The piece “Study uncovers ills of bad mining practices to Malawi communities, as Mkango’s Songwe Hill Project gets thumbs up for CSR interventions” featured below was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 38 that is circulating this June 2016.
The full edition is available for download here. This monthly publication is edited by Marcel Chimwala.
Study uncovers ills of bad mining practices to Malawi communities
…as Mkango’s Songwe Hill Project gets thumbs up for CSR interventions
By Marcel Chimwala
Mining activities are proving beneficial to impoverished native communities in mining areas where the investors are socially responsible but they are also a thorn in the fresh to poor communities in those areas where the companies are showing no desire for sustainable social interventions.
This is reflected in a study report that was presented to stakeholders in Lilongwe by a local non-governmental organisation, Institute for Community Mobilisation and Empowerment (ICOM), which tackles the status of communities in mining areas focusing on three projects namely Mabulabo Coal Mine in Mzimba owned by a local company called Eland, Nyala Mines at Chimwadzulu Hill in Ntcheu and Mkango Resources’ Songwe Hill Rare Earth Exploration Project in Phalombe.
ICOM conducted the study for Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) as part of Tonse Tipindule Project, which NCA is implementing in collaboration with its civil society partners namely Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Quadria Muslim Association of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches, Evangelical Association of Malawi and Church and Society of the Livingstonia Synod with funding from the Tilitonse Fund.
The significant features at Eland’s Mwabulabo Mine, where mining operations started in 2008 without any community involvement in the preparatory stages, are the existing gullies that Eland has left after suspending operations at the mine due to coal market challenges.
All community members including chiefs and government officials confessed that they live in fear of losing their lives and livestock due to the water filled gullies. Since the Eland Company occupied community’s main grazing area, the community feared that their children who usually accompany their livestock might be victims of death if they get drowned in the water filled gullies. The community reported that two children have died by falling into the gullies and there have been numerous reports of goats falling into the gullies as they graze,
says the report of the study.
The Mwabulabo community has also reported of water pollution caused by the company’s damping of coal residues and coal processing chemicals into Ruviliya River, which is the community’s main water and fish supply, situated far from Lake Malawi.
The community members reported that people drink contaminated water and fall ill and are being deprived of the pleasure of consuming the once readily available fresh fish. Furthermore, the contaminated water flowing from the gullies run to the rice fields, which causes the rice to dry up in cases where the water has large volumes of coal dust. The rice eventually turns black and it affects the quality of the produce,
the report reads.
The community also reported to the researchers that dust coming from Eland’s coal mines polluted the air resulting in a number of members of the community suffering from coughs.
Production Director for ICOME, Lelani Nyasulu, reports that the community suggested a number of mitigation measures for the pathetic situation at Mwabulabo, which include that the government should trace the miner and fill up the gullies.
The community also wants government to at least visit the area and appreciate their concerns, and ensure the provision of portable water and a good drainage system following the contamination of water and destruction of the drainage system by the miner,
But mining investors’ failure to implement an environmental rehabilitation plan and inability to undertake social responsibility obligations as witnessed at Mwabulabo are not the only factors that are a source of feelings of bitterness among members of the community directed at mining companies in resource rich areas.
As the study proved at Chimwadzulu Hill in Ntcheu, poor working conditions for unskilled labours which are mostly recruited in the mining areas is also another issue of concern.
The study found out that though Nyala Mines, which extracts expansive minerals including rubies, sapphire, green tourmaline and garnet at Chimwadzulu Hill, has managed to employ guards and brick breakers from the mining area, things are not all that rosy for the guards who work for 12 hours a day without overtime allowances.
This is the case though originally it was agreed with the employer that they would be working for eight hours a day and if need be they would be required to work for extra four hours for which they would receive overtime allowances.
The report also alleges that Nyala Mines never follows up on junior members of staff admitted to Ntcheu District Hospital after sustaining injuries at the mine.
The communities also complain that there is no clear demarcation between the mine, the community’s farms, the water resource and other belongings for the community, which has resulted in the miner arresting members of the community found in possession of precious stones.
There is also a scramble for the Kapeni River water resource between the community which depends on the resource for irrigated agriculture and domestic use and Nyala Mines, which pumps water from the river into its dams used to process the mined ore to identify the precious stones.
The report says Nyala Mines releases muddy water used in processing the ore from its dams into the Kapeni River and this results in siltation of the river, dirty water and reduction of the water table.
But what should be done to do away with these problems? Members of the community suggest that they should be the ones to do active mining and sell the precious stones to Nyala Mines implying that the company should open a special office where they can be buying the stones from community members.
To ensure that there is less damage done to the natural environment, the community should consider identifying geologists to identify locations of the precious minerals. These people will only dig holes deep enough to extract the stones and instantly refill them without destroying much arable land and resources,
reads the report.
The community also suggests that the Company should promote local businesses through initiatives such as buying food from local restaurants and it should allow its employees a reasonable break for lunch so that they are able to get nice, decent and satisfying food from these restaurants.
The members of the community also want Nyala Mines to ensure that corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects are distributed fairly so that every surrounding village benefits from the mine particularly they want the firm to build a bridge over Kapeni River which will serve a total of four villages namely Katsekela, Kandoma, Muuso and Kakhobwe.
Nonetheless, Nyala has assisted the community in the following respects through CSR initiatives at Katsekela ARV and Health Centre; repainting of the walls, building a placenta disposal, constructing a borehole at the hospital premises and donating shelves to the health centre’s dispensary. The firm also uses its vehicles to ferry critically ill patients to Ntcheu District Hospital.
Nyala Mines is undertaking CSR initiatives at Kandoma Primary School where it is currently constructing two classroom blocks, pays a monthly stipend to 10 volunteer teachers, buys school uniform for needy pupils and supplies stationery equipment.
However, members of the community interviewed in some parts of the area elaborated that the bitterness from the community is a result of favoritism in that developments are only being concentrated in Village Headman Kandoma’s area,
the report reads.
But at Songwe Hill in Phalombe where UK firm Mkango Resources is pursuing rare earth deposits through its local subsidiary Lancaster Exploration, there do not seem to be as much bitter feelings by the community on CSR.
The Civil Society rates the project, which is only in its exploration stage, as a role model when it comes to meeting CSR obligations.
As a starting point for its CSR drive, Mkango Resources met with chiefs and a committee representing the people of the area.
During this meeting, the chiefs and the committee members were granted an opportunity to make a list of developments that the area needed urgently and the following were listed; reconstruction of the main road network, a bridge, electricity, school renovations, and a community hospital.
So far, though the company has not started mining as it is working on a definitive feasibility study, it appears that it is fulfilling the CSR demands from the community.
For instance, the company has constructed the bridge and renovated and painted classrooms at Mphembedzu Primary School under the Happy Classrooms Project which saw the company partnering a non-governmental organization to paint the classrooms with pictures depicting the school syllabus.
We are so far impressed with the community engagement principle and the CSR initiatives that Mkango is undertaking at Songwe. We hope they will continue in this path and fulfill the other pledges.
We also ask other miners to embrace Mkango as a role model on CSR,
says Economic Justice Coordinator for Norwegian Church Aid, Thokozani Mapemba.