Zimbabwe says it won’t allow mining in national parks. Conservationists want it in writing

A group of elephants and giraffes walk near a watering hole inside Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe
A group of elephants and giraffes walk near a watering hole inside Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
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Environmental and biodiversity experts in Zimbabwe are demanding president Emerson Mnangagwa’s government put into law a new policy position banning mining in game reserves after the approval of two Chinese companies to explore for coal in the Hwange National Park sparked global outrage.

The government has now said it is taking measures to “immediately cancel all mining titles held in National Parks” around the country but campaigners are not buying the sincerity of government on this until it is signed into law.

Zimbabwe’s vast wildlife, unique vegetation, and eye-catching landscapes are a key attraction for tourists whom authorities are hoping to shore up the country’s foreign currency coffers when international flights—which have been on hold due to the global pandemic—resume at the beginning of next month. Tourism earnings help fund wildlife conservation programs in Zimbabwe.

After the government approved special grants for two Chinese coal mining companies to explore for coal in the vast Hwange National Park, it emerged there are more mining activities happening in other national parks. This has angered conservationists and campaigners for a safe Zimbabwe environment, who are now demanding that the government put into law its new policy stipulating that “mining on areas held by National Parks is banned with immediate effect,” as agreed by Mnangagwa’s cabinet on Sept. 8.

Advocacy groups such as Center for Natural Resource Governance Zimbabwe have been highlighting that mining activities in national parks extend beyond Hwange. The CNRG said this week that “Special Grants (for mining) were also issued in the Chizarira National Park and Umfurudze” game park for “coal mining” as Zimbabwe sought to railroad coal mining projects to shore up coal thermal production of electricity to end current power deficits.

The Zimbabwe government seemed to bow to pressure from lobby groups and now other experts are calling on Mnangagwa’s administration—which has drawn criticism for opening up to unsustainable investment from Chinese—to make the new policy banning mining in safari parks substantive and legal. They argue that for now, the new policy position remains a pronouncement rather than a legally binding policy and fears are that mining activities in the country’s national parks may continue at a later date.

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