Illegal sand mining continues to take place at Senga Bay in Salima, causing extensive damage to what is internationally advertised as the golden beach of lake Malawi.
According to the country’s land laws, beaches areas protected zones, but the rampant sand mining is threatening livelihoods that depend on Lake Malawi.
The National Land Policy declares any land 50 metres from the lake as public land and a protected zone. The Mines and Minerals Act says all minerals in Malawi, including sand “are vested in the President on behalf of the people of Malawi”.
Similarly, Section 47 (1) of the Environment Management Act (2017) reads: “The authority shall, in liaison with relevant lead agencies, take all measures necessary in order to protect the river and the lake basin in Malawi from human activities that adversely affect the rivers and lakes.”
While interviews with community members and authorities suggest that the sand mining is sanctioned by traditional leaders, when contacted Senior Chief Maganga of the area said he was not aware of existence of sand mining in his area.
But when put to him that some lodge owners and the district environmental office said they had engaged him on the matter, the chief said he is working closely with district commissioners to crack down on the malpractice.
He said: “I, too, am concerned that the practice may compromise the lake which is a source of income for many.”
Owners of several lodges along the beach in Senga Bay claimed in separate interviews that they have been asking the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture to help stop the malpractice.
Said one lodge owner: “The ministry advertises Lake Malawi as having golden beaches. This would amount to cheating, especially at Senga Bay, where the beach is fast losing its value.”
When contacted, director of tourism Alice Magombo in written response said the ministry is aware of the illegal sand mining as it has received complaints from various stakeholders.
She said: “Given the nature of the issue at hand, we have engaged other government ministries like Lands and Environmental Affairs to come up with sustainable solutions to the matter.”
According to Magombo, Salima district commissioner’s (DCs) office is, in the meantime, collaborating with other stakeholders in the area to develop by-laws that will minimise environmental degradation and optimise management of land issues in the area.
On his part, Environmental Affairs Department’s environmental officer for pollution Patrick Nyirenda also acknowledged the problem, fearing it may have serious effects not only on tourism but the lake’s biodiversity.
He said: “Your concerns have just corroborated our findings that the beach is now fast degrading and the number of those getting sand from the area is increasing. We have established that most of the trucks that collect sand from the area actually buy the sand from the local communities.”
Nyirenda said from their inquiry, local chiefs are behind much of the illegal business and that as a ministry, they have taken action against wrongdoers such as having the police arrest communities involved in the mining and imposing fines on some companies for dredging the lake.
However, he decried that this has not been enough to change the situation.
Nyirenda said the ministry has since ordered the DC to take action against concerned chiefs, but efforts to summon them for a meeting have not been successful as the chiefs “are elusive”.
He also alleged the Malawi Defence Force College in the district has also been involved in the malpractice and if they are found in the wrong, they will be treated like any other culprit.
A few people that we spoke to, who were mining the sand, claimed that they have been allowed to mine from the beach by chiefs who are the custodians of the land and that they pay a commission of K2 000 per tonne which sells at K15 000.
Concerned lodge owners, too, confirmed that the illegal business is thriving due to what they called “corrupt chiefs”.
Meanwhile, one of the lodge owners has compiled a comprehensive report on who has been mining the sand, when and how much for the past 10 years to present compelling evidence to authorities.
The draft report, which The Nation has seen, is replete with pictures and registration numbers of trucks that have been collecting the sand and the estimated volume of the sand collected.