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Ilegal sand mining threatens iconic river’s existence

Tribal leaders in the Kalanga villages of Makaleng, Matenge, Nshagashogwe and Sebina are fighting a losing battle against illegal sand miners, whose reckless activities are threatening the very existence of the iconic Shashe and Nyamambisi rivers.

Shashe River is a major left bank tributary of the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe rising northwest of Francistown.

While its flow lasts only a few days, it contributes 12.2 percent of the annual run-off of the Limpopo Basin. Its tributaries include Simukwe, Thuli, Tati and Ramokgwebana rivers. The river is dammed near Francistown at Shashe Dam and near the village of Robelela at Dikgatlhong Dam. Shashe Dam supplies Francistown and neighbouring villages, while Dikgatlhong, with a capacity of 400 million cubic metres, supplies the south of the country.

Kgosi Shathani Sebina of Sebina village, some 58km north of Francistown, is worried that if no action is taken the river will soon be counted among the many endangered rivers across the world.

According to a global research, in total almost two-thirds of the world’s long rivers have been modified, with some of the world’s longest, including the Nile and the Rio Grande (North America) now classified as ‘endangered’. The research explains that this puts a strain on water resources, destroys ecosystems and threatens human health.

It is a trend that Kgosi Sebina is well aware off and is determined to stop.

“Our immediate threat here is illegal sand mining,” she stressed during a tour of both Nyamambisi and Shashe rivers last week.

Accompanied by two other Headmen, Kgosi Manuel Mathambo and Kgosi Boyce Bagai, Sebina said the rampant illegal mining has turned the two rivers into ‘lifeless canals’ in less than a year.

“This has impacted on the livelihoods of the people who depend on them for irrigation. This problem started last year around July when we saw an influx of trucks that ferried sand from the river. We were, however, made aware by the Department of Mines that no one has been licensed to mine in this are,” she explained.

During the tour, the three tribal leaders led The Voice to eight prime mining spots, where the culprits have left deep craters and both rivers in urgent need of rehabilitation.

“We’ve stretches where there’s no sand at all and vegetation is growing in the middle of the river due to this careless and illegal mining. People with gardens on the riverbanks have been hard hit because there’s no water. All the sand that stores water is being shipped out!” lamented Kgosi Sebina, her fiery mood not helped by the relentless midday sun.

The tribal leader called on the Department of Mines to intervene and stop the trend before further damage is done.

She also suggested that Village Development Committees in the affected villages could be the custodians of the rivers, opining that perhaps they should be in charge of sand mining.

“We’ve called the culprits and had a word with them, but now they’ve resorted to mining at night. If we’re not careful, this river will one day run dry,” warned Sebina, whose sentiments were echoed by Kgosi Mathambo.

“If no action is taken, Shashe and Nyamambisi will soon be dead rivers. The law has to be enforced and applicable mining licences issued to those who have shown interest in mining sand here. This will make it easy to monitor as the licence holder will be guided by laid down regulations,” he said.

Meanwhile, police in the area confirmed that illegal sand mining is a serious problem around Sebina and Nshagashogwe.

Assistant Superintendent Amos Kurusa of Tutume Police Station told The Voice they arrested a man on 30th March around the Nshagashogwe mining spot.

“A certain Tapiwa Thipe, 37, was found mining sand around 1900hrs using a Volvo Tipper Truck. He was arrested and fined P2, 000,” revealed the top cop.

It is a start but, as Kgosi Sebina is quick to note, there is still a long way to go!

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