ILLEGAL brick moulders are wreaking havoc in Hwange Town where they are mining clay soil causing serious land degradation.
The activity has been going on for some years and reportedly escalated as many residents have resorted to brick moulding for a living. The worst affected areas are near Don Bosco Technical College, Truck Stop and Empumalanga where the Hwange Local Board (HLB) treatment plant is under threat.
The Don Bosco and Empumalanga sites are under HLB while the Truck Stop area is under Hwange Colliery Concession.
Some of the affected areas are set aside for housing projects. The illegal brick makers allegedly steal coal dust from Hwange Colliery Company mine sites which they mix with clay soil to make the bricks, with a ready market in Hwange, Victoria Falls and as far as Bulawayo where they sell them for US$0.10 cents per brick and about US$300 for 10 000 bricks.
Besides causing land degradation and deforestation, there is also a looming health hazard as the illegal brick moulders use sewer water from the defunct sewer plant and Kalope Stream in Empumalanga. Concerned residents have called upon the HLB to come up with a land rehabilitation plan and also regulate the activity.
“We are greatly disturbed by the increasing illegal brick moulding activities at Empumalanga treatment plant, Don Bosco and behind Truck Stop. This is causing alarming rates of land degradation and what is more disturbing is that some councillors, council officials and other senior people are also involved. Truck Stop is notorious for criminal activity and we fear that can happen in Empumalanga. Council should come up with a land rehabilitation plan and regulate brick moulding,” said Greater Whange Residents Trust coordinator Mr. Fidelis Chima.
There are concerns about lack of sustainable land use in the coal mining town.
Matabeleland North Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial manager Mrs Chipo Mpofu-Zuze said some offenders have been fined . She implored the local authority to enforce its by-laws to protect the environment.
“We have done inspections and issued out tickets to some of them because they had no authority to dig around and mould bricks. They should have an environmental management plan from the local authority. Some approached EMA saying they had no other source of income and they have regularised their activities. We approached Hwange Local Board, Hwange Rural District Council and Hwange Colliery Company ordering them to act and rehabilitate the land or designate land for such activities. The RDC has designated some land and seven groups of villagers each with around 35 households have received permits and are moulding bricks legally,” she said.
Responding to emailed questions, the HLB bemoaned resistance by the illegal brick makers but said efforts are being made to address the situation.
“The HLB is concerned about the rampant clay soil poaching activities being perpetrated by some unscrupulous individuals in the bushy areas of Empumalanga suburb for the sole purpose of brick moulding and the alarming rate of land degradation. Council acknowledges the prevailing economic challenges which could be one of the major reasons exacerbating the illegal activity. It has resulted in massive deforestation and proliferation of open pits which are becoming a danger to both human beings and animals with their existence being more hazardous during the rainy season. Furthermore, they are using sewer water from the defunct Empumalanga sewer plant that finds its way to Kalope stream and causing serious health hazards to adjacent communities in the event of a waterborne disease outbreak.”
The local authority said the Urban Councils Act does not permit developments such as soil abstraction within an urban area.
“HLB has penalised clay soil poachers through the Environmental Impact Assessment Protection Regulations Statutory Instrument (SI) 7/2007 in a bid to curb the illegal practice. However, council security has met resistance and hostility from the poachers while carrying their duties. We are working with HRDC and we are consulting various stakeholders including EMA, the District Development Coordinators office and security forces to help deal with illegal brick moulders.
“The local authority is currently in the process of amending its by-laws which will enable it to come up with stringent regulations. Allegations about council officials and councillors being involved in clay soil poaching and brick moulding activities haven’t come to our attention. If these allegations are true, such actions are unfortunate and regrettable as we expect council officials to be on the lead against such activities,” said the HLB.
The council environmental management committee is investigating the issue while the council is also working on rehabilitating some of the degraded areas.