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Exclusive Inquiry: Battle Lines Drawn

Exclusive Inquiry: Battle Lines Drawn

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Published by Nation Online
An examination of the conflict involving local people, miners and conservationists over Mulanje Mountain.
An examination of the conflict involving local people, miners and conservationists over Mulanje Mountain.

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Published by: Nation Online on Jun 02, 2013
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06/12/2013

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 NATION
on 
Sunday
 
JUNE 2 2013
 
NATION ON SUNDAY, 2 JUNE 2013
An examination
of the conict
involving localpeople, miners andconservationistsover MulanjeMountain.
 
 NATION
on 
Sunday
 
JUNE 2 2013
2
T
he Chambe Basin,perched at over 2000 metres above thesea level on Mulanjemountain, typifies howforestry resources can benefitmany. The extraction of theMulanje cedar began in 1950,with locals and foreignersearning a living from thebasin.History records that in thatyear, the Nyasaland Timberand Trading Company wasgiven an exclusive licence tosaw the cedar, with growingworld demand for timber afterWorld War Two. Within a year,Swiss engineers of the WyssenCompany installed a ‘skyline’timber extraction cablewaywhich made it easier totransport wood from the basinto the foot of the mountain. A few years ago, evenafter so much depletion, thebasin could give you over800 hectares of breathtakingpine plantations. There werehundreds of sawyers andforestry workers making aliving from the mountain. The number of touristswas ever increasing, with anarray of plants and wildlifebeckoning them up themountain. In 2010, 5 242tourists visited the mountain,a sharp rise from 1 457 in2000. In 2012, the mountainrecorded only 3 813 tourists.For one, the drop comeson account of vanishingvegetation. This comes at aninopportune time whenthe application to make themountain a United NationsEducation and ScienceCommission (Unesco) WorldHeritage Site is pending. Acquiring the status wouldnot only lead to increasednumbers of tourists, butwould also source morefunding for conservation. The drop in tourism figurescomes because the ChambeBasin today is nothing buta stretch of bare ground. All the pine plantations aregone. Signs of uncontrollablebushfires are evident in burnttree stumps and bushes. There is no sign of life inthe deserted forestry houses.
The fall of Mulanje Mountain
Kondwani Kamiyala
Sb Edto
ExcluSivEinquiry pagE 3
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The drop in tourism figurescomes because the ChambeBasin today isnothing but astretch of bareground. All thepine plantationsare gone.
Mulanje Mountain provides livelihoods to thousands of people
special essa
 The hundreds of people who ekedout a living at thebasin trekked togreener parts of Malawi. At the heart of the depletion isa reforestationprogramme goneawry. In 2007, theMulanje MountainConservation Trust (MMCT)and the ForestryDepartmententered into apact to clear thepine plantation onChambe Basin andreplace it with theoriginal Mulanjecedar plantation,which previously grewthere beforeNyasaland Timber and TradingCompanywent to otherparts of themountainwhere cedarwas still inabundance.MMCT andthe ForestryDepartmentindicated thatthey had toeradicate thepine, saying ithad invadedthe cedar,
 The conflict could affect the prospects of the mountainbecoming a Unesco World Heritage Site
 
 NATION
on 
Sunday
 
JUNE 2 2013
3
C
omedian Bon Kalindo,known as Winiko, grewup in Njeza Village notfar from Mulanje
 Boma
at thefoot of the Mulanje Massif.He has fond memories of his trek years back to theChambe Basin, a four-hourclimb up Africa’s third largestmountain. It was idyllic.“There were thick pineplantations you could barelysee the sun. Butterflies andrare birds hovered around.Cool springs were everywhere.Even the weather down themountain was as pleasant asup there,” recalls the actor.Kalindo says many peoplein the district benefited fromthe mountain as sawyers,lumberjacks, forestry workersand farmers. All that, he says, endedwhen in 2007 the MalawiGovernment entered intoan agreement with theNorwegian Government whichfunded the Mulanje MountainConservation Trust (MMCT)to preserve the MulanjeMountain ecosystem. That entailed eradicationof over 800 hectares of pineplantations for the Mulanjecedar which refuses to grow atthe basin, leaving the expansebare to expose communitiesat the foot of the mountain tofloods.“The past two yearshave seen heavy floods.We have experienced ashcontamination where bushfireashes from the burning of pine plantations pollute riversources. Our fear is one day,
Mulanje citizens cry for mountain
we will have flush floods,”said Kalindo, who is publicistfor ‘Concerned Citizens’ wholast year obtained a HighCourt injunction restrainingMMCT from operating on themountain. The High Court, however,on May 3 lifted the injunction,which also barred minersSpring Stone from exploringfor rare earths elements(REEs) on the mountain.Kalindo says they willcontinue fighting against themining and MMCT works.Mulanje Pasani DPPparliamentarian Peter Nowasaid the constituency isexperiencing hard times.Nowa said the threat of heavy floods is great since thebasin, which held most of thewater up the mountain, liesbare. According to him, over 300homes were swept in floodslast year.“We are questioning theminers since although theirprojects on the mountainmust be changed.“We cannot allow ourchildren to drink contaminatedash water. We cannot allowhectares of forest cover to berepudiated and expose peopleto floods. Mulanje chiefs havesent us to say no to all this.“We are not saying no tomining, which is a uniquecomponent of our economy,but it must be sustainable,”said Mpinganjira. The strongest opposition tothe mining and conservationappears to come from thelocal chiefs, including seniorchiefs Mabuka and Mkanda, Traditional AuthorityChikumbu and other localchiefs such as VillageHeadwoman Nankhonyo.“There were many peopleearning a living as sawyerson the mountain. Manypeople in my village [at thefoot of the mountain] arefarmers and they used to goup the mountain to sell theirproduce. That is gone.“Others who are tour guidesare crying as the number of tourists hiking the mountain isdwindling since the beautifulscenes on the mountain havebeen depleted,” she said. The chiefs, political leadersand their subjects vow to fighton.“We will use whatevermeans to stop the miningand MMCT from operatingon the mountain. Mulanjemust reclaim its glory,” saidKalindo.Principal Secretary in theMinistry of Mining Dr LeonardKalindekafe could not respondto our qquestionnaire sentto him two weeks ago. Hisminister, John Bande, wasunavailable for comment.
n
which is more precious.Mulanje cedar does notgrow anywhere else in theworld but on a few areas of Mulanje Mountain. Due toclimate change, the ChambeBasin is not one of the areason the mountain where theindigenous tree can grow. The effects of theeradication are clear. Peoplewho earned a living from thelumbering trekked to otherparts where the forests arethicker: Chikangawa andDedza, for instance.Since 2011, Spring StoneLimited—a joint venturecompany between Japan Oil,Gas and Metals NationalCorporation and GoldCanyon Resources—hasbeen exploring the basin forrare earth elements (REEs).Locals feel theexploration has hit themhard, citing an an ashcontamination that pollutedMulanje Mountain watersources late last year. Theyalso feel exploration workshave left the basin evenMay 3 2013, the High Courtvacated the injunction, buturged the environmentalists,miners and locals to agreeon the way forward.Mulanje DistrictCommissioner Jack Ngulubehas since summoned thethree parties. Will they finda solution that will save theMulanje Mountain and bringback its glory?
n
The genesis of the battle over Mulanje
ExclusivEinquiry pagE 2
Fighting for Mulanje Mountain: Kalindo (R) and Nowa
Kondwani Kamiyala
Sub Editor
bare, with the fear of flushfloods and landslides growingby the day.With a December 7 2012High Court injunctionstopping MMCT fromworking on the Chambe Basinand Spring Stone ceasingexploration works, the locals,coming together as ConcernedCitizens, smiled.Not for long though, as onlicence says they can onlyget 70 kilogrammes of earthfrom the mountain, yet,every Friday, they bring downhundreds of kilogrammes. That has led to heavy siltationof our main source of water:the Likhubula River,” saidNowa.PP co-opted executivecommittee member BrownMpinganjira has joined thefight, saying for the future of the people of the district, theenvironmental and mining
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