Spring Stone faces further community opposition to REE prospecting in Mulanje, Malawi

Chambe Basin, Mulanje: site of prospecting and contention. (Courtesy of Spring Stone)

Chambe Basin, Mulanje: site of prospecting and contention. (Courtesy of Spring Stone)

Update 1 August 2013: Today the Malawi Voice has reported that the ultimatum given to the mining company to stop activities on Mount Mulanje has been extended by five days. This is so that the group of Concerned Citizens, who presented the ultimatum, have time to contact the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon “bearing in mind that this mountain was declare a World Heritage Site”. This is an erroneous statement, since Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve remains on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list following the submission made by the Government of Malawi earlier this year.

Two months ago, Spring Stone Limited was able to resume exploration activities for rare earth elements in Chambe Basin, Mulanje, following the discharging of a court injunction halting their activities. The injunction had been taken out by a group identified as “Concerned Citizens”. However, yesterday in this southern district in Malawi, close to 500 citizens (although other sources have not yet confirmed this number) led by Mulanje Pasani legislator Peter Nowa and comedian Bon Kalindo marched from Chitakale Trading Centre to Mulanje Township to protest the company’s activities and present a petition to District Commissioner Jack Ngulube. Ngulube is expected to take the petition to the Office of the President and Cabinet.

This petition gives Spring Stone seven days to cease activities or face action.

We demand the removal of these companies within seven days and failure to do so will mean going against our rights and freedom of expression as stipulated in our Constitution. We will have no other option but to use other available means to make these companies leave the mountain.

According to The Nation, Nowa alleged that the mining company gave them money to cancel the plans for yesterday’s march.

Spring Stone, which is carrying out exploration activities in Mulanje’s Chambe Basin, along with the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), was initially handed a court injunction in December last year by the High Court in Blantyre to cease activities. One month later, in January 2013, a permanent injunction was sought by the group of Concerned Citizens and in February, Spring Stone ceased its rare earth exploration project, which was in its second drilling phase.

The group of Concerned Citizens, led by Nowa and Kalindo, took the company and trust to court over alleged destruction to the environment through prospecting activities. Controversy has been over the clearing of pine trees from the mountain, the Mulanje Mountain Biosphere Reserve, which is on the tentative list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chambe Basin, the site of prospecting, is located in a peripheral area of the reserve, a “transition zone”, where industrial use is permitted.

Images Courtesy of The Nation (18 July 2013)

District Commission Jack Ngulube receives petition from Concerned Citizens who listen to the reading of the petition. Images Courtesy of The Nation (18 July 2013).

According to Spring Stone’s website, the mining company is supporting the MMCT and the Ministry of Forestry campaign to eradicate Mexican Pine and to regenerate the indigenous Mulanje Cedar forest. About 80 years ago the Chambe Basin was logged and and replanted with Mexican Pine for logging. However, this company’s environmental care initiative does not appear to be understood by (or to have been discussed with?) the Concerned Citizens, which is evident in remarks made by Kalindo in May 2013 that seem to show a misunderstanding of MMCT’s activities,

We expected that MMCT as an organisation entrusted to protect the mountain could have done more to protect trees but to our surprise, we found that around 800 hectares of pine had been wantonly cut for no reason, hence we obtained an injunction restraining all the organisations from conducting their work

Later in the same month, the injunction was overturned. Spring Stone made an announcement about the resumption of activities, however, MMCT has remained relatively silent on the ongoing tension between the trust and communities. Failure in court to stop the company’s activities has led Kalindo to consider other forms of action. It’s not clear if he was expressing sentiments as a comedian or activist.

We are Africans and we believe in traditional medicine. If they don’t go, we will be forced to use traditional medicine.

This is not the first time Kalindo has threatened investors. In June 2013, at the launch of a report on revenue (loss) in Malawi’s mining sector, Kalindo suggested that citizens could bewitch investors. At this event, he also explained why citizens have mobilised against MMCT and Spring Stone,

My name is Bon Kalindo. I am a comedian, teacher, activist and most importantly I am a Malawian who loves my country, which has prompted me and my senior [traditional leader] to come all the way to Lilongwe. We as concerned people went to court to seek relief to stop Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust [MMCT] and Spring Stone activities. I want to put the record straight, going to court was not to fight the government or investors like Paladin or Spring Stone. No, our idea of going to court was to seek justice and get things in order. We felt that government sidelined communities, sidelined us, in giving the concession. We went there to seek court relief so that these people may halt their activities, to sit together on a round table to discuss issues, but surprisingly government awarded the licence to Spring Stone, and the company did not launch an Environmental Impact Assessment.

People in Mulanje are in problems, they are drinking dirty water and they have destroyed 3500 hectares of pine. This has been destroyed, the temperature has changed. The same government that goes around to preach planting trees is cutting down trees. We want government to consider us people, to protect us, our children and the unborn.

Let me ask those on the forefront to immediately organise some meetings in Mulanje to sit down with MMCT and Spring Stone but somehow we feel these people are trying to play games. If we don’t iron out these things we will be cursed. We can use traditional means to resolve, to bewitch investors. We don’t want to do this because these minerals can benefit Malawi. Poverty is not fun. People in Mulanje have negative thinking about what is happening on the ground, if we can have these meetings we won’t have problems if we sit together. There is nothing for us without us. Investors and government please work with us as it is our heritage. Instead of sitting down together we are now trying to destroy the mountain.

Spring Stone Limited is a private Malawian company that is a 100% subsidiary of Spring Stone Exploration Inc., a private company registered in British Columbia and a 100% subsidiary of Canadian public company Gold Canyon Resources Inc, which has recently announced changes to senior management. The project is a joint venture between Gold Canyon Resources Inc, and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, which provides 67% of funding for Spring Stone Exploration Inc. and consequently has a 67% equity option holding in licence-holder Spring Stone Ltd.

We agree with the following observation on the stand-off between the company and communities.

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2 responses to “Spring Stone faces further community opposition to REE prospecting in Mulanje, Malawi

  1. Pingback: Mkango Resources reaffirms Malawi’s potential to become a lead producer of rare earths | Mining in Malawi·

  2. Pingback: Malawi’s “owners of the land” need to be engaged in and benefit from mining – Paramount Chief Kyungu | Mining in Malawi·

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