Growing Green Guardians: ZELA encourages stakeholder collaboration to nurture sustainable environmental governance

Compiled by Kudakwashe Dube

The first quarter of 2024 saw the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) hold a series of multi-stakeholder dialogues to promote responsible environmental governance in mining and peri-mining communities. Stakeholders who participated in the dialogues include community members, Environmental Management Agency (EMA), and Rural District Councils.

ZELA, under the ‘Multi-stakeholder Actions for Responsible Mining and Accountability in Environmental Governance Project’, is promoting the right to a healthy and clean environment for communities affected by environmental degradation caused by extractive industries in Zimbabwe by strengthening the capacity of key stakeholders to use Local Environmental Action Plans (LEAPs), and Bylaws in identifying and dealing with critical environmental issues in mining districts. Supported by DAI under the Zimbabwe—Accountability and Citizen Engagement (ZIMACE) Programme, ZELA has this year managed to pilot this multi-stakeholder approach in three districts, Mberengwa, Mutoko, and Zvishavane.

These districts share similar mining related challenges including the pollution of water bodies and siltation of dams, hazards of open pits, air, and noise pollution, among other social problems that communities have to contend with.  This was clearly explained by community members during the dialogue meetings with, Sarah Dube, an elderly woman from Shiku village in Zvishavane, narrating a lingering tale of her near despair situation during a dialogue in Zvishavane district.

Dube said the impacts of living near mining activities were profound and decried the situation that left communities in her area fighting daily struggles for basic human rights such as potable water and shelter because of the significant environmental challenges posed by nearby mining activities. She said elderly women like herself were affected more by these significant challenges to access clean and safe water as they were usually required to travel longer distances to find suitable water sources.

Dube’s concerns are not specific to Shiku village as Zvishavane district has 28 wards, 23 of which have operational mining activities. The district is along the great dyke and has chrome, platinum and gold as the major minerals whose extraction begets numerous challenges, including the pollution of the Runde River – a major catchment – and open pits due to open cast mining.

Similar challenges afflict other communities in mining areas such as Mberengwa, which, with 37 wards, has Gold as the most prevalent resource being mined by Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners while Lithium was recently discovered and is being mined on a large-scale by Sandawana mine. Media reports recently red flagged rampant land degradation due to illegal mining activities with revelations that some artisanal miners had invaded a water body in Mberengwa, seriously exposing communities to water challenges and livestock loss due to  drowning in the deep gullies left by mining activities.

To find solutions to these challenges, ZELA collaborated with the Environmental Management Agency and Rural District Councils in the 3 districts to train environmental (sub) committees, made up of elected councillors, on how to use Local Environmental Action Plans, and Bylaws in identifying and dealing such critical environmental issues in their districts. The comprehensive curriculum explored environmental management legislation and emphasized collective action by affected communities and local-level actors for effective governance. This collaboration also enabled ZELA to enhance communities’ capacity to independently monitor, identify, and report environmental issues to relevant authorities.

Thus, the role of local regulatory frameworks like natural resources and conservation by-laws in environmental protection to ensure that natural resources are managed sustainably, ecosystems protected, and biodiversity preserved was topical. Authorities were reminded that by enforcing these laws, they could control activities that may harm the environment, such as illegal logging, overfishing, or habitat destruction.

To ensure all-inclusive deliberations, target participants for the dialogues also included the Forestry Commission, Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), Rural Catchment Councils, District Development Coordinator’s Offices, environmental monitors, mining companies – Safety, Health, and Environment Officers – Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (ASM), the Zimbabwe Republic Police, traditional leadership, Zimbabwe Mining Safety, Health and Environmental Council (ZIMSHEC) members, National Social Security Authority (NSSA) and environmental health technicians.

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