The Centre for Environment Justice (CEJ) has expressed its approval of the Zambian government’s decision, facilitated by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), to halt mining activities in the Lower Zambezi National Park due to non-compliance with the conditions outlined in the Decision Letter by Mwembeshi Resources Limited.
Maggie Mwape, Executive Director of CEJ, commended the government’s move as a demonstration of its commitment to upholding legality in mining operations. She highlighted that the Lower Zambezi Mining case has been fraught with controversies, procedural improprieties, and political manipulations surrounding the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approvals in Zambia.
Ms. Mwape emphasized the sensitivity of the park’s location and the fragile nature of the environment where the mine was planned to be established, which further intensified the concerns regarding the EIA approval. She pointed out that legal scholars in Zambia have previously identified gaps in the country’s EIA regulatory rules, contributing to controversies like the Lower Zambezi mining saga.
While acknowledging the government’s efforts to ensure a more transparent process in establishing the mine, CEJ maintained its position that further action is necessary to address the issues surrounding the Lower Zambezi mining controversy. Ms. Mwape highlighted the historical context of mining in Zambia since the colonial era, asserting that the benefits for the nation as a whole have often come at the expense of local communities living on the land where the minerals are extracted.
According to Ms. Mwape, the history of mining in Zambia does not demonstrate any positive socioecological impacts, even after closure. She cited the case of Kabwe as evidence, where dust emissions, air pollution, water contamination, land degradation, and displacement of local communities have been prevalent. Given this track record, she questioned how a mining operation in the ecologically sensitive Lower Zambezi National Park would be any different and expressed concerns about the potential negative impacts on wildlife and biodiversity.
Ms. Mwape warned that the forced migration of wildlife to seek alternative habitats could lead to increased human-animal conflicts in the surrounding communities. Additionally, she raised concerns about animals crossing the river into Zimbabwe, where mining activities are strictly prohibited within the national park.
While commending the compliance order issued by the Minister and ZEMA, Ms. Mwape called for stakeholders to have ample time to address the lingering questions. She expressed the organization’s hope for a sustainable coexistence between mining operations and wildlife, emphasizing the importance of public interest, environmental sustainability, and environmental education in Zambia.
Ms. Mwape also criticized the political manipulation of the EIA processes, which sidelined thorough consultation and public engagements. She urged the government to consider enshrining environmental rights in the Bill of Rights, providing them with justiciability based on constitutionality.
Furthermore, she emphasized the need to remove clauses from the Environmental Management Act of 2011 that allow the Minister to overrule technical expertise in EIA reviews. These clauses have been susceptible to political interference, further exacerbating the issues at hand.
Ms. Mwape also called for an end to the secrecy surrounding bilateral agreements. She highlighted that mining and environmental laws in Zambia merely facilitate the establishment of a mine, while day-to-day operations are governed by Mining or Development Agreements between the government and mining companies. These agreements, she argued, should not be kept secret, as they have significant implications for the country and its citizens.
CEJ emphasized its commitment to supporting government decisions that prioritize the national interest, human rights principles, and the respect for environmental and mining laws. Ms. Mwape urged the government to address these concerns and ensure transparency and accountability in the mining sector.