By Mthulisi Mathuthu
A controversial Chinese shopping mall, built on a gazetted wetland on the outskirts of Harare, was officially opened last Saturday amid continuing concerns from residents and experts.
The Long Cheng Plaza mall, was constructed by a Chinese company called Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Corporation at an estimated cost of over $200 million.
A Daily News report on Monday quoted Collins Mnangagwa, an official at the Long Cheng Plaza, saying most shops will open next year as the tenants were still putting final touches to their premises. He said about 200 local and Chinese business people had snapped up the available space and about 400 more were on the waiting list.
However the project which began last year has always been mired in controversy. The Environmental Management Agency tried to stop the project on grounds that it was situated on a wetland.
Wetlands serve a variety of ecological services, including feeding downstream waters, trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, removing pollution and providing fish and wildlife habitat.
The environmental agency is said to have backed down from taking legal action against the Chinese due to political pressure, but not before reportedly fining the Harare City Council for the same offence.
At the time soldiers moved in to guard the construction site, leading to reports that the Zimbabwe National Army together with the then Minister of Defence, Emmerson Mnangagwa, had an interest in the project.
Warship Dumba, Chairperson of the Elected Councillors Association of Zimbabwe, said his association approached the then environment Minister Francis Nhema on discovering that the land was a gazetted wetland, but Nhema was ‘powerless’ because the project involved the army.
Dumba said they were currently involved in a campaign to stop another construction on another wetland in Borrowdale, Harare. He said the Chinese were being given a ‘blank cheque’ to destroy the country’s environment.
On Tuesday SW Radio Africa reported how two Chinese companies had caused environmental damage, including siltation, in two major rivers in the Matabeleland South Province. So extensive is the damage the natural flow of both the Insiza and Umzingwane rivers has been affected.
The Chinese are also involved with the army in Chiadzwa diamond mining and constructed the Zimbabwe Defence College. They were also involved in the construction of the ZANU PF conference center in Gweru. SW Radio Africa