1,000 cattle die from mining pollution

Mavis Karenyi desperately tried one treatment after another, but her cattle kept dying and she watched helplessly as her family’s symbol of livelihood dwindled.

She and other affected villagers realised that their cattle had started showing symptoms of the unknown illness in 2011, after diamond mining started in Chiadzwa.

Together with traditional leaders they linked the source of the illness to the Odzani River, the water point for livestock in the area. They discovered that the river was being contaminated by substances discharged by mines operated by Anjin Investments and Marange Resources.

Their suspicions were confirmed by research done by the Environment Management Agency (EMA). Mines operated by Marange were subsequently fined for polluting the Singwizi, Save and Odzi Rivers.


Karenyi, 61, was previously regarded well-off in her community. She had over 60 head of cattle, but now she has lost 55 animals to the illness.

“All the cattle died in a similar fashion. They first became clumsy, then grew enormous bellies and were eventually unable to walk before dying. We also noticed that the illness affected cows more because they all had still births,” she said. Her son, Obey, who is at university, added that their last live birth took place in 2011.

Karenyi, who lost her husband in 2002, said it was difficult to fend for her family now that she has only five cattle. She raised six sons and a daughter by breeding and selling livestock. “Right now I am struggling to pay my son’s university fees because I no longer have enough cattle to sell,” she lamented.

The community has engaged with the veterinary department on several occasions.

“I engaged the Chimanimani veterinary department, but was referred us to the provincial department. I contacted a Dr Guri on September 14 and two days later, a Dr Tapondo came to examine my dead cattle. We have not been advised of the findings, despite numerous requests,” she said.

Can of worms

Karenyi believes that the veterinary department are reluctant to divulge the results as it would open a can of worms and confirm that diamond mining pollutants are the cause of the illness and may negatively affect diamond mining operations.

Ward 5 councillor, Reuben Bvurume, 68, says he used to have more than 21 cattle and seven calves, but now only three are left. “Ask everyone in this community, they will affirm that I was a well to do person. I had cattle, sheep and goats, but now I have nothing to my name. Cattle, our greatest source of wealth, is a thing of the past.

“It all started in 2009. At first we were naïve and didn’t know what was causing the deaths. We spent a fortune seeking treatment until we realised that it was the water of the Odzi River that our livestock were drinking from,” he said,adding that even fish that used to be abundant, were now gone.

Bvurume says that they tried on numerous occasions to engage the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and the veterinary department to provide answers, but to no avail.

No reply

Save/Odzi Community Development Trust secretary Gibson Muhwahwa, said they had written to the veterinary department requesting that they hand over the results of the samples taken from dead cattle, but had not received a reply.

He advised that one of the veterinary officers simply advised that members of the community should sell cattle that drink from the Odzi River.

Save/Odzi trust treasurer Tichaenzana Chibuwe says that over 264 cattle died before he assumed office in July 2013 and that more than 200 have died since. Wards 5 and 20 are two of the affected communities in Chimanimani West.

The scenario is similar in the Buhera South constituency where between 300 and 400 cattle have been reported dead in Mangwadza village (Ward 28) alone. According to Headman Mangwadza Ward 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 are also affected.

He added that actual figures of dead cattle are probably much higher than estimated as the figure doesn’t include calves and that many deaths were not reported.

The constituency gets its water supply from the Singwizi and Save Rivers, which is being polluted by Diamond Mining Company (DMC). Others claim that Mbada Diamonds is also discharging pollutants.

The Zimbabwean understands that only the villagers in Marange area receive $150 as compensation for each dead cow – a clear admission that there are responsible for the pollution and subsequent death of livestock.

Cattle from Buhera stray into Marange’s area and subsequently die there, forcing DMC to deploy security guards along the Buhera-Marange demarcation to chase off stray cattle. This occurred because villagers from Marange were claiming compensation for stray cattle that died in the area.

The diamond mining firms, Anjin, Mbada, DMC and Marange Resources in Chiadzwa use river water, add chemicals, clean the diamonds and then discharge the polluted water back into the rivers.

It is reported that Anjin and Marange Resources contaminate the Odzi River while DMC discharges its waste into the Singwizi River, which later joins the Save.

However, Mbada employees from Mangwadza claim the giant diamond firm is the main culprit. “Mbada is the root cause. The water flows from their mining concession and by the time it passes through DMC, it is already contaminated. DMC’s waste is discharged into the Singwizi together with that from Mbada. So both companies are guilty. I work for Mbada Diamonds and I know what happens there,” said a villager who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation.

Sensitive issue

A DMC senior security officer who identified himself as Mangena, confronted this reporter at the boundary of the mining company’s concessions area. He down-played water contamination when questioned. “The pollution is not from the mine, it’s just mud swept up by the force of the water from the river banks,” he said.

Quizzed further, the same official said commenting on river pollution was a sensitive issue that could cost him his job. “I can’t comment officially. Mungazondipinza patight (you will get me into trouble),” he said adding that he was alerted by his junior that there were people near the mine boundary before he confronted the reporter.

However, EMA provincial manager, Kingston Chitotombe is on record confirming that diamond companies Anjin and Marange Resources used to pollute the Save, but claimed that this is no longer the case.

“Our problem is with DMC. They still discharge harmful substances into the Save and we have intervened. They installed and aim to operate a device that separates solids and water, but it is not working yet and I don’t know when it will which means that they are still polluting rivers,” he said.

Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association head of research Shamiso Mtisi went on record saying that the three diamond firms were still defying the environmental laws of the country.

“DMC, Anjin and Marange Resources are the major culprits. They fail to respect and adhere to the environmental laws of the country merely because they have political backing,” he said.

Legal action

ZELA took the DMC, Anjin and Marange Resources to the High Court in 2012, following a petition by villagers. Legal officer Veronica Zano lamented the fact that the court case has been stalled by unprecedented challenges, but hastened to add that they are seeking to take the matter to the constitutional court.

“We have a legal case at the High Courts that was instituted in 2012, but unfortunately the legal system is very slow and in 2012, we did not have a constitution that included the right to clean water. In 2013 the new constitution enshrined this clause and we are now in the process of instituting a constitution case regarding the water pollution issue,” said Zano.