LUANGWA District Council chairperson Austine Bota says lodge owners in the Lower Zambezi National Park are illegally mining minerals in the area without government’s approval.
Bota says some wild animals are being airlifted to unknown destinations by unscrupulous people who are preventing the setting up of a mine in the area.
Adding his voice to the many that have reacted to the go ahead given to a mining company to start extractive activities in the Lower Zambezi National Park, Bota said government should hear the voice of reason from the local people.
“We have many challenges here in Luangwa and as a council, we equally have a challenge because we depend on revenue collected from Mozambiquan fish, this fish does not come from Luangwa and we are three institutions levying these people; ZRA, fisheries department gets something, and even transporters,” Bota said.
“People have resorted to cutting trees and burning charcoal. We have tried to sensitise people but it has failed because there they have no alternative. And when there is good rains, the elephants also terrorise the people and eat the little that is grown and sometimes the floods eat up the crops because they cultivate along the river, so there is nothing good in Luangwa.”
Bota called for seriousness when handling the issue saying: “Zambian people should take this seriously; we are the owners of the land and the mine. How do people from Lusaka start talking about the welfare of Luangwa? About Chakwenga mine, it is 100 per cent in Luangwa in senior chief Mbuluma’s area.”
“Please, Mr President, even you ministers of mines and tourism, come to Luangwa and talk to us kaili. How do you just talk from there (Lusaka)? We will tell you the importance of this mine. Those people having lodges there are just stealing those minerals which are there. We, together with the two chiefs, once went there to tour but those people did not take us where the actual mine is, what were they hiding? Those people are already mining those minerals. Come and see us and talk to us. Don’t make pronouncements before you reach the owners.”
Bota said animals in the area were being stolen by foreigners.
“Even the animals are being airlifted to other places. By the way, do we get anything from these animals? Nothing apart from killing our people here. And you never hear that a tourist has been killed by an animal. It’s poor Luangwa people being killed when they want to go and cut firewood or when they try to go to their gardens,” he said.
“We want that mine in Luangwa. Where are we going to take these youths? The PF government has given us a good road, they have given us electricity but for people to connect that power to their houses, they need money, which they don’t have but when the mine is here, they will afford it. And livelihoods will improve, even my council will improve because we will be getting something from the mines.”
He said Luangwa Council could be self-reliant if the mine was set up.
“My friend from Kalumbila, the mayor, visited me and he said they are getting a lot of money from the mine and they are helping the community directly. Us, our wage bill is more that our revenue collection. We have not paid these people but if we had that mine, we would have paid my workers here. Youths would have been employed,” he said.
“The President and ministers responsible, please listen to us, it is us in Luangwa who are affected, so give us the mine. Those lodge owners don’t even vote, come to Luangwa and we are not interested in them.”
Patrick Ngoma, the former member of parliament for Luangwa’s Feira, said the issue of the mine had now become a thorny issue.
“The topic of mining activities in Chakwenga pains a lot of people here in Luangwa because all those who want to discus this mine want to discus with people in Chiawa, Chongwe and Rufunsa, no, the owner of that area is senior chief Mbuluma. The investor applied to government and he was allowed. ZEMA concluded their genuine report and some people went to the court and blocked it but the court ruled again that let the investor go and begin mining,” he said.
“They appealed again in the Supreme Court and from 2014, this is the time the court has ruled and again have allowed mining to go ahead. This is what the court ruled and what I know is that President Edgar Lungu’s government is a government of laws and court rulings, no one should say no to them, then you are going against the court [if you did that].”
He added that climate change had reduced the economic options for the people.
“Here in Luangwa is where there is real heat, even trees are drying up, not the heat in Lusaka, so any crop they plant withers,” he said.
“The investor has promised to employ three thousand workers on permanent basis and three thousand seven hundred contracted workers and apart from that, to protect the animals out there, they said they would employ 100 wildlife scouts to be supervised by the Ministry of Turism,” he said
“But if you go to that national park, which is almost 32 kilometres away from the park, you have nobody to take care of the animals and in the mean time the lodge owners are enjoying near the water and the bush has nothing to protect the animals with.”
Ngoma called on authorities to allow the mine to be set up to improve people’s lives.
“I beg both the ministers of tourism and mining that they must calm down and let the people of Luangwa enjoy the mining activities in the area. I would have knelt down but I want to ask His Excellency the President of the Republic, people of Luangwa have only hope in him because he understands the issues of Luangwa very well. We trust that he is going to be with us as he makes his own decision. Please, let this mine be given to the people so that they can benefit also like elsewhere,” said Ngoma.
Julius Sikasote, a representative of the youth in the area, said youths would benefit from the opening of the new mine.
“On the issue of the Chakwenga mine, we want it opened because of a number of reasons. Youths here involve themselves in theft and some engage in prostitution because of lack of jobs. Also there is a lot of charcoal burning here but this can change when the mine is open,” he said.
“On the issue of wildlife, us as youths don’t directly benefit from this because year in, year out people are killed by these animals. We as Luangwa residents know exact reasons why we want this mine. Those saying they don’t want the mine have other interests which are not good for the people of Luangwa.”
And Ryan Phiri, also a youth of Luangwa asked the government to “Let the cry of the Luangwa residents be heard. We are appealing to then decision makers to put this in order.”