Discovery and Displacement: Mining Investors’ relationship with communities
By Calvin Manika
In the recent, past Zimbabwe has been receiving mining investors from around the globe. The bulk of the investors being Sino companies and a few from Europe. The government has signed various ‘mega deals’ with China, as the world’s second largest economy continue to support and cooperate with it in economic development.
Amidst the influx of mining investors, most Zimbabweans have fallen off with the Chinese investments. Sino companies are alleged of invading both human habitats and game reserves resulting in displacing people from their ancestral land.
Zimbabwe is endowed with vast tracks of mineral resources like gold, diamond, platinum, coal, nickel and other precious stones. Among the most sought-after resources in the country is the granite stone which is used in the construction of magnificent structures in Europe and other countries.
In the past 2 years, areas affected in Zimbabwe are Hwange, Murehwa and Mavuradonha with the Chinese investors sometimes defying the law prompting protests in the affected communities. The greatest fear among residents and villagers is forced displacement and uncompensated loss of livelihoods.
Historically, mines are found where human beings live.
A mining expert Owen Mashiri says mining is a great investment the country needs for its economic development. However, he says modalities after the discovery of the minerals need to be closely looked at especially on the relationship between the investors and the communities where minerals are being discovered.
“I think we must take the blame to ourselves as Zimbabweans. For instance, Chinese and Germany nationals are foreigners. When they come over here, we are the ones responsible for guiding them on their investments. Unfortunately, of late, most of the contact people disregard the input of local people who are custodians of their communities, making investments sour and mining impossible,” says Mashiri.
Mining companies in Zimbabwe conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before commencing operations. EIA is widely realized as a development tool for guiding project development and management. This recognition stems from the realization that past development projects that were carried out prior to EIA legislation have not only failed to yield maximum benefits to society and the economy at large but have also caused serious and irreversible damage to the environment.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) says they have been using this tool in promoting sustainable development in Zimbabwe.
“Essentially, the document specifies how the EIA process has been realigned in line with the ‘Ease of Doing Business’. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an important and necessary process which seeks to enhance the ability to make informed decisions on development projects for Sustainable Development. The National Environmental Policy and Strategy complemented by the EIA policy emphasizes due diligence on proposed projects prior to implementation. This idea is underpinned by the need to enhance positive impacts and the mitigation or avoidance of negative social, cultural, and environmental impacts of any development,” says EMA.
Globally, EIAs are an indispensable part of any development process. The United Nations Environment Programme recognizes the importance of EIAs in the promotion of sustainable development. Development should be socially acceptable, economically viable, technically appropriate and environmentally friendly while considering justice and equity within and between generations. Through EIA communities are involved.
“The communities are always involved, and must be fully heard, they are the key determinants on giving a nod on the mining operations. However, of late some contact people are involving just a handful people allegedly representing the community, which is wrong and most of times not true as we hear issues of bribing community leadership in most of the affected areas,” says Mashiri.
In Dinde, Hwange conservationists said the mining operations will affect locals and wildlife and they urged authorities to move away from coal production toward renewable energies. Many Dinde villagers were opposed to the coal mining project by Beifa Investments. About 600 families feared being displaced.
“We were never consulted on this project. How on earth can any sane person agree to a project which will take away our homesteads, grazing lands, destroy our graveyards and affect our only source of water. We don’t support it,” said one of the villagers.
However, EMA said all was above board and the Dinde community concerns will be looked after in the agreement, and it is the responsibility of the agency to monitor compliance. In Murehwa, villages said Jinding mining company in their area was destroying roads, bridges, the environment and blasting activities caused cracks to their homes. The government had to intervene after a public outcry.
A community development academic, Antony Moyo said it is important to create an environment that will attract investment in extractive industries.
“It should be win-win situation to both the investor and the communities. We need investors in mining to respect our locals and sustain the environment. Otherwise, it’s an issue we can deal with at policy level and see it through working in all stages of investment.”