CHIVHU and Mvuma communities, particularly those relocated to pave way for the establishment of the US$1.5 billion Manhize Steel Plant, say their lives have deteriorated despite the project being hyped up as a game changer in the nation’s economy, raising fears of another resource curse, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) says.
The plant, owned by Dinson Iron and Steel (Disco), a local subsidiary of the Chinese firm Tsingshan, is located between Mvuma and Chivhu. It has been touted as Africa’s largest integrated steel plant.
Granted National Project Status by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in June last year, the plant is anticipated to commence operations in August this year, producing over 1.2 million tonnes of steel annually while employing at least 1 000 workers.
While the steel plant has been touted as a project that will transform the lives of impoverished locals in the surrounding communities of Nyikavanhu and Manhize, preliminary indications show that there have been no signs of development in those villages, a year after.
Findings by CNRG show that Disco has failed to fulfill many of its promises to the local people who were displaced when the company set up its plant last year.
“Recently our team visited the vast plant under construction to establish the impact of the new development on the local socio-economic, cultural, and environmental fabric of the host community.
“Setting up of the iron ore crushing site and the steel processing plant relocated an average of 20 families to surrounding areas around the Nyikavanhu area. The relocation was voluntary after beneficiaries were promised some money, a borehole, and a new house.
“Most families agreed to the relocation plan, some refused, citing poor soils at the proposed new sites. The only promise fulfilled was the construction of a new house consisting of four rooms and a hut. Only one borehole was drilled for the families to share,” CNRG said in a report.
The communities say living conditions have continued to worsen since the setting up of the steel plant in their area last year, with relocated families facing difficulty in accessing water, among other basic amenities with the lone borehole drilled faraway from some of the homesteads.
Findings have also revealed doubts over the infrastructure, with the new houses starting to crack, a year after they were built.
“The road infrastructure in the area has been worsened by the plant’s construction of vehicles. This has affected transport availability for the locals as the small vehicles plying the route can no longer easily access it due to their low clearance levels. This means community members have to walk further towards the Mhondoro-Mubaira route to access transport to the nearby Chivhu town where they access essential goods and services.
“Manhize primary and secondary school infrastructure is in a dilapidated state. The learning environment is in a deplorable state depicting medieval infrastructure which is uncouth and incompatible for learners in this modern era.
“The classrooms are built from iron sheets which are being destroyed by rust. Dinson made promises to assist with construction of the school which the community had already begun with 1 block almost completed. This promise has not been fulfilled yet and there are fears that it may not be fulfilled,” CNRG said.
While reports claim Disco had employed over 800 people by February this year, CNRG’s findings reveal that the local people have hardly benefitted from preliminary stages of the project, casting doubt over its ability to benefit them in the long run.
For instance, while Disco promised local communities employment in non-skilled operations of the plant, the company has been importing employees from other districts in which it has subsidiaries.
The workers lack job security, with any employees complaining of low wages and poor working conditions being threatened with dismissal, while some are summarily fired.
Local workers complain that they are subjected to inferior working conditions compared to their Chinese counterparts.
For instance, the company is building staff quarters at its crushing site, with six workers expected to share a unit. But Chinese employees enjoy more spacious and affluent housing units.
Extraction of iron ore in the Manhize mountainous region has led to environmental degradation, with large unsightly open pits mushrooming in the area.
“The Manhize Mountain was also a source of food and fruits which formed part of their livelihoods. It also served as a recreational facility with some of its scenic spots. The steel plant has ripped off all these benefits.
“Manhize is a cattle ranching area. The communities now struggle with grazing land for their livestock after the steel plant took over most of the grazing lands and dipping tanks.
“Communities must find alternative rich grazing lands which are faraway in some instances. This poses a risk for their young boys who herd the cattle as they will be too faraway from their homes,” CNRG said.
Manhize Steel project director Wilfred Motsi told The NewsHawks that Disco is doing a lot to improve livelihoods of the local people.
“The houses are in order. There are no cracks there. If there are any, they are just minor cracks. In terms of social amenities, there are five boreholes that are being drilled, starting from today (Thursday).
“We are still in a process. We started the houses, now it is the boreholes and we are opening the land, three hectares for each relocated farmers. We are building a bridge for the people to be linked. I think we are doing a better service compared to what the people are saying.
“In terms of roads, we have constructed one of the best roads which links Manhize and the site. There is a bridge that has already been constructed. The road was impassable during the rainy season, but there is a nice bridge that is there now,” Motsi said.