VILLAGERS from Mushenjere Village in Manhize, whose livelihoods have been shredded following the establishment of Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Disco) US$1.5 billion steel plant, say the entity is insincere and has failed to keep its promises on providing food relief for the community, amid growing evidence of a resource curse.
While the plant by a local subsidiary of Chinese firm Tsingshan has been touted as Africa’s largest integrated steel project, its operations in Manhize have left the victims in abject poverty and worsening food insecurity.
Since 2021, more than 101 families from Manhize’s Mushenjere Village have lost their land to Disco’s operations, with villagers, once self-sufficient, now unable to produce food for the family unit, according to a governance watchdog, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD).
As reported by The NewsHawks last week, community members said they are now wallowing in immense poverty, as their farming-based livelihoods have been destroyed by the company which has been taking over their farming land.
This week, the company, represented by Disco human resources manager Joseph Shoko, has pledged food support to villagers, which they have refused, proposing instead a monthly allowance to safeguard livelihoods.
“The company has made overtures to meet the villagers. However, we have not yet met the senior officials ourselves. They sent someone who compiled lists of people who are supposed to be given food handouts,” said Lovemore Tutira, a villager who spoke to The NewsHawks.
“We told the envoy that we do not want food handouts, but rather money so that we can buy our own food and pay for other expenses. There has not been any response since the lists were submitted. If they could get us money, it would be better. We want money, US$500 per month, not hampers. We have been paying fees for our children with proceeds from the farms which have been taken over. That is where we used to get our money from. Hampers will not do us any good.”
“Our greatest wish is for the company to come and talk to us, because we have a lot of unanswered questions that have been bothering us. Especially on the takeover of our farming land and destruction of our resources, without consulting the people living in the area. They have erected a wall, shutting us out, leaving us wallowing in immense hunger.”
Tutira said while the company is trying to paint a rosy picture, insinuating that all the villagers have been relocated and built good houses, the larger population has remained holed in villages like Mushenjere, and are continuing to lose farming land.
“Everything is not well over here. Since August 2021 when the Chinese came, they have never said anything to us. They just came and destroyed everything, including vegetation. The only people whom houses were built for were those living in the Munyati area. They were relocated because Disco had an interest in that area. This side, they have been promising us food, but nothing has materialized,” Tutira told The NewsHawks.
Another villager Nobert Mhike said they are not going to accept food handouts from the company, as they have more pressing commitments.
“They have been continually promising us food, without any result. Farmers have lost a lot since the company started operating. There has not been any evaluation to see how much has been lost. We were banished from our farms in 2021. And now, they are trying to hoodwink us by giving us hampers,” Mhike said.
“We have families, and need to pay fees for our families. We have people with special health problems amongst us. We have people in their 90s who cannot live without food. When they were making preparations for their plant in 2021, they were blasting everywhere, including our farms.
“They bulldozed our crops and made roads for their trucks in our fields relegating us into hunger. No one went to the fields since 2021!”
Disco human resources manager Joseph Shoko told The NewsHawks that while his company is going to provide food for the villagers, they do not have a specific date of providing the relief.
“We have a way we have of helping them. On food, we are going to engage and give them. I may not have a date, but we are going to give them. We have already drawn a list of beneficiaries. About operations of the company, we had not yet started operating by then,” said Joseph Shoko, Dinson human resources manager.
Manhize villagers are continuing to lose more farming land.
Disco is already erecting a wall to enclose farming and grazing land, further shutting out families in Mushenjere village, according to CRD.
138 families from Kwaedza village are also facing a similar predicament as Disco has already set pegs in their village.
These villagers have mainly originated from poor and densely populated communal areas of Rukovere, Mahusvu, Msasa, Unyetu villages of Chikomba District in Mashonaland East.
In 1984 they were allocated land on purchased farms by government under the “minda mirefu” land reform programme that was initiated by government soon after independence in 1980.