Experts at the US $1 billion Nacala Railway Corridor project which will pass through Neno, Mwanza and Balaka have laughed off suggestions that they have stumbled upon gold deposits.
News that gold has been discovered along the corridor has caused commotion among communities. Reports reaching Malawi News say that there have been ugly scenes between workers on the railway project in Neno and locals over what it is believed to be gold being exposed by heavy plants working on the site.
There were reported clashes towards the end of last week in the areas of traditional authorities Simon and Chekucheku where the two parties tussled over alleged gold nuggets which are gold fragments weathered from an original deposit of metalliferous (gold) ore.
While T/A Simon did not confirm the incidents in an interview, his counterpart Chekucheku said he had received such reports.
Noel German, Contractual Matters Manager for Mota Engil who are constructing the railway line, said there is no way the company can stumble upon gold with the way the work is carried out.
But Dereck Mlambwadza, a resident of Neno, narrated how tempers flared on a stretch under T/A Simon last week when a crane working on the site exposed some precious stones which ignited a fierce feud between the workers and villagers.
“All along we have been suspecting that the workers at the site are reaping precious stones from this area. So when the stones (gold) were exposed by the machinery, villagers started to pick them up and the workers were not pleased claiming locals were interfering with work at the site,” he said.
The commotion is said to have resulted into a physical fight where a number of people sustained injuries. The reports exposes fears of illegal mining activities which are said to be taking place in some areas around Mwanza, Neno and Ntcheu districts which are rumoured to be laden with mineral deposits.
T/A Chekucheku expressed worry over the incidents which he described as a ‘wake up call’.
“We have heard those reports that people were fighting over gold. It is scaring to us because we have never been told officially that our land has mineral resources. For some time we have been told that some people were extracting some stones from this area but we are still trying to gather evidence,” he said.
German, however, said the company’s contractual agreement with Vale Logistics has a component of environmental management plan which provides the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ on the social economic issues that arise in connection to the project.
In this project even when you accidentally kill a snake you have to write a report explaining how this happened; in fact if you find a snake, avoid it,” he said.
German said when they get artefacts like suicide graves work is stopped until experts from the Department of Antiquities are called.
“We had a tree which traditional leaders said we could not get rid of without some ritual ceremonies, the company provided food stuff for the ceremony,” he said.
He, however, said the confusion might be coming from some part of the project in Mwanza where someone is running a concession to explore gold and it is that concessionaire who has dug burrow pits for the process. – By Archibald Kasakura and Gregory Gondwe