Bullets For Coal: Risks of Unregulated Coke Extraction In Hwange
Hwange residents are being shot for extracting coke at dumpsites. Graphic by The Citizen Bulletin
Economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have seen an increase in the number of Hwange residents visiting dumping sites in search of coke to sell. However, this has put their lives at risk of being shot at.
HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Zulani Mudenda (46) of Madumabisa village 2 in Hwange says she will not forget 22 August 2020, a day which ended in tragedy.
“There was a loud gun sound and in a twinkling of an eye, I felt weak, he was so close to me, he shot me on the abdomen, tearing my stomach and exposing the intestines,” says Mudenda.
She was coming back from work at Zambezi Gas. Police officers were pursuing illegal coke vendors near their residence. Mudenda says although she had seen some skirmishes, she didn’t think the police would fire at her.
“When I had just passed a 3.5-tonne truck, I saw three police officers on foot. They stopped me and I immediately complied. Without notice, a police officer wielding a gun hit me in the stomach.”
Zulani Mudenda, victim of police shooting
Consequently, Mudenda fell on the ground, lost a lot of blood, and was admitted to the Colliery Hospital where she had a blood transfusion before being referred to Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo for further treatment.
She is one of the two women who became victims of the police shooting in Hwange when police indiscriminately shot at coke vendors at a Hwange Colliery Company dumping site. On the same evening Twaboni Nyoni (25), a breastfeeding mother of the same village was also left battling for her life.
“It was in the evening while seated at home. I was hit unawares, without any involvement in the activities on coke. Imagine, just seated home. I was severely injured resulting in being referred to St Patrick’s Hospital,” says Nyoni
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) through their lawyer Prisca Dube recently wrote to the Officer In Charge (O.I.C) of Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Hwange protesting against the police conduct and demanding legal action to be taken.
Through ZLHR, the two women— Nyoni and Mudenda— subsequently filed an intention to sue the police. Since the police acknowledged the sad incident and promised an investigation, no information has been availed to the victims; raising concerns the issue might have been swept under the carpet by authorities to protect the alleged offenders.
Hwange and the surrounding countryside is a centre for coal mining. According to Hwange Colliery Company Limited, their colliery has proven reserves that are estimated to last over 1,000 years, at current production levels. Coal has been used for decades in power generation and heating various crops and minerals in Zimbabwe and abroad.
But, it is the recent developments around coke, a by-product of coal which has left villagers and civic society organisations with questions.
The shooting, displacements, forced labour and inhumane working conditions in coke oven batteries have drawn parallels to the mining of diamond in Chiadzwa, characterised by blood.
The incidences of residents visiting dumping sites in search of coke to sell have increased as a result of economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the black market, a 50 kg sack of coke sells between US$3 – US$5.
Residents make a living out of selling coke. Image by Mining Zimbabwe
Recently, a 37-year-old woman was buried alive while extracting coke at an old mine dumpsite.
The vendors usually sell to truck drivers at the unregulated truck stop at Cindrella, Hwange. The official price of metallurgical coke ranges from US$160 to US$300 with 50-80mm nuts fetching up to US$400 on the international market.
In 2018 Hwange Colliery Company Limited invited bids to revive its coke oven battery which was decommissioned in 2014. Of late, Hwange has seen a proliferation of many investors in the coke oven batteries, while residents are risking their lives for the same black rock by-product.
However, more than 95% of coke oven batteries are run by the Chinese. These include the major ones, the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Company (ZZCC) and Hwange Coal and Gasification Company (HCGC).
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Coke oven batteries are causing various challenges in Hwange. Many residents have been arrested in coke related activities than coal itself, others like Zulani Mudenda and Twaboni Nyoni cheated death and were left with a horrible story to tell.
Greater Hwange Residents Trust (GWRT) condemns the excessive use of force by law enforcement agents and urges an investigation into events leading to the shooting of the two women.
“There is a need to protect life, especially our residents,” says GWRT Coordinator, Fidelis Chima. “We call for a full investigation of the matter.”
In an August 2020 press statement, the Centre for Natural Resources Governance condemned the use of guns to scare away unarmed informal coke vendors.
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Hwange district, Police shooting, Coke extraction, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
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