Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda on Monday had a rude awakening when irate residents in Likhubula, Mulanje blocked him from visiting a proposed intake point for Blantyre Water Board (BWB) in Mulanje Mountain.
Community members, trading under the banner Citizens for the Protection of Mulanje Mountain (CPM), blocked the road to Mulanje Mountain where the water intake point is located.
Tension started building up at Likhubula where the minister, his Principal Secretary (PS) Erica Maganga, Mulanje district commissioner (DC) Fred Movete, Mulanje Pasanimember of Parliament (MP) Angie Kaliati (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) and BWB officials had gathered to brief each other on the intended project.
When the minister and other officials arrived at the scene and took seats under a tent erected at Likhubula ground, the people started chanting songs whose lyrics were apparently against the function to initiate the project that, if it materialises, could see BWB pumping water from Mulanje Mountain. The project has an initial funding of K17.1 billion
Chaponda, after enduring several minutes of the protest chants, invited the group’s leader to explain what was happening.
David Majeweta, identified as CPM secretary general, explained to the minister and his entourage that the group was not really opposing the project, but wanted several issues addressed first.
Said Majeweta: “We are not happy that water be tapped from Mulanje Mountain in its state. We first would like government to plant trees over an area covering 3 500 hectares to make sure water coming from the mountain is enough.
“We also want to benefit from the potable water that will be pumped from Likhubula to Blantyre. We are ready to work with government in the planting of trees. We are concerned about the future.”
His remarks drew a round of applause from his followers.
The situation appeared to have calmed when Majeweta left the tent after the minister had agreed to address the people on return from the proposed project site. However, in a sudden twist of events, as the officials went to board their vehicles for the trip uphill, the people blocked the road with stones and tree branches.
Some were seen pelting stones at the vehicles, including Chaponda’s official vehicle, a Toyota Prado.
That was the end of the trip to BWB’s proposed new intake dam site.
In an interview after the trip was aborted, Chaponda said it was unfortunate that the group was misinformed because in the implementation of the project there is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) package set to benefit them.
He said: “The first social responsibility will be the planting of over 6 000 trees in the mountain and secondly, people will also benefit from the project.
“In fact, one of the requirements that the designers have is to see if people will benefit from the water en route to Blantyre.
“I think these people are being misinformed by their leader who was not there, but I know him. Again, people have to understand that the mountain is not necessarily for the people of Mulanje, but for all Malawians.”
BWB board chairperson James Naphambo, also speaking in an interview, said the developments were an indication that there have been some problems in the past, which impinge on social responsibility.
He said BWB was assuring the people that it will look into the aspects of social responsibility because it is obliged as a company to do something about it.
Recently, the project got a $23.5 million (around K17.1 billion) line of credit (LoC) from Exim Bank of India as part of its financing.
The LoC was authorised by Parliament in July after Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe tabled a Loan Authorisation Bill.
BWB is seeking an alternative source of water in Mulanje to complement its long existing Walker’s Ferry on Shire River, which has been facing challenges, including siltation, leading to water supply challenges to the growing population in the commercial capital.
- Target areas for the project include Bangwe, Namiyango, Limbe, Mpingwe, BCA Hill and Nguludi.
- The project is set to benefit an estimated population of 140 000 people, projected to reach 187 000 by 2035.
- The design of the new water source from Likhubula River is mainly dependent on the amount and availability of water in the river throughout the year. These two parameters have, therefore, been studied.
- Apart from supplying water to the stressed Blantyre City, surrounding districts such as Thyolo and Chiradzulu are also set to benefit.
- BWB planned to carry out the project to meet water demand to the year 2040.
- The project is partly being financed with a loan of $23.5 million (around K17.1 million at current exchange rate) from Exim Bank of India.
- This is not the first time for CPM, initially Mulanje Concerned Citizens, to be involved in such issues as between 2013 and 2014 the grouping fought for the control of Mulanje Mountain with the Mulanje Mountain Conservative Trust (MMCT). The issues made headlines in the media in those years.