Communities around Mulanje Mountain are taking turns to guard a point at the foot of Mulanje Mountain to stop Blantyre Water Board from launching the $22 million water project aimed at supplying water to the commercial city Blantyre.
The communities started guarding the river course a day after Blantyre Water Board (BWB) unveiled India-based SMC Infrastructure Private Limited as the contractor to undertake the Likhubula Water Supply Project which is being financed by a loan from the Exim Bank of India.
The group, which comprises local tour guides, farmers, traders and religious groups from traditional authorities Mabuka, Nkanda and Chikumbu, says that their livelihoods rest on the resources from Mulanje Mountain and therefore want BWB to first plant trees in some designated areas.
A member of the group calling themselves Citizens for the Protection of Mulanje (CPM) Emmanuel Ephraim from Nankhonyo Village, T/A Nkanda said they feared that BWB had reneged on its earlier commitment to plant trees before commencing the project.
“Our decision to guard the river follows BWB and government’s unwillingness to arrive at a negotiated settlement. This mountain and the river form part of our lives. Any threat to this river is a threat to our own livelihoods as well,” Ephraim said in an interview on Wednesday.
The community also wants BWB to first replant trees in the river’s catchment area at the Chambe basin and tap water from a point downstream of Dziwe la Nkhalamba, a popular tourist attraction site and not at Dziwe la Nkhalamba. They also want BWB to fully compensate all affected people along the route of the project area.
Leader of the group David Majeweta claimed they are ready to fight if the board does not want to address their concerns. Let them bring the military but we are not going to give away our lifeline just because we want to please some people.
“For this reason, we will fight to the end until what we agreed with BWB in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is fulfilled. We do not have guns and bombs but if necessary, we will use our traditional weapon as Lhomwe people, which is magic.”
Group village headwoman Gibisani of T/A Nkanda said people’s anger was now turning towards traditional leaders.
Said GVH Gibisani: “The authorities should come and negotiate with us otherwise people are baying for our [chiefs] blood, thinking that we have been given money to allow BWB carry out the project. While we are not stopping the project, we want our concerns addressed first.”
Currently BWB produces 78 000 cubic metres of water from the Shire River and an additional 6 000 cubic metres from Mudi Dam against a daily demand of 110 000 cubic metres of water per day.
BWB spokesperson Prscilla Mateyu said she was not mandated to comment on the project. But she said Bakuwa was abroad. n