Friday, December 9

“They want to take us out and take the stone,” say Zimbabweans living near Chinese-owned mines | Global development

A convoy of trucks loaded with huge black granite boulders makes their way down the dusty road as a group of villagers look on sadly.

Every day, more than 60 trucks transport granite for export along this bumpy road through the village of Nyamakope in the Mutoko district, 90 miles east of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

The air reverberates with gusts and the noises of heavy machinery as the mountain above the town slowly shrinks, slab by slab. Quarrying has been going on here since the 1980s.

The Mutoko stone is sought after for its brilliance. It is a popular material for tombstones. An extension of the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, known as the Black Diamond, is clad in Mutoko granite.

Water reflected in the Mutoko granite façade of the Black Diamond extension at the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen.
Water reflected in the Mutoko granite façade of the Black Diamond extension at the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen. Photography: Architecture2000 / Alamy

The Buja people who live here say that as mining companies extract wealth from the mountain, they leave a trail of damaged roads and bridges, dangerous pollutants and dirty air. You can see cracks in the houses and debris from the explosion is everywhere.

Now, a Chinese mining company has told 50 families in the village that they will have to leave their homes and lands. Inhabitants of four other villages in the district fear losing their ancestral lands as well.

Two families, including an 82-year-old villager and his wife, have already been relocated by the Jinding mining company, which wants to build a polishing plant.

“The 82-year-old broke down when he heard the news because he never anticipated it. He was later resurrected in hospital. This is how bad things are here, ”says Claudine Mupereri *, 38.

She says the man was told that his house was within the area authorized by the government to the mining company. Zimbabwe Communal areas law It gives the president power to decide the use of an area that constitutes 40% of the country’s land, home to approximately 70% of the population.

“These companies do not respect the communities. If the government doesn’t protect us, where will we get the protection we need? “says Mupereri.

Two other families received $ 2,500 (£ 1,840) to rebuild their homes, but community leaders say this is insufficient.

“There is uncertainty around this town. Right now, we don’t have anyone willing to help us because our councilor doesn’t want to help us. Anyone who dares to speak is threatened. Whether they take us out or not, we are already afraid to speak out, ”says Anesu Nyamuzuwe *.

The 40-year-old father of four is afraid of losing 12 acres of land, his only source of income.

“I have a good farm with fertile soil. My agriculture always meets the requirements of my home. I had built a good house and I am close to the center of Mutoko, so I am not sure if I will ever have a piece of land like this again, ”he says.

“What is more important, the investors or the villagers? We should have the right to reject these people from entering our community. “

Cut up the remaining granite blocks in a farmland in Mutoko.
Cutting granite blocks on a farm in Mutoko. Those who live near mining sites say that companies are not restoring the land after extraction. Photography: Grace Chingono

The Jinding mining company in China could not be reached for comment.

A manager and interpreter at the company’s Mutoko plant says that families living within the 500 hectares that the company is licensed to operate will be relocated. but he adds: “the people who are making the claims [to mining companies] have a problem. Why are you giving them [companies] so much land? This land is almost 500 hectares, I am sure you already know that people live in this place ”.

Zimbabwe has enjoyed a close relationship with China for decades. But the link between the two countries was solidified when western states imposed Economic sanctions on the government of Robert Mugabe. When credit and investment dried up, China intervened.

In 2018, relations between Zimbabwe and China rose from “all weather friends” to strategic partners, paving the way for Chinese investors to invest money in the country, particularly in the extractive industries, where they have been accused of paying little attention to environmental damage caused by the environment and human rights activists.

Those who live near the granite mines say that the companies are failing to restore the land after extraction. Open wells are left uncovered, endangering children and wildlife.

The Zimbabwean government has been accused of turning a blind eye to complaints because, critics say, it does not want to anger its biggest investor.

The miners speak of poor working conditions. At another Mutoko mine, workers report beatings and poor wages.

Imagine going to work every day for more than 12 hours and getting $ 50 at the end of it all. When I get home I am tired. My home knows no peace, ”a worker tells The Guardian.

“My friend was hit with a steel bar and another 17-year-old broke his arm after being late for work. They gave him $ 250 as compensation after the villagers complained. “

A truck carrying black granite.
A truck carrying black granite. Villagers affected by mining say they are often too scared to challenge companies. Photography: Grace Chingono

In 2020, two workers were shot and injured in Gweru, central Zimbabwe, allegedly by a Chinese miner after a dispute over wages.

Evelyn Kutyauripo, a legal assistant for the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela), which has been rallying villagers in Mutoko to resist evictions, says local officials must protect people.

“I blame the bosses and councilors because they are working with the Chinese. They should support the community, ”he says, adding that the companies were taking from the communities and not helping them develop.

“They are not developing anything in the community. They should have a strong corporate social responsibility because they are killing our environment. We are suffering, our houses are cracking and there is pollution. The government should come to see what is happening ”.

Another Chinese mining company, Shanghau Haoying Mining Investments, is also causing unrest among the inhabitants of Nyamaropa.

Last year, it was reported that the company received a license from the government to mine granite on tracts of land owned by the local population.

“I heard that they want to take us out so they can take the stone underneath, but people don’t want to. They will have to use weapons to get us out here, ”says 34-year-old Gladman Murape *.

Shanghau could not be reached for comment.

Richard Ncube, a Zela legal officer, says people in Mutoko were “extremely concerned” about the evictions. “The biggest challenge is that they live in the dark and they are not sure what is going to happen.”

He said people were too scared to challenge the company. “We have gathered that most of the communities [in Mutoko] they are afraid to come forward and take these matters to court because of intimidation and fear of being victims, ”says Ncube.

Attempts to challenge mining companies in other parts of Zimbabwe have had mixed results.

Workers at a black granite site in Mutoko.
Workers at a black granite site in Mutoko. Miners in the region speak of poor working conditions, including beatings and low wages. Photograph: Desmond Kwande / AFP / Getty

In November, the Heijin mining company lost his mining license in Murehwa, a district about 55 miles from Harare, after local leaders complained to the government that the company planned to evict locals.

In 2020, Zela participated in the successful fight for revoke licenses to extract coal in Hwange National Park, the largest national park in the country, home to 40,000 elephants. Following the protests, the government banned mining in all of its national parks.

However, in September, hundreds of people in the Chikomba district, 80 miles south of the capital, were evicted from their ancestral homes to make way for a billion dollar iron and steel mining project.

The Zimbabwean government says it has not received any reports of worker abuse at Chinese-owned mines, but encouraged workers to report any incidents.

The Vice Minister of Mines, Polite Kambamura, urged the villagers to approach the ministry if they had problems.

“We have not heard of any Chinese company that has relocated people to Mutoko. If the villagers are not happy, they can either approach our provincial mining office in Marondera or come directly to the ministry, ”he says.

“We understand that if there is ever a company that wants to relocate people, it must involve the community to buy that social license from the community.”

Kambamura adds that an environmental impact assessment, to ensure that environmental, social, economic and cultural issues related to any mining project are considered before it begins, must also be conducted by the company and must address any concerns.

The Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Mutoko leaders were also contacted for comment.

* Names have been changed

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