Environmental fears over Mall of Maun location

From the sky: The Mall of Maun Project area map PIC: GOOGLE MAPS
From the sky: The Mall of Maun Project area map PIC: GOOGLE MAPS

Construction of a new mall along the Thamalakane River in Maun called the Mall of Maun, has been met with environmental concerns. Hailed as the mall that will boost tourism in Maun and enhance infrastructure development in the area, it is being built on a space along Tawana I Road and Thamalakane River by Tame Malls, a citizen-owned real estate development and management company.

The groundbreaking ceremony was officially held at the beginning of March by Minister of Investment Trade and Industry Mmusi Kgafela as well as the project patron, Mmakgosi Moremi. Construction is to commence on May 1 and is due for completion by September 2023.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has confirmed that the mall is being built on a sensitive environmental site. The project is built on a floodplain which is within the Ramsar Site but outside the UNESCO World Heritage Property core zone.

DEA director, Thaloganyo Busang confirmed the findings.

“We are aware that the mall is being built in an area that is sensitive,” he told Mmegi. “The sensitivity of the area is the main reason why the project had to go through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. “The EIA study has suggested mitigation measures to address negative impacts that may arise during construction and/or implementation phases of the project.”

Explaining a floodplain, an environmentalist based in Maun, Map Ives said floodplains are a very important sub-ecosystem within the Okavango's functioning.

“The annual flooding into floodplains allows for the development of feeding and breeding habitats for many species of invertebrates, fish and amphibians whose eggs and young can thrive in the shallower water and find cover from predation amongst the emergent vegetation,” he said.

He added that in the years of high flooding, the area is flooded and the only way to keep the floodwaters out is to build a bind of the earth as has been done before or of concrete. The reason why it does not flood these days is that an earth bind has already been constructed.

But both the environmentalists and land overseers are pointing accusing fingers at the planning authorities.

The DEA says the environmental ministry is not responsible for land allocation, but only ensures that whatever purpose the land is allocated for, there are adequate and sufficient measures to minimise negative environmental impact.

Responding to questions as to why the ministry had approved the construction of a mall in a sensitive location, Busang said it was not in their mandate to stop the project.

“An EIA is not meant to stop any project, but to ensure that there are adequate and sufficient measures in place to minimise negative environmental (biophysical and socio-economic) impacts and enhance positive impacts of the activity/project. That is exactly what my ministry has done,” Busang said.

He added: “Before the project started, baseline information such as water quality status was collected and the project proponent is expected to submit regular monitoring reports to my ministry to check if there are any changes to the initially collected baseline.”

Busang, however, said that the Environmental Assessment Act allows for the amendment of the authorisation or revocation of the authorisation in case of severe unanticipated negative impacts.

In the waters: The Mall of Maun site PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
In the waters: The Mall of Maun site PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

Environmentalists argue that developers are looking for a ‘waterside wonder mall’ but the planners are failing to make plans that account for the future. Maun is already battling with traffic and developments are being piled along the already congested area.

On what mitigating actions could be done, Ives suggested that there should be deliberate plans to decongest central Maun by building high traffic projects like malls away from the already busy areas.

“Futuristic planning and concern for congestion as well as pollution from motor vehicles should mean that facilities such as a mall should be built where the people are living. “In other words, build the mall in the future suburbs of Maun such as Matlapana or close to the Letsholathebe hospital on the ridge or even in Boteti Ward. “That way you take the facilities to the people and not make the people get into their cars and go to the mall. “I can see a future Maun where there is absolute chaos in downtown and no decent facilities out where people have developed their homes,” he said.

Ives says Maun, which is being built during the Green Consciousness era, could be avoiding the mistakes many cities around the world have made where living rivers and associated floodplains and forests have been reduced to cold, lifeless canals contained between two banks of concrete. In such areas, people have grown a few trees and built pedestrian walkways and cycle paths.

“It is now recognised that these were bad mistakes and I ask that we can learn from those mistakes, not repeat them,” he said.

Speaking during the ground-breaking ceremony Tame Malls Chief Operations Officer Palesa Makepe Tiro, allayed environmental fears saying that they noted the sensitivity of the location and had engaged another citizen-owned company that deals with environmental issues to assist them.

According to project managers, the mall is expected to create 2,000 jobs during construction and another 2,500 jobs upon completion.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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