- October 4, 2020
- Posted in LOCAL
Large swatches of land around the country are being disembowelled by illegal sand miners who are trying to keep up with demand from various mushrooming housing developing schemes.
The ever-increasing demand for housing in every part of the country has spurred construction activity. But while this is a welcome development in reducing the housing backlog, it is fuelling sand poaching.
Pit and river sand are inherently crucial materials in any construction work.
However, much of these materials are being sourced illegally. Even the dead no longer know any peace as graveyards that stand in the way of poachers are now being desecrated like never before.
At Zinyengere graveyard in Epworth, sand poachers have destroyed several graves, with remains being tossed into a nearby dam.
“It is a sorry state. Graves have been opened by these sand poachers and some of the remains are being thrown into the nearby dam. The dam happens to be the source of water for drinking and other domestic use for this community,” said Douglas Utete, secretary for Zinyengere Development Association (ZDA).
ZDA chairperson Joel Mupfudza claims that most areas under construction in Epworth and Hopley are yet to be regularised by the Harare City Council and the Epworth Local Board.
“More than 30 graves were tempered with by sand poachers in illegal sand extraction. The challenge is people are just allocating themselves stands, and this is fuelling rampant sand poaching activities in the area,” he said.
The Sunday Mail Society and ZDA officials were recently manhandled by angry sand poachers after visiting the desecrated cemetery.
“What is it that you want to ask us? We saw you taking pictures. Just wait and see what we are going to do to you. I will kill and bury you in this cemetery,” charged one of the sand poachers who was armed with stones and a machete.
Rodney Mupfudza (41), a local resident, said people generally fear the dreaded sand gangs.
“Last year I almost lost my life when they charged towards us wielding machetes. This was after we approached them together with ZDA on an awareness campaign to fight sand poaching. We had to run for dear life,” he said.
It is believed that the sand poachers have also attacked police details in the past.
“The sand poachers have become a menace. They randomly dig pits and are a law unto themselves. They attack anyone who tries to stop them, even the police if they are not armed,” bemoaned Dr Wilton Mhanda, Epworth Local Board’s town secretary.
Although most jurisdictions have legal limits on the location and volume of sand that can be extracted, illegal sand mining is flourishing in many parts of the world.
While the menace has been in existence since time immemorial, authorities reckon it has now gone out of hand. Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has since launched a blitz to curb the vice. Sand poaching is a crime under Statutory Instrument (SI) 3 of 2001.
It is outlawed under (SI) 7 of 2007 Environment Management Act (Environmental Impact Assessment & Ecosystems Protection) Regulations.
“A total of 19 offenders have since been issued with tickets for vending sand or having sand sourced through poaching. Also, 17 Environmental Protection Orders (EPOs) were issued to prohibit sand vending,” revealed EMA environmental education and publicity manager Amkela Sidange.
Hyde Park Cemetery in Bulawayo once faced a similar predicament a couple of years back. The situation only normalised after authorities were forced to take action by angry residents who besieged the Bulawayo City Council offices for recourse.
Sand poachers, who are often armed with picks and shovels, invariably leave a trail of unreclaimed pits in their wake, which pose a danger to both humans and animals. Unfortunately, residents and industrial companies subsequently use some of the disused pits as dumpsites for all sorts of waste. It is, however, feared the pits would become dangerous deep pools when the rainy season begins.
EMA is ratcheting up pressure.
They are currently conducting raids on both sand vending sites and those in possession of sand sourced through poaching.
Without taking action, the consequences could be dire. Instream mining and sand poaching tends to lower the stream’s bottom, which may lead to bank erosion, including flooding.
Depletion of sand in the streambed and along coastal areas also causes the deepening of rivers and estuaries, including the enlargement of river mouths and coastal inlets. According to Sidange, there is need for a systematic approach to sand abstraction.
“ . . . to that end, EMA is calling upon local authorities to designate sand abstraction sites which they should manage, and ensure sand abstraction is done in a regulated manner from registered sites to prevent poaching, and without harming the environment,” she said.
Sand poaching and mining are some of the main activities that are blamed for land degradation.
A recent survey done by EMA shows that a total of 11 163 ha of land and a stretch of 1 555km of riverine ecosystems have been degraded countrywide due to illegal mining activities.
The survey identified degraded mining hotspot areas in order to guide decision-making and regulations.
The Sunday Mail