Is something happening we should know about? Our readers give us some of our best story ideas.

WhatsApp: +263 7 18636459
Twitter: @TheCB_News
Facebook: The Citizen Bulletin

Hwange Residents Breathe in Danger as Coal Mining Pollution Rises

Residents look on as a water bowser suppresses coal dust. Image by Fairness Moyana

As coal mining ramps up in Hwange, nearby communities are left gasping for clean air.

BY FAIRNESS MOYANA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAR 11, 2024

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin)  — Smoke and coal fines billow into the sky from chimneys at a coal processing plant in Lukosi village in Zimbabwe's Hwange district. A few kilometers inland, another plant spews its contents, while ongoing mining releases coal dust into the atmosphere, enveloping the sky.

Workers and villagers go about daily life near open-pit mines, oblivious to air pollution from coal dust, according to residents. With recent investment in mining, mostly from Chinese companies, Hwange has experienced economic growth. The government has touted job creation under its “Zimbabwe is open for business” policy.

In the past two decades, small and medium Chinese-Zimbabwean joint ventures have received coal mining concessions. Most coal powers Zimbabwe's largest thermal plant in Hwange. The rest is used industrially. Over 14 largely Chinese companies have licenses to extract and process coal, with most operations starting recently.

While development has benefits, communities and health experts express concerns over coal dust pollution's health risks, including pneumoconiosis.

Pollution complaints often cause conflicts between mines and local communities. Impacts like tailings and effluents burden areas long after mining ends, residents say.

“Every day we face air and noise pollution from a Hwange Colliery contractor mining within 200 meters of a school and homes, with coal dust reaching communities,” says Timothy Ndlovu, a resident of Lusumbami village.

Experts warn inhaling fine particles 2.5 microns or less in size — called PM2.5 — can damage lungs, hearts and brains and cause illness.

Workers in industries like coal, asbestos and power generation face high pneumoconiosis risks, which include asbestosis, silicosis and coal workers' pneumoconiosis.

While Zimbabwe's Pneumoconiosis Act mandates dusty workplace inspections, companies often ignore the law, which also doesn't require testing dependents despite community exposure, residents and health experts say.

It can take 15 years for illness to develop in migrant miners, who often return home for treatment in rural clinics where illness goes unnoticed.

Greater Hwange Residents Trust program manager Sithembinkosi Ndlovu says women and children suffer most respiratory illnesses. The group petitioned parliament to amend the act and strengthen pollution regulation.

As Zimbabwe licenses more mines under its US$12 billion mining goal including $1 billion from coal, communities bear health costs amid allegations of lax oversight, experts say.

Hwange Power Station and a new coking plant spew coal fines and ash into the atmosphere. Image by Fairness Moyana

Villagers say mines reduce crop yields and quality through coal fines polluting fields and soil. Environmental experts warn fines threaten plant life if uncontrolled at mines.

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance says Hwange pollution levels shock the conscious. “Companies here don’t even care for employees, let alone others,” says director Farai Maguwu, urging higher fines to incentivize compliance over paying penalties.

Residents say the situation has grown dire as the dust infiltrates even homes and food sources.

“We see coal particles settling on our vegetables — an important source of nutrition here,” says a woman from Lusumbami Village. “If not washed properly before eating, this poses serious health risks,” says a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity.

ALSO READ: Zimbabwean Healthcare Worker Struggles with Mental Health in UK Amid Migration Scam

Dust blows in from nearby mines like Dinson Colliery, Mugatech and Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coking Company, according to residents.

The communities, with help from the Center for Natural Resource Governance, have developed a toolkit to collect pollution data. By gathering and sharing this information with the Environmental Management Agency, they pinpoint companies violating regulations.

Attempts to get a comment from local government authorities overseeing the mining operations were unsuccessful.

Do you have a hyperlocal story to share?

WhatsApp us on: +263 71 863 6459.  Email us on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Since You’re Here, We’ve a Small Request…

Our hard-hitting hyperlocal reporting and analysis reaches one in every three people across the greater region of Matabeleland, southwestern Zimbabwe. That means our content reaches approximately 60,000 readers each week. However, in order for our well-rounded journalism to reach more people who need it to make informed decisions about their lives and their communities, we need to build a strong audience of followers that would receive our rigorous reporting in just one place. Because of exorbitant internet data costs, we know most of our readers use messaging apps such as WhatsApp to get all our content in one place. But the platform, predominantly used by our readers, is not primarily designed for content distribution and reader engagement. That is why we’re building a WhatsApp Bot to navigate this challenge. But in order for this strategy to work effectively to serve our needs, we want all our casual readers like you to be part of our growing WhatsApp Community. To be part of this community of registered users, WhatsApp the word "JOIN" to +263 71 863 6459. We look forward to engaging and building a lasting relationship with you. Thank you