Hwange residents petition Parly over underground fires
Leonard Ncube in Hwange
HWANGE residents have petitioned Parliament to urgently investigate the source and threat of underground fires to communities and the environment in the coal mining town.
For years people in Hwange have endured the fear of one day waking up to the unthinkable disaster of being consumed by mysterious underground fires that characterise the coal mining town.
Last year an eight-year-old girl Alisha Sekina Muzvite of Makwika Village (Number 3) died at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo after being burnt by an underground fire while relieving herself at an old dumpsite.
Alisha suffered third degree burns when she was swallowed waist deep by a fire hole.
Makwika residents, as well as those in Number 2 and Number 5, both administered by Hwange Colliery Company, live in constant fear of these fires and a number of people have been burnt before.
The fires are away from homes but have resulted in a road connecting Makwika and Madumabisa villages to the town being closed.
Hwange Colliery last year erected warning signs at the underground fire site and barricaded some of the areas as part of efforts to protect communities from exposure, but residents are concerned that there has been no feedback and assurance of their safety.
The coal miner also hired an international consultant, Group DMT, to investigate the cause of underground fires but findings of the inquiry have not been made public.
Besides the fires, Hwange residents are also concerned about land, water and air pollution caused by coal mining and processing companies operating in the area.
In an effort to get urgent address to the challenges, Greater Whange Residents Trust (GWRT) has written to Parliament seeking its intervention.
GWRT co-ordinator Mr Fidelis Chima confirmed the petition seen by Chronicle and said it was delivered to Parliament on Tuesday, in terms of Section 149 (Right to Petition Parliament) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
“Residents are unaware if mining methods being employed in Hwange are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Over the years underground fires have been spewing ash and smoke causing sink holes that are consuming and damaging the road network and the road that links Makwika Village with Madumabisa Village has since been closed to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
“The fires are increasing and there are several reported cases of residents and livestock being burnt.
The community is now living in fear and concerned that the underground fires could spread to residential areas if urgent measures are not taken to mitigate the impact,” read part of the petition.
The residents claimed that underground fires have spread to Deka River, a heavily polluted water source across town.
They want an urgent address to the issue.
“Wherefore petitioners humbly pray that the Parliament of Zimbabwe exercises its constitutional mandate to inquire into the nature and extent of the threat posed to residents, livestock and wildlife in Hwange due to the fires aforementioned.
“Parliament should inquire into the cause of the underground fires, and how they can be dealt with, investigate what mining companies have done to deal with underground fires and the extent to which coal mining companies are adhering to sustainable mining that does not pose danger to the community,” read the petition.
The residents want Parliament to mandate mining companies to embrace clean mining models to protect the environment from climate change in line with Section 73 of the Constitution that guarantees right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being.
Hwange has a population of over 50 000 people and those in Hwange Colliery concession areas are the ones mostly affected.
Residents want sustainable mining activities that promote protection of environment, tourism and agriculture.
Addressing mining executives at the Chamber of Mines annual conference last week, President Mnangagwa implored mining companies to adopt clean mining activities to protect the environment.