Mounting Calls For Action Over Increasing Environmental And Infrastructure Degradation
By Bongani Siziba
Conflicts between communities in Mutoko, Zimbabwe and Chinese-owned mining companies such as Shanghai Haoyuan, Jinding Mining and Bozimo are causing havoc among villagers in Nyamakope.
Nyamakope village – in the district of Mutoko – is about 100 miles east of Harare where local communities say they are being forced from their ancestral lands without compensation to pave the way for mining operations.
They say they are not sure what the future holds now that these Chinese companies are exploring quarry mining of black granite in the region, a cause of concern.
Similarly in Marange – Manicaland province in Chiadzwa – hundreds of villagers were also forced off their land in 2011 and till today many face displacement to make way for Chinese firms.
It’s 5am. The pale blue sky is floating with white clouds, the breeze blowing the leaves beside the road, while birds leap back and forth on trees as if telling us that a new day has begun. My cameraman and l are miles away from a town that we call home.
With us is Ngonidzashe Chimombe who is taking his cattle for an early morning graze before he heads off to his daily job at Bozimo Granite – a Chinese-owned mine.
This granite mine has not yielded meaningful benefits to the community, he says pointing to heaps of black sand protruding from the trees afar.
From afar we could see a cortege of trucks overloaded with huge black granite rocks whirl along the dusty pathway to an unknown destination.
On a typical day it is impossible to fail to note many of these trucks, Chimombe says.
Every day more than 50 trucks take granite for export along this rugged road through this village in the district of Mutoko.
Bozimo mining is one of the companies that were reportedly given a government mining licence to mine granite on tracts of land belonging to local people. Communities around have expressed concern about the increasing environmental and infrastructure degradation that is leaving trails of open pits which are now death traps for humans and livestock.
Zimbabwe has enjoyed a close relationship with China for decades. But the bond between the two countries solidified when western states imposed economic sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s government. As credit lines and investments dried up, China stepped in.
Since 2018, Zimbabwe-Chinese relations were elevated from strategic partners, paving the way for Chinese investors to pour money into the country, particularly in the extractive industries, where they have been accused of paying little attention to environmental damage by environmental and human rights activists.
According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) – a UK – based international research organisation – in Zimbabwe these impacts can only be described as catastrophic, as some of these Chinese companies don’t use proper channels to operate in Zimbabwe.
And as such, the recklessness of not rehabilitating land after mining is causing water pollution, air pollution, land degradation, loss of life in some cases, and some cases of displacement in communities.
Villagers in these affected areas claim that some Chinese companies discharge toxic waste into their water sources resulting in human diseases, a drop in crop yields, death of livestock, and dwindling numbers of fish in the rivers.
Tailings from the mines are clogging dams and rivers and affecting the availability of water for irrigation.
At least 20 families in the village have lost their ancestral land in previous years. Some of them were promised compensation that they have not received up to date.
While those who are still living in the community were promised jobs at the mine and a healthcare facility.
Eveline Kutyauripo (43) a Community Paralegal from Ward five has been living in this community for years, and she says their rights as the community are being violated by the mining company.
“We see our precious stones being transported out daily, but as the community has no gain they promised to build infrastructures for us in exchange but we have a clinic that has been sitting unfinished for thirteen years,” Kutyauripo says.
Those living near granite mines say companies are failing to restore the land after extraction. Open pits are left uncovered, endangering children. In 2020 two children fell into one of the pits and died.
Zimbabwe’s government has been accused of turning a blind eye to these complaints because – critics say – it doesn’t want to anger its biggest investor. “They leave open pits, and it’s a danger to our children and livestock,” Kutyauripo added.
Locals allege that some Chinese companies do not pay any heed to Zimbabwean law, the citizens’ legal rights and instead discriminate against them from the onsite Chinese miners by paying them low wages of merely US$40 per month.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) for Mashonaland east province, Austus Mutikinimabwe denied the human rights abuses by some Chinese companies in the area, although he acknowledged that his department has had several engagements on the allegations with the granite mining companies together with the community members and the civil societies.
“To some extent l can say Yes or No that the Chinese granite companies are violating locals’ rights. As far as EMA is concerned we do bi-annual monitoring where we check if the companies are adhering to the laws.
Of course there might be violations here and there but they are not as pronounced as the villagers claim,” he added.
He further said that his department does not deal with villagers’ evictions and compensations.
According to blog (link https://www.aiddata.org/blog) published by Aiddata which is affiliated with William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, Zimbabwe has enjoyed benefits from Chinese financing, in exchange for securing licenses for Chinese companies to extract diamonds and other natural resources in high demand at home.
While mining has been identified as a key sector for the attainment of National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) goals, the impact of some mining operations in the Mutoko has become a cause for concern.
The Zimbabwean government availed Statutory Instrument 104 of 2021 Environmental Management (Control of Alluvial Mining) (Amendment) Regulations, 2021 (No. 2) which regulates the mining operations in the country.
Section 3(1) of the law stipulates that: (3) Subject to section 3(1), alluvial mining shall not take place on— (a) land within 200m of the naturally defined banks; or (b) land within 200m of the highest flood level of any body of water conserved in a natural or artificially constructed lake or reservoir; or (c) any bed, banks or course of any river or stream; or (d) land within 200m from any wetland. (4) Subject to section 3(1), consideration for certification shall include relevant variables such as geology, hydrogeology.
BHRRC in their report says Africa has the second highest number of allegations of human rights abuses, with 26,7% of the claims recorded against Chinese companies operating abroad from 2013 to 2020.
Asia- Pacific has the most with 39.6% and Asia third- highest with 26%, the report says describing the three regions as “high risks: https://media.business-humanrights.org/media/documents/2021_BHRRC_China_Briefing.pdf .”
Mutoko black granite stone is sought after for its lustre. It is a popular material for tombstones. An extension to the Danish royal library in Copenhagen, known as the Black Diamond, is clad in Mutoko granite.
The increasing demand on the international market has spurred a rush by both local and Chinese companies to set up operations to mine the sought-after mineral from various provinces in Zimbabwe.
In Nyamakope village there are at least eleven granite mines, of which only seven of them are still functioning.
One of the villagers, Elizabeth Chikuni (51), said that most of them work without contracts, which makes it easy for the Chinese to manipulate them.
“We don’t have signed contracts, when they mistreat us we cannot complain because they always tell us that we do not have signed contracts, and we are underpaid because of this,” said Chikuni.
Siziba is a Photo-Journalist based in Johannesburg. This reporting was supported by Earth Journalism Network (EJN)
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