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Mangochi forest under foreigners’ siege

By Yohane Symon:

MUNTHALI—Authorities have failed

Namizimu Forest in Mangochi, which has for the past two years been at the centre of illegal mining activities, has now turned into a battlefield between local and foreign illegal miners.

Our investigations have established that the government-owned forest is now in the hands of foreigners mainly from Mozambique, Tanzania and South Sudan who are chasing away all Malawians interested in the mining activities.

On several occasions, resistant Malawians and the foreigners have found themselves in bloody scuffles over the minerals available in the area.

All this is happening three months after Malawi Defence Force soldiers, who were guarding the forest, left the area.

The forest is reported to have huge deposits of corundum stones which are currently being mined using open-cast as well as digging trenches.

Wezi Thawale, who claims to have been given two licences, told The Daily Times that she and her workers nearly lost their lives at the hands of foreigners who have now seized control of the forest.

Thawale said she got two licences, one to do with exploration and another for buying and selling precious stones.

“When we arrived in Namizimu, we were told not to conduct any activity. They refused to recognise our licences. When we tried to resist, they attacked us and confiscated all our items and money with which we wanted to buy some stones. One of my boys nearly lost his life at the hands of the foreigners,” Thawale said.

She said she reported the matter to Mangochi and Makanjira police stations for them to intervene but the officers are yet to respond.

Thawale estimates that there are 200 foreigners at the site, adding that it is becoming difficult for Malawians with licenses to operate in the forest.

“Now it is like the land belongs to them and not Malawi. We are afraid to go there because the foreigners have some weapons which they can harm us with,” she claimed.

Director of Mines, Jalf Salima, said he had not received any report that Malawians are being harassed in forest.

Salima also declined to comment as to whether his department has issued licences to some Malawians, like Thawale, to buy and sell minerals from the forest.

But in an interview, chairperson for Natural Resources Justice Network, Kossam Munthali, explained that what is happening in Mangochi is a sign that the government has failed to protect the interests of its people.

He said the incidences in the forest signal a collapsing and corrupt mining sector that is not willing to reform for the benefit of the people.

“This is an indication that some leaders do not have a clue on what to do about the mining sector. On top of that, the way licensing is done shows that there are some individuals who are benefiting from the illegal mining activities taking place in the country,” Munthali said.

He added that civil society organisations in the sector will meet to discuss how best to solve the matter.

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