THE Centre for Research and Development (CRD), a civil society organisation, is lobbying Parliament to initiate an investigation into a Chinese-run steel company after raising concerns over the displacement and exclusion of the local community from the US$1.5 billion project.
Chivhu and Mvuma communities, particularly those relocated to pave way for the establishment of the 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.
According to the community watchdog, the Mvuma-based Dinson Iron and Steel Mining Company (Disco) is expected to create thousands of employment opportunities which the local community may not benefit from.
The plant, a local subsidiary of Chinese firm Tsingshan, is located between Mvuma and Chivhu, and has been touted as Africa’s largest integrated steel plant.
However, CRD has raised concerns over the company’s operations, which have seen more displacements after the company took over farming and grazing land, while desecrating graveyards.
In a report titled Hold Dinson to Account, CRD says the company has been undertaking its mining activities without exercising due diligence, which has led to the capture and destruction of traditional agricultural land in Manhize without informed prior consent.
In 23 June 2023, the company was given an open-ended lease to mine iron ore and set up a US$1.5 billion steel plant on 12 270 hectares of land in Manhize farming communities of Mashonaland East and Midlands provinces.
Prior to the award, Disco had already started extracting iron ore on Tradou Farm in 2022 whilst setting its iron ore processing plant in Mushenjere and Kwaedza villages.
During this period, Disco fast-tracked the relocation of six families to Singleton farm near Chivhu without memorandum of agreement on issues of compensation and secured livelihoods on relocated land.
Another 14 families were moved from Mushenjere and Kwaedza villages to a paddock area reserved for animal grazing at Rusununguko Farm between November and December 2022 without due process. Villagers of Rusununguko Farm, formerly known as Elmin, who were interviewed by CRD, expressed anger for losing grazing land to new settlers.
Victims of the forced relocations interviewed by CRD on Mvuma’s Tradou and Singleton farms said that Disco rushed to build sub-standard houses for them in Singleton and pegged them at US$20 000 for each plot holder.
“CRD calls for government to halt accelerated mining-induced relocations by Disco that are violating human rights. Government has a responsibility to halt Disco’s fast-tracked relocations and mining developments on people’s agricultural land that are violating human rights,” reads the report.
“CRD is also calling upon Parliament to investigate Disco’s mining impacts in Manhize to ensure that communities adversely affected by their operations are adequately compensated and protected. “CRD would like to remind government of its obligation to come out with a compensation and relocation legal framework that embraces international best practices on internally displaced persons and the rights of traditional communities in exploitation of natural resources.”
“In the absence of a guiding policy on relocations, CRD is calling for government to ensure community consultation and approval through free prior and informed consent, inclusive, independent, and consultative assessments and relocation with prompt, fair and adequate compensation.”
Disco has also been accused of denying the victims compensation for improvements on their land, and disturbance allowances.
“Disco argued that the costs it incurred in constructing new houses for them surpassed evaluations costs prepared by government on improvements they made on land they occupied at Tradou Farm. Evaluation figures gleaned by CRD indicate amounts ranging from US$700 to US$13 000 for the affected families,” reads the report.
“Efforts by affected families to remain on Tradou Farm until they had been compensated did not hold after their district administrator (DA) threatened that government was not going to guarantee them of alternative land when Chinese start mining on their occupied land at Tradou, said sources at Singleton.”
Relocated families in Rusununguko and Singleton in Mvuma have however been confronted with lack of clean water, untilled land, cracking floors and walls of poorly constructed houses by Disco, among other issues.
Despite the complaints sent by the villagers to the company, no action has been taken, raising an outcry. The Chinese have also been under fire for failing to fulfil their promise to uplift surrounding communities through undertaking local enterprise development.
“Since 2021, 101 families from Mushenjere village have since lost farming and grazing land to accelerated Disco mining developments. They have continued to watch in horror the destruction of their land by Disco who are setting up of water pipelines, power plant and other infrastructure,” reads the report.
“Others are losing land to waste dumping by Chinese infrastructural developments. The clearing of their land by Chinese is also destroying orchards and graveyards of their departed loved ones. CRD observed a long winding durawall that Disco is erecting to enclose farming and grazing land for 101 families in Mushenjere village which have become part of their mining lease.
“138 families from Kwaedza village are also facing a similar predicament as Disco has already set pegs in their village. These villagers mainly originated from poor and densely populated communal areas of Rukovere, Mahusvu, Msasa, Unyetu villages of Chikomba district in Mashonaland East.”
The land had been previously allocated on purchased farms by government under the “minda mirefu” land reform programme that was initiated by the government soon after Independence in 1980, from where they produced high yields ranging from four to 10 tonnes of maize per annum, due to soil fertility.
However, the villagers have been facing emotional trauma, due to loss of land on which they had invested for years, CRD said. In response, Manhize Steel project director Wilfred Motsi told The NewsHawks that Disco is doing a lot to improve livelihoods of the local people. “We do not work alone.
Government identifies relocation land, and we work accordingly. In this case, government identified the land, and we relocated the people. We had a series of meeting with the villagers and they were content with where we were relocating them.
“We made some promises and have been improving their living conditions. So, I do not really know where these complaints are coming from. We have drilled them boreholes for water, we have given them fields and constructed a bridge. They chose land, and we built them houses.
“The houses were an upgrade — three-bedroom houses. Most of the people, those I know, are content with everything. I just do not know where the complaints are coming from.”