Zimbabwe bans coal mining in Hwange and other game parks
Zimbabwe has banned mining in all its national parks, reversing a decision to let Chinese firms explore for coal at its famous Hwange game park.
The move came after campaigners instituted court action against the government to prevent “ecological degradation” in parks.
Two Chinese-owned firms had been given a licence to explore for coal in Hwange National Park.
It is famous for its elephants and the endangered black rhino.
In court papers filed on Monday, the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA) warned that the park would turn into a “site for drilling, land clearance, road building and geological surveys” if coal exploration went ahead.
Following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced the ban on mining with immediate effect.
“Steps are being undertaken to immediately cancel all mining titles held in national parks,” she added.
Ms Mutsvangwa also announced a ban on mining along most river beds, in a decision that would affect small-scale Chinese gold miners in Zimbabwe.
China is a major investor in Zimbabwe and a close ally of the government.
It has for a long time pursued a “Look East” policy to boost the struggling economy following sanctions imposed by Western powers angered by the government’s human rights record and controversial land reform programme.
But the government’s decision to give exploration rights in the park led to a public outcry, and the hashtag #SaveHwangenationalpark trended on Twitter in Zimbabwe, reports the BBC’s Shingai Nyoka from the capital, Harare.
Environmentalists raised concerns that coal mining in the park would devastate wildlife, and negatively affect tourism – a major source of income for Zimbabwe.