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Illegal dam construction on Munte River: Chisenga Beriat & 8 Others v Serenje Properties Limited

On 3 February 2022, fifty-five community members (“Petitioners”), with the assistance of the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), filed a Petition in the High Court of Zambia against Mr. Gregg Alexander Badcock and his company Serenje Properties Limited.

The petitioners were, among other things seeking:

  • A declaration and order that the taking over of the Petitioners’ customary land and constructing a dam thereon is unconstitutional and is therefore null and void;
  • A declaration and an order that the Petitioners are to continue enjoying their land in accordance with the customary law of the area and its attendant rights before the attempted construction of the dam;
  • An order to cancel and invalidate any decision to construct the dam which covers the land occupied and the river used and enjoyed by the Petitioners under customary tenure;
  • An order to restore the land back to the Petitioners of the same extent they had historically enjoyed and to restore Munte River to its natural flow;
  • An order of damages and compensation for the destroyed land and for depriving the Petitioners, their families and household access and use of their customary land and the river;
  • An order of damages and compensation for the destroyed for depriving the Petitioners, their families and household access and use of their customary land for cultivation;
  • An order of mandatory requiring Mr Gregg Alexander Badcock and his company Serenje Properties Limited, at its expense, to undertake reasonable and necessary remedial action in relation to the environment and other damages to land, air, water and other environmental aspects of the Petitioners’ natural resources.

Background information

In October 2021, Mr. Gregg Alexander Badcock and his company, Serenje Properties Limited, began illegally constructing a dam on the Munte River. This river is a natural boundary between a farm owned by Mr. Badcock and Serenje Properties Limited and occupied customary land. The construction of the dam has resulted in the displacement of over thirty families upstream and has affected numerous downstream residents in Munte and surrounding areas. These activities, carried out with impunity, have caused human and environmental rights violations.

The Munte River is an essential water source for the communities living in Senior Chief Muchinda, as it flows throughout the year. However, on 2 November 2022, the river was completely blocked, depriving the downstream communities of water. When the water was finally allowed to flow through a trench or canal, it was found to be overly soiled for domestic use. Additionally, during the COVID-19 restrictions, Mr. Gregg Alexander Badcock destroyed the forest that the downstream communities rely on for their survival.

The construction of a dam on the Munte River and the massive destruction of forests and vegetation were carried out without conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment and obtaining prior approval from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA). ZEMA confirmed that the only approval granted to Mr Gregg Alexander Badcock and his company, Serenje Properties Limited, was to construct a dam within his Farm. However, the dam was being built on the Munte River, where no approval was granted.

On 8 December 2021, ZEMA issued a Compliance Order to Serenje Properties Limited, instructing them to halt all activities related to the construction of a dam on the Munte River and to restore its natural flow within two months. Although Serenje Properties Limited complied with the order and ceased further construction, they failed to restore the river to its natural flow within the given timeframe.

In March of 2022, the respondents filed an application opposing the High Court’s jurisdiction to determine the matter. On 23 March 2023, the High Court Ruling that the Respondent’s application should be dismissed.The court has yet to decide on a date for the hearing of the main matter.