THE uproar against Chinese investors continues to reverberate across Zimbabwe.
From Muvuradonha in Mashonaland Central to Mutoko, Mashonaland East, Chinese gold, chrome and granite mining firms have been accused of decimating delicate environments, along with attempts to displace thousands of villagers from their ancestral lands.
But nowhere could relations be worse than in Mutorashanga, a vast mining region in Mashonaland West, which lies at the backbone of the mineral rich Great Dyke region.
Here, Chinese investors seeking fortunes from Zimbabwe’s chrome have clashed with the community, this time for allegedly attempting to draw water from the “sacred” Green Pool, a little known but scenic resort.
The Green Pool was established after an asbestos mining shaft collapsed in 1964, killing 68 workers at Ethel Mine Quarry.
Tragedy struck after the miners drilled into an underground stream, which swamped the shaft and weakened support systems.
But as anger brews around Mutorashanga, Chinese miners have enjoyed support from a few who have benefited from the investment, as well as some community leaders.
During a tour of the area recently, the Zimbabwe Independent obtained a petition prepared to force the Chinese to stop tampering with the Green Pool’s waters.
“Whilst we would have no objection to any mining activities on the site, we fail to comprehend why foreign mining interests seek to draw water from the pool instead of drilling boreholes for their water requirements,” the petitioners wrote to Zvimba Rural District Council and Mines ministry.
“The Green Pool has been drawing tourism from different parts of the country and from overseas, making it a national and international attraction comparable to Chinhoyi Caves.”
They want the government to intervene and protect the resort, and possibly draft it into National Development Strategy 1 programming.
Clements Gonde, who has led a spirited campaign to push off the Chinese, said they were determined to protect their heritage.
“The residents of Mutorashanga have protected this place for many years. If the Chinese draw water from the pool they will distort the attraction. They can do their activities but should look for alternative sources,” he said.
“Drawing water from this pool is synonymous with disturbing the sacred Chinhoyi Caves. We know that tourism is one of the pillars of the National Development Strategy 1 and the government should intervene.”
Passmore Jasi, a Mutorashanga resident, argued that based on its history, the Green Pool was a sacred monument.
“What we know is that the Green Pool is a sacred place but we hear that the Chinese want to clean their chrome ore at that pool. Chrome mining and what happens at that pool will not go hand in hand,” he said.
Jasi said the community was shocked that leaders were not taking action.
“We were hoping that investors would come to improve the place as a tourist attraction by building lodges and other facilities. Jobs will be created because chrome mining is not that profitable anymore due to depressed prices on the global markets,” he said.
Former Zvimba Rural District councillor Analia Chengu said the Green Pool was “God’s gift”.
“Officials from the Tourism ministry visited the place and held consultations with the companies that had forfeited the mining claims for this place.
“We also met officials from Zvimba Rural District Council and we thought they were working on developing the place as a tourist attraction. We are surprised by this takeover.
“We had already applied for the place to be developed as a tourist attraction so that whatever proceeds from that would be ploughed back into the community,” Chengu added.
She argued that the pool would not survive when water is polluted by mining activities.
“People have signed the petition against the mining development and they want it to be a tourist attraction. People are coming from around Zimbabwe and even outside the country, including from England, South Africa to visit the place,” Chengu said.
Meanwhile, Ward 15 councillor Sandram Kembo dismissed reports that the investors’ mining activities threatened the Green Pool.
“The Green Pool is not a tourist attraction. People should understand that the Green Pool is part of a mining block and as such everyone in Zimbabwe is allowed to apply for mining claims since the block was forfeited by its previous owners,” he said.
“We have engaged the investors who indicated that they are building the plant near the pool but would not engage in mining activities in it.”
Kembo concurred that disturbing the pool would be detrimental to potential tourism development.
He also applauded the developers for assisting people affected by the construction project.
“The most affected were tuck shops and we started by relocating these small businesses to a new site. The Chinese also consulted with the affected people and agreed with the investors who built 10 modern shops for the businesses,” he said.
Kembo defended plans to fence off the area saying it was for safety reasons.
“We are happy that they have also renovated the roads and drilled three boreholes for communities surrounding the area,” he said.
Kembo also revealed that the investors had agreed to construct structures good enough for a tourist attraction.
“We are expecting greater change at that place. I am also appealing to them that people from Mutorashanga and other investors be allowed to do business activities at the pool,” he said.
The pool, he said, had to be fenced and gated to improve safety for visitors.
A tuck shop owner who had his shop upgraded from grass thatch to modern building said the community was not aware if or not the investors would draw water from the pool.
“The news was first met with exasperation but when we consulted our councillor we heard that we were getting proper buildings for our businesses,” he said.
“We are happy with the infrastructure they have constructed including the new bridge which was recently renovated after years of neglect. They have even renovated the roads in the area and it shows that the investor is serious about developing the place.”
Another beneficiary, Tendai Chamwalila, who has been employed by the Chinese investors, also spoke glowingly about the development.
“I am one of the beneficiaries as an employee at the plant. I have also been involved in building the infrastructure and I do other duties. I have also been taught a lot. They also built me a new shop,” she said.
“It’s not true that they have taken over the Green Pool but they are constructing lime dams to use and they have drilled boreholes for that. The Green Pool will always be a tourist attraction and will not be affected by the construction here.”
Village head Renjesani Domingo dismissed rumours against the investors.
“As a traditional leader I disagree because there has been development including the shops that were built including the bridge where even vehicles were not passing through before.”
The Chinese investors were not forthcoming with official comments.
Chinese investment projects have increased dialogue on cases of development-induced displacements affecting residents while there are growing calls for a review of laws governing land rights and mining activities to protect ordinary Zimbabweans.