Sand Poachers Fueling Environmental Damage in Zimbabwe — Global Issues

Nesbit Gavanga, who illegally mines sand and sells it to builders, says he has few other economic options in Zimbabwe. Environmentalists, however, are concerned about soil degradation. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS
  • by Jeffrey Moyo (chitungwiza, zimbabwe)
  • Inter Press Service

The six seem to be in the sand-poaching business and openly explain that every other day they fight environmental officials who seek to prevent land degradation here. The group’s informal sand quarry is 25 kilometers southeast of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.

For Gavanga and his colleagues, sand-poaching has been a source of income for years because the gang has never been formally employed.

Gawanga, along with others, invaded a piece of land in Chitungwiza to start sand mining about eight years ago.

“This land has given us money over the years, and we cannot afford to leave it. We are here to stay, and we are here to turn sand into money,” Gavanga told IPS.

Gavanga was not shocked by the extent of the damage he and his colleagues caused to the giant piece of land they invaded in Chitungwiza.

All they care about is money, and Gavanga, along with his colleagues, has built a large customer base over the years.

“We just bring our picks and shovels here, and the customers come with their trucks, and we fill the trucks with sand that we sell. Yes, this is not our land, but we have to make a living from it even though (the authorities say) we are not allowed to mine,” 34-year-old Melford Masamba, one of Gavanga’s colleagues, told IPS.

Gavanga said they earn at least 30 to 40 US dollars daily from the business.

But that’s bad news for the environment.

Sand hunters have left huge scars on the land across Zimbabwe as they harvest river sand. These poachers leave uncovered pits.

Their customers are desperate individuals building homes in the city.

According to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Zimbabwe’s statutory body responsible for ensuring sustainable management of natural resources and environmental protection, about 1694 hectares of land are affected by sand-poaching in the country, where Harare contributes over 850 hectares. of statistics.

EMA has not been successful in stopping the sand hunters.

“The authorities drive us away from the places where we mined sand, but we always come back in no time, even if sometimes they arrest us. We just bribe the officials and go on with the business,” said Masamba.

Environmentalists such as Happison Chikova, based in Harare, have blamed Zimbabwe’s weak economy for the land degradation unleashed by sand poachers.

“These people are unemployed. They think by digging sand lands to sell, believing they can be freed from bankruptcy and poverty, but alas. They only make the environment worse because they get so little money that it hardly changes their lives,” Chikova told IPS.

But for sand hunters like Masamba, the profits are huge.

“The profit is huge because the sand sells for 6 to 8 US dollars per cubic meter. We sell to clients using their own vehicles,” said Masamba.

The sand poachers, in fact, incur very little expenses, and the only expenses they have to shoulder are the bribes given to the police by the council.

The council authorities, for example, in Chitungwiza, although they conduct regular raids on sand hunters, are not fully at capacity.

“We conduct raids on sand poachers, but we do not do that regularly because of insufficient resources, so the sand poachers always return to their illegal activities. It’s like a cat and mouse game,” said Lovemore Meya, Chitungwiza Municipality’s public relations officer.

For environmentalists like Chikova, sand hunters “destroy vegetation as they dig wide and deep pits that are subsequently flooded every rainy season.”

Amid growing sand poaching in Zimbabwe, environmental lawyers point out that the practice is contributing to climate change.

“Sand poaching increases Zimbabwe’s vulnerability to flooding in areas that receive high rainfall, with the practice of sand poaching also threatening wetlands, but sand poaching also affects the availability of water below of the current, which then affects the use of water for climate adaptation purposes,” Ray Ncube, an environmental lawyer in private practice, told IPS.

EMA statistics show that in December 2019, 9.5 million square meters of land across Zimbabwe was degraded due to illegal sand mining.

As vast swathes of land subside, environmental activists like Kudakwashe Murisi in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, blame the country’s polarized politics for enabling sand poachers to do their bidding on the environment.

“The sand hunters are mostly youths with links to the ruling Zanu-PF party, clearly protected by their political leadership, making it difficult for anyone to call them to order when they start digging everywhere for sandy soil,” Murisi told IPS.

In power for 42 years, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) is the ruling political party of the South African country.

IPS UN Bureau report

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