Zambian residents have been left fuming following the decision by the high court, to allow a mining company to carry out large scale mining activities in one of the country’s highly valued national parks, the Lower Zambezi.
Most are determined to fight it, with activities to that effect already in motion.
The National Park has been a subject of a long legal battle, which started over five years ago, after a decision by a former Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Harry Kalaba, to allow Mwembeshi Resources Limited, which was a subsidiary of an Australian -based mining company, to establish an open-cast mine there, despite professional advice and Environmental Impact Assessments showing that this would be detrimental to wildlife and people.
As such, conservationists, NGOs and other stakeholders decided to sue the Attorney General as 1st Respondent and the mining company, as 2nd Respondent.
An order to stay the Minister’s decision was subsequently issued.
However, after a series of sittings, presided over by Judge C. Chanda, which finally came to an on 17th October, the court concluded that the appeal was incompetent, because there was no record of appeal filed on the matter.
The judge further noted that in fact the appellants did themselves at one point indicate that they had noticed, when they conducted a search, that the appeal had not been filed and sought to regularise it, but did not act upon that in time.
“Consequently, this appeal is hereby dismissed for want of prosecution and as a result, the order staying the decision of the Minister to allow the 2nd Respondent to carry out large scale mining in the area concerned is hereby discharged forthwith,” reads the final part of the ruling.
As soon as the news about the ruling spread, late last week, Zambians took to different social media platforms to vent their frustrations and a number of petitions started.
The Lower Zambezi subsistence fishery feeds 20,000 riverside community members with affordable, healthy fish particularly for children.
This fishing is mostly done by women, and replacing the 2,000 tons of fish they catch to feed their families would cost in excess of $3 million annually, not to mention the health costs of polluted water and fish that can cause people to become unwell, according to a statement issued by the Lower Zambezi Fisheries Management, an EU-funded project, which enhances community participation in conservation activities in the Lower Zambezi Mana Pools conservation area.
The statement further states that there is also a small artisanal gill-net fishery that supplies a further 1,000 tons of larger fish into the local trade and that recreational fishing is an important part of the tourism industry, contributing to the $ 4 million annual wage bill that goes to the 1000 tourism employees from the local communities.
“Since fish and wildlife are renewable resources, the area stands to enjoy up to $ 100 million of ecosystem services provided by the river resources in the next decade, all of which remains in Zambia. How much will come from the mine before the Copper is depleted,” they implore.
This mine would impact negatively on the nation’s conservation status, says Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ), a non-profit organisation that works with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) under the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, to protect the wildlife, habitats and ecosystem of the Lower Zambezi.
“The LZNP is an area of international conservation significance, supporting one of the most important populations of African elephant in the region, in addition to many other species.
There is substantial connectivity between the LZNP and South Luangwa National Park, it lies opposite a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas in Zimbabwe) and is in the process of being registered as a Transfrontier Conservation Area,” says a written statement released by the organisation.
The statement further reads that the mine also threatens upcoming conservation projects such as the $12.5 million dollar Lower Zambezi Flagship Species Restoration project, which received approval from the Ministry of Tourism and Arts in 2018.
Bringing back extinct species
The project, they say, aims to bring back locally extinct species such as the black rhino and eland, thereby restoring biodiversity and improving ecosystem processes.
One lodge owner in the area, who preferred to remain anonymous, describes the development as very troubling for Zambia and Africa ‘, saying it is appalling and unacceptable that this land could be sold to the highest bidder in order for them to destroy and pollute.
They advise that even the definition of a national park states “commercial exploitation of natural resources in a national park is illegal”, and ask: “How can a private company so easily be granted full access to exploit minerals and pollute waterways within a state protected area?
I think we all know the answer to this. ” … “I believe that this needs to be dealt with using the full force of the public, in this instance the law has failed us and it is up to the people of Zambia to stomp out this fire before it burns this country to the ground.”
The Economic Association of Zambia (EAZ), an organisation comprised of experts from such areas as economics, business administration and allied fields, has decided to throw its weight behind the campaign to save the national park.
A statement issued by the association’s National Secretary, Rita Mkandawire says, EAZ will engage in talks with the Law Association of Zambia, Ministry of Tourism and stakeholders, to see how they can stop the mining activities in the area, adding that tourism is currently Zambia’s priority.
Association president, Dr Lubinda Haabazoka stresses this point, saying, in order for the country’s vision of having tourism as one of the top contributors to the economy, to become reality, there is need to have a different approach towards the management of tourism, natural wonders and parks.
“The republican President decreed that he wants to see tourism [as] the second contributor to GDP. This is achievable and as EAZ, we are working hand in hand with government, through Ministry of Tourism, to ensure this is realised,” he affirms.
Haabazoka emphasises that allowing mining activities in Lower Zambezi, will have a number of negative effects, among them, polluting the surrounding environments and scaring the animals away to neighbouring countries.
“Since animals are sensitive, they will run off to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Our generation will be seeing lions in other countries or at zoos, which we don’t have,” Haabazoka observes.
“We are already cutting down trees at the source of the Zambezi and now we are moving to the parks. What kind of people are we?” he cries out.
Haabazoka argues further that the economic and environmental benefits of keeping a national park outweigh those of mining, saying, “this mine won’t be profitable in its first 10 years, just like other mines have done in Zambia, but the damage that will be made in 10 years to the environment will be enormous.”