Fairness Moyana in Hwange
HWANGE Local Board (HLB) and Environmental Management Authority (EMA) officials on Thursday descended on illegal brick moulders and destroyed bricks at undesignated sites in an effort to rehabilitate the environment.
The mining town is grappling with serious land degradation as many residents have resorted to brick moulding. This has resulted in deforestation and land degradation, which could lead to siltation of dams and rivers. Council raised concern that the activity was adversely affecting areas designated for housing projects including an area allocated to the Zimbabwe Power Company for construction of houses and a college.
The local authority was fined and ordered by EMA to have rehabilitated the degraded land by the end of September. The worst affected areas are Truck Stop, Don Bosco Technical College and Empumalanga while the illegal activities are also taking place in Sinderela and Makwika villages under Hwange Colliery Company concession.
In Empumalanga and Don Bosco Technical College which are under HLB, the activities are threatening infrastructure such as the treatment plant.
Hwange District is experiencing an expansion through various housing and infrastructure projects and which has resulted in increased demand for bricks.
The bricks are also highly sought-after in Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Lupane and Binga with 10 000 bricks fetching between US$250-US$300. Over 1000 people are engaged in brick moulding.
From Wednesday to yesterday, hundreds of illegal brick moulders stood helplessly as they watched a front-end loader destroying the bricks.
A Chronicle news crew who was on site witnessed some brick owners trying in vain to save some of their bricks which we ready for sale. Some could be seen escorting small trucks to pick up a few bricks that could be saved as the operation code named “Thunder ball” was underway.
At one point activity ground to halt as an elderly man stood on top of his pile of 10 000 bricks refusing to move while a woman fainted when she saw her 45 000 bricks reduced to dust.
Residents who spoke to Chronicle accused council of not notifying them of the impending exercise.
“What is happening here is very painful and inhuman. Council was supposed to give us time at least to pack our belongings rather than ambush us like this. This is where our livelihoods are given that most of the people here are not formally employed and have families to fend for. How should we survive when they have taken away our only source of livelihood? I personally invested all the money I had on the 50 000 bricks that have been destroyed,” said Mr Joseph Ndlovu.
A woman who only identified herself as MaNcube said the lockdown had gravely affected their lives to the extent that she ended up venturing into brick moulding to look after her three children.
“This activity has kept us going. We have been able to buy food, pay rent and even other social requirements. However, now our only source of eking a living is being taken away I had finished processing 10 000 bricks ready for market which would have given me US$300 but that is not going to be possible. Jobs are hard to come by and the economy keeps worsening I don’t know how authorities want us to live,” she said.
HLB chief executive officer, Mr Ndumiso Mdlalose said council was implementing its resolutions while riding on an order from EMA to rehabilitate the land within a set time-frame.
“We have begun implementing a council resolution that was buttressed by an order to rehabilitate the damaged environment caused by illegal brick moulding activities. We cannot be held at ransom. We are supposed to operate in terms of the law, we have a duty to enforce them. Council passed a resolution in September last year to the effect that there was need to stop all activities that were taking place at undesignated sites. However, since we were seen not to be doing anything about the problem the Government agency which is EMA gave us an order to rectify the issue or face consequences,” he said.
“At some point council had thought that it could reserve some land for brick making but when we interacted with physical planning, they reminded us that in terms of Regional Town and Country Planning Act we can’t have this activity in town. We remain committed to preserving the environment as well as ensuring the safety of members of the community.”
Mr Mdlalose said they supported the growth of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) through sustainable brick moulding by facilitating their regularization with Hwange Rural District Council (HRDC).
“Our position is to support SMEs. Where we can facilitate their operations we will do so while where we can’t we will refer them to relevant authorities. In this case the local authority that has the mandate to do so is HRDC which has land designated for that. We have referred a lot of people who are now making bricks. We advised all the people that were engaging in illegal brick moulding to regularize their operationS with RDC which we could facilitate but only a handful heeded the call.”
He said contrary to reports that the local authority had not informed the affected people of the implementation of the order on time, council had given notices on different platforms while calling on those engaged in the activity to wind them up.
Zanu-PF politician and businessman, Cde Reeds Dube who had visited the site and tried to appeal to officials to no avail told journalists that the process was supposed to give people time to close shop arguing that livelihoods were at stake.
“This is wrong we should have given people time to collect their bricks at least before destroying them like what is happening. We have to consider that this is where most people were surviving from and just destroying property like that isn’t the best way. My appeal to the authorities is more time to allow these people to salvage whatever they can for their children and livelihoods,” he said.
Concerns have been raised that some unscrupulous people who include business owners, politicians, councillors, council officials and executive employees from local companies were behind the illegal brick moulding activities with local residents being used as mere fronts.