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Women call for ecological restoration of Save River; condemn riverbed and say “It takes more than joint ventures to conjure up of environmentally friendly riverbed mining”

By Nyaradzo Mutonhori

Yesterday’s Sunday Mail carried a notification for submissions of views for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for alluvial mining and processing of gold mining along Mazowe River to be carried out by Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Mining Company (ZCDC). Save River is among the rivers targeted for alluvial riverbed mining. As an environmental justice practitioner, I am very worried about these developments because it is only a matter of time before a similar noticed is published for the Save River. Two weeks ago I participated in a campaign organised by women living along Save, Odzi, Singwizi and Chenyu Rivers. The campaign emanated from the fact that Save River had ‘run dry’ as a result of pollution of the river by diamond miners coupled with the diversion of all the clean water upstream by current diamond mining companies, including ZCDC. In wanton disregard of community rights, Constitutional rights, Environmental Management Agency regulations and the Water Act, ZCDC and other diamond mining companies pumps are diverting all the water from Save River into dams for diamond processing.

I was shocked by what I saw because I remember when I was growing up my mother had tales of the mighty Save River where they would go swimming and get fish. Save River was the lifeline of people spanning across Chimanimani, Chipinge, Buhera districts. Moreover, just last year in September I was at the same site along the Save River and we had to pull up our skirts to cross the river since water levels were almost waist high. Now women go with shovels to get little water to wash clothes and to get water for cattle and other livestock to drink.

Women bear the brunt of this mining induced water crisis along the Save and its tributaries. Women have the water gathering roles in households and lose many productive hours gathering and fetching water for cooking, bathing, washing and cleaning. The campaign I participated in was led by women who were calling for ecological restoration of Save River in a campaign called “Gem miners Clean up Save River”. These women have organised themselves into women’s forums, platforms where they reflect on what they can do to address the gendered impacts of mining, how they can tap into emerging opportunities if any from mining and how they can participate effectively in decision making processes. Notwithstanding the urgent need for ecological restoration of the Save River, the new legal provisions on riverbed mining ironically aimed at protecting the environment stop riverbed mining except where it is done as a joint venture with government. It is as if the joint ventures are going to be the panacea of environmentally friendly riverbed mining yet the same mining company that is diverting water like ZCDC, as shown above is expected to capture community interests, especially women’s interests when conducting riverbed mining.

Whilst women are still reeling from impacts of diamond mining along the Save River, riverbed mining is likely to add to their woes. The women living along the Save River and its tributaries must be capacitated to respond to any notice of intention for riverbed mining along the Save River and make known their concerns, not just around likely devastating environmental impacts but also that there must be consequences and accountability for miners who violate environmental rights, including state owned mining companies. In fact state owned mining companies like ZCDC must have higher threshold of legal liability for non- compliance with environmental standards since the state has the ultimate duty to protect human rights. The new riverbed mining legal provisions are already viewed by women as a conjecture from a typical kugocha kunoda kwaamai kwemwana kunodzima moto perception where communities feel the government is basically stopping private investors from riverbed mining so the government does it in the same environmentally devastating manner with no consequences at all. It takes more than joint ventures to conjure up of environmentally friendly riverbed mining. There is a reason why riverbed mining is being banned in the first place, these same reasons justify why riverbed mining is being condemned by women along the Save River.

Nyaradzo Mutonhori (@nmutonhori) is a Legal researcher. She is interested in Gender in the Extractives Industry. She blogs at Her Lens: Gender equality, Women and Mining .. Nyaradzo work with the Zimbabwe Environmental law Association