprised that the miner was issued with the lease agreement. Everything is available on the minutes recorded during special full council meetings,” said Dube.

Investigations have revealed that the deal was initiated by the late former Town Clerk Joshua Maligwa who led the council’s executive side and the Mutare Mayor Blessing Tandi who led the 19 councilors in policy making.

Four councilors were against the issuance of the lease, while 15 agreed to offer the Chinese miner the lease to do the quarry mining.

A councilor who requested anonymity said: “We cannot waste residents’ time by beating about the bush. The deal was from Maligwa who sold the idea to the Business Investment standing committee right to the Ordinary Full Council that came up with such a resolution.”

“Let’s stop the blame game on whether it was the Mwonzora or Chamisa factions that authorized the deal or not. Maligwa did not do this deal alone as some people might want us to believe. Mutare City Council is an institution and those that connived with Maligwa are still there and they can be very answerable. A lot happened on this deal and the police must come in and investigate the whole paper work and process. There is no need to blame anyone, the councilors and management were all aware of this deal,” said the councilor.

Maligwa went to China in 2020 accompanied by Tandi, recalled councilor John Nyamhoka who was the chairperson of the Mutare City Council Business and Investment Committee among other officials from the Minster of State for Manicaland Province and the Ministry of Local Government.

While the residents have made it clear that they are against the mining at Dangamvura Mountain, Freestone Mines has vowed to obtain the EIA certificate and resume the mining operations.

Although the mining company has removed some of its equipment at the sight, the company is still keen on continuing with the mining operations.

Said Qi: “We have already started the process and soon we are sure the relevant documents will be out and the necessary steps to consult the residents and other stakeholders will be implemented.”

He added: “Our project will be able to employ 100 people from Mutare and over and above that we will contribute towards revenue generation to our city. Our thrust is to empower the locals and to carry out the Corporate Social Responsibility for the benefit of the Mutare and Dangamvura Community.”

The Mutare City Council has embarked on consulting residents and stakeholders in trying to convince the goodness and advantages that will come along with the quarry mining at Dangamvura Mountain.