Zimbabwe government announces mining ban in national parks

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FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015 file photo, elephants roam in the Hwange Game Reserve in Zimbabwe. An environmental group in Zimbabwe has applied to the country's High Court, Tuesday Sept. 8, 2020, to stop a Chinese firm from mining coal in the park which hosts one of Africa's largest populations of elephants. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/File)

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s government says it has banned mining in its national parks, but an environmental group that had taken court action to stop the development of a coal mine in an elephant-rich park said on Wednesday that it will insist on “more than just words.”

Reports that a Chinese firm had started exploratory work to mine coal within Hwange National Park alarmed environmental and wildlife groups, who took legal action to stop it. In an apparent response to the legal proceedings, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced the government will not allow mining in national parks.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association, which applied to the High Court to stop the planned mining, welcomed the government's statement but said it would continue with the court process unless the government takes legal steps to enforce the announced ban.

“The important thing for us is to get an interdict which is legally binding,” Shamiso Mtisi, the association’s deputy director, told The Associated Press Wednesday.

Local environmental groups allege that mining in national parks has been going on for a while.

“We pray that all these mining titles (in Hwange) and others which are unknown to the public will indeed be cancelled,” the Center for Natural Resource Governance said in a statement Wednesday. It described the prioritization of mining over “a more stable and eco-friendly” sector such as tourism as “self-defeating.”

Mining in the wildlife-rich southern African country’s national parks “is widespread,” said Mtisi of the environmental lawyers association.

“There is gold and diamond mining going on in several national parks across the country, it’s not just in Hwange. That’s a major threat to biodiversity and to tourism. It’s an economic issue, you cannot just rely on mining, you need to leverage on other sectors such as tourism,” said Mtisi.