EIGHTY five companies have applied for coal mining concessions in the Matabeleland North province, Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa said.But granting licences to all companies was not “doable” considering the serious implications on the environment and wildlife, Minister Chidhakwa told delegates at the Makomo Resources breakfast event to mark the company’s 6th anniversary yesterday.
Yesterday’s event was the second after the country’s largest coal mining company held similar celebrations in Hwange about three weeks ago.
“I have 85 applications for coal mining in Matabeleland North Province. How do you manage that . . . it’s not just conceivable,” said Minister Chidhakwa.
Matabeleland North, where Makomo Resources operates from is said to have the largest coal deposits in the country. Some of the deposits are found in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve covering about 15 000 square kilometres. Coal has been the dominant energy mineral for Zimbabwe.
While the Government issued mining concessions to indigenous people in the past few years, the majority of the concessions are lying idle.
The Government once indicated that it would repossess unproductive mining claims to pave way for new players with capacity of developing them. However, industry players said most of the claims have remained unexploited due to financial constraints to undertake exploitation.
It is also expected that some claim holders are keeping them for speculative purposes.
Earlier, Minister Chidhakwa had told the delegates that the Government was in the process of crafting regulations, which set the minimum standards of coal mining activities including safety, environmental controls, product quality, minimum qualifications for mine managers and design for both underground and open cast mines.
The new regulations will be contained in the Statutory Instrument to be published soon.
“The regulations arise from the recognition that there is a departure from the industry that we had yesterday. Yesterday we had one company mining coal (Hwange Colliery Company Ltd); it supplied all segments of the industry, but today, it does not hold the same monopoly. Yesterday, one company was the producer, was the operator, design setter; regulator and set the pace of development of our coal industry.
“We will soon publish the regulations that govern the industry knowing fully well that some years back we lost many people. So if the regulators do not play their role, people will die. Somewhere along the lines we failed and the regulations will seek to correct that.”
Minister Chidhakwa said the new regulations would confirm to the best international standards. On June 6, 1972, a methane gas explosion ripped through the Hwange Colliery’s Kamandama underground mine, trapping and subsequently killed 427 miners, the worst mine accident in the history of Zimbabwe. Local and foreign rescue missions failed to save the lives.
The mine entrance was eventually sealed to avoid poisonous gases escaping from the mines.