Zimbabwe’s world-famous Mana Pools at risk as obscure miner seeks oil prospecting rights

Could Mana Pools become a mining spot? (pic: Great Plains Safari)

The serenity of Zimbabwe’s world-famous Mana Pools could be disturbed by mining rigs if government okays an application by a little-known company to prospect for oil and gas in the area.

According to a government notice, Shalom Mining Corporation has applied to prospect in an area covering 130 000 hectares, which includes parts of Mana Pools and stretches to the Zambian border.

“It is hereby notified, that in terms of section 87 (4) of the Mines and Minerals Act, that Shalom Mining Corporation has applied to the Mining Affairs Board for an exclusive prospecting order, over an area described in the schedule, in the Mashonaland West mining district,” says the government gazette of April 28.

“The applicant intends to prospect for petroleum oil and gas within the area which has been reserved against prospecting pending determination of this application. Prospecting authority is sought upon registered base mineral blocks within the reservation.”

Mana Pools National Park is a UNESCO World heritage site, and hosts an estimated 12,500 elephants, 3,000 hippopotamus, more than 260 lion, cheetah and wild dog, according to estimates in 2020. Conservationists have two weeks left to lodge appeals against the application.

Shalom Mining Company has no other known operations in Zimbabwe.

What does the law say?

In 2020, the government announced that it would ban any mining in national parks. This was after public outrage when conservationists had discovered that two companies, Afrochine Energy and the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Mining Group, had been granted prospecting concessions inside Hwange National Park.

“Mining in areas held by national parks is banned with immediate effect. Steps are being undertaken to immediately cancel all mining title held in National Parks,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced then.

Section 35 of the Mines Act allows the government to protect certain areas from prospecting and pegging. However, the Mines Act gets precedence over other laws, such as the Water Act or the Environmental Management Act, leaving many parks vulnerable.

The Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, which is under consideration, leaves room for such mining work, but on strict conditions. The proposed law states: “In deciding whether or not to grant a mineral right or title, the Cadastre Registrar shall take into account the need to conserve the natural resources in or on the land over which the mineral right or title is.”

Over recent years, countries in the region have grappled for balance between nature and the search for energy.

In 2019, Zambia had to reverse a plan by Australia’s Mwembeshi Resources to build a copper plant in the Lower Zambezi National Park. In Mozambique, the 350 000-hectare Magoe Park is surrounded by coal mines. Tanzania downsized its Selous Game Reserve by 60% to make way for uranium mining. In South Africa, about two-dozen prospecting licences have been granted to coal prospectors on the rim of the Mapungubwe National Park, a UNESCO heritage site. In Botswana, energy companies such as Sasol have been allowed to explore for natural gas in the Central Kalahari, Kgalagadi and Chobe parks.

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