TENSION is rising between villagers in ward 25, Chiredzi East and the management of Indian firm Coal Zimbabwe, with the community accusing the company of exploiting local resources without undertaking corporate social responsibilities in an area which is one of the least developed in the country.
The firm, whose owners are close to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, began exploring for coal at Chisambiji, 40 kilometres east of Chiredzi, in 2005 and early this year the community led by traditional leaders and local politicians threatened to stop operations at the mine in protest at the failure to plough back to the community.
The protest stopped after the intervention of state agents who threatened protest leaders with unspecified action. Villagers are however threatening to halt the company’s operations again.
Chief Tshovani, born Felix Mundau, told The NewsHawks that the community is aggrieved by the way Coal Zimbabwe is operating in the area. He said after locals raised concerns, the company promised to address the issues, but has not fulfilled its promises.
“There are concerns which were raised by the community in respect of corporate social responsibility. They feel that the company should undertake projects which develop the area since they are taking resources from it. After some discussions, the company promised to do something and we are waiting for the fulfilment of the promise,” said Mundau.
Chiredzi Rural District Council chairperson Edward Matsilele, who is also ward 25 councillor, told The NewsHawks that the Indian firm is ignoring calls for developmental projects in the area despite witnessing disturbing mining explosions on a daily basis. He said some officials linked to the company are treating the concerns by the people as extortion instead of addressing them.
“People were quiet for many years, but it is now surprising that we are now being labelled as extortionists for demanding what this company is owing us. Several houses and buildings are developing cracks due to mining explosions so demanding attention is not a crime.
“They only drilled a borehole at Chisambiji primary school and repaired a classroom block which was affected by explosions from their mine, but if you look at our roads, nothing is being done despite seeing heavy trucks going in and out of the mine on a daily basis” said Matsilele.
Councillor Aspect Mashingaidze of ward 32, an area which shares the boundary with ward 25, said several attempts to engage Coal Zimbabwe have failed. He said the company should look at what other companies like Tongaat Hulett, Malilangwe Trust and Gonarezhou Conservation Trust are doing to communities in Chiredzi.
Coal Zimbabwe general manager Atul Parande told The NewsHawks that the Indian firm is incapacitated to undertake major community projects since the grade of coal they are mining in Chiredzi is of a lower grade as compared to that being mined in Hwange. He said it is untrue that they are neglecting the community since they drilled a borehole and renovated a classroom block at Chisambiji Primary School and are currently working to connect electricity at the same institution.
“Our major challenge is the quality of our coal, which is low as compared to the one being mined in Hwange. Many companies are not taking from us and the few who are coming are paying us in local currency, making it difficult for us to undertake major projects for the communities around us. We are doing something for the local school and currently we are working on connecting electricity but the project is not going according to our expectations due to resource constraints,” said Parande.
Parande accused some community leaders of being misguided and thinking like people who are living in the old ages who want to benefit without doing anything.
He said the company is employing over 40 people with 90% being locals whom they trained with various skills. He said the company has done nothing wrong.
A senior politician in Chiredzi told The NewsHawks that the concerns by the community in Chiredzi East are genuine, but the Indian firm, a sister company to Steelmakers, is getting protection from the state due to its links to President Mnangagwa.
He said during the protest earlier this year the community through traditional leaders clearly demanded the departure of Parande from the mine, but state agents later threatened protest leaders who are now fearing to voice the community’s grievances.
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