The Afterlife of Mining Concessions: Rehabilitation and Land Use
By Calvin Manika
Residents in Hwange have bemoaned how mines run their operations and leave places destructed after mining. The practice has been cited as a death trap for both humans and animals.
Speaking to the Mining Vision Magazine, Vitalis Mwembe says, mines should always take human safety first before, during and after their operations.
“The challenge is these companies don’t take much responsibility when they are quitting operations. The ideal position is to fill-in the land and make it usable or not risky to the environment. However, few companies make plans for the mine afterlife,” Mwembe says.
A visit to decommissioned mines in Hwange shows the extent of environmental degradation by former miners and their negligence to develop safety plans for the environment especially in the aftermath of the mining operations. During mining a lot of land destruction happens through blasting, excavating, and drilling.
Most mines after operations look for their next target and fail to comply with some of the terms in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report which commit them to a safe and sustainable use of the environment during and after the mining operations. In most incidents the local people become victims of avoidable death traps
“It’s sad that, our domestic animals continue falling in the mine pits, drink contaminated water. It is dangerous to the whole ecosystem as our drinking water is also affected. Sooner than later we become a ghost community,” says Mwembe.
An independent surveyor, Newman Matara says every mining company must present a Final Mine Rehabilitation/Decommissioning Plan (FMR/DP), a plan submitted together with the EPEP before the start of mining operation, it ensures that, all disturbed areas will be restored, as near, as possible to its original state or to a pre-agreed productive end-use.
There is also a Mine Closure and Reclamation Plan, which means a plan which specifies methods to reclaim the post-mining and the surrounding areas affected by the mining activities to be physically safe to human and animals, geo-technically stable, geochemically non-polluting, non-contaminating and capable to sustaining an agreed post-mining land use.
“The Mine Closure and Reclamation Plan (CRP) is a document, prepared by the mine proponent, that contains and describes all of the studies and plans related to closure and reclamation of the mine site and all of the related mine facilities,” says Matara.
“The lessee shall be required to carry out post mining reclamation to the satisfaction of the Authority and the affected community in line with the final Mine Closure and Reclamation Plan (MCRP) soon after cessation of the mining operation,” he adds.
Characteristically when mines enter the last phase of their life cycle production and expenditure starts to decline, organisational restructuring takes place, capital investments are reallocated, and the active management of matters concerning housing, and other services is curtailed whereas opportunities and threats are outside the direct control of the community.
The mines, not only in Hwange but in many collieries have not only extracted coal, but they have also extracted a landscape and its population. In the afterlife of some extractive industrial towns like Mhangura, Kamativi and other closed Hwange mines, former mining sites and residents are left with the dually inflicted trauma of an extracted past and a precarious future lying ahead without coal or any other extracted mineral.
In other countries with companies adhering to the reclamation plans, old mine sites have provided a foundation for unique urban patterns, functions and transformations. The Victorian goldfields, shaped the organisation and character of their towns in Europe and Australia.
Abandoned mines present unique challenges for remediation. The sites are large, their landscapes are environmentally and structurally degraded. Sites are often contaminated by substances used in processing like arsenic, sulphur and other toxins. These characteristics exclude mining sites from reuse for activities such as residential development. The sites are often considered fundamentally problematic.
A Hwange based geologist, Prominent Dube said, at times former mining sites have been reused opportunistically, accommodating functions and uses that could co-exist with the compromised physical landscape.
“We can transform an area to a lake from the tailings dam or even convert them into wetlands, car parks, sport clubs and for outdoor activities than complaining,” said Dube.
Abandoned mine sites outside towns have also been used for unique purposes. Deemed unsuitable for use by the farming and forestry industries, these sites can be developed into havens for flora and fauna, including endangered species.