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Forced displacements of poor vulnerable mining communities exacerbate poverty

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WHEN members of the Chiadzwa community were relocated in 2009 to a farm owned by the state-run Agricultural Rural Development Authority Transau in Odzi, about 40 kilometres from Mutare, to pave way for diamond mining – they were promised a new beginning and better life by the government and mining companies.

OWEN GAGARE
About 1 200 villagers were forcibly moved from their ancestral lands at Marange diamonds fields in eastern Zimbabwe’s Mutasa district to around Mutare with promises of getting new arable land, grazing land, houses, social amenities, schools and clinics and other infrastructure, as well as US$5 000 compensation each.

Government and several mining companies operating in Chiadzwa were expected to fulfil the promises. However, they did not. They abandoned the villagers to their own fate – poverty and suffering.
The case of Chiadzwa is now being evoked as government manoeuvres to relocate 12 500 villagers in Chilonga, Chiredzi, purportedly for a daily lucerne grass project.

However, as The NewsHawks reported last week, the real motive of the Chilonga displacements is diamonds as was the case in Chiadzwa. Maps and exploration documents show the government is after diamonds and gold there.

Hence, fears are growing that a fate similar to that which befell the Chiadzwa villagers awaits the Chilonga community, already under siege from the government and politically connected dairy company Dendairy, run by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s business associates, the Coetze family.

Mnangagwa’s wife Auxillia is also now hovering over the area under the guise of charity work. Although what lies ahead for Chilonga people is unknown, going by the Chiadzwa precedent their fate is predictable.

A study of community land rights and mining in Zimbabwe, titled Forced Displacements in Mining Communities: Politics in Chiadzwa Diamond Area, Zimbabwe, shows that the removal of villagers for diamond extraction left them poorer than they were before.

The research was published last year by Simbarashe Gukurume and Lloyd Nhodo, who trained at the University of Cape Town and University of KwaZulu-Natal respectively. They are currently lecturers at Great Zimbabwe University.

“The Chiadzwa diamonds attracted widespread attention due to human rights violations and illegal smuggling. When diamonds were discovered in 2006, thousands of artisanal miners descended on the diamond fields,” the study says.

“In response, the government unleashed the army and police in brutal crackdowns to drive artisanal miners off the diamond fields. This militarisation of diamond fields and extraction was followed by forced displacement of the Chiadzwa people.

“Findings reveal that displacements dislocated the livelihoods and socialities of the people. Displacements also exacerbated people’s vulnerability to livelihood shocks, insecurity, and poverty. In relocating people the government adopted a ‘top-down’ approach which triggered contestations and conflicts with the people who felt alienated from their ancestral land and excluded from diamond wealth. Consequently, sabotage, resistance and subversion were commonplace in the relocation process. These socio-political ‘tactics’ should be viewed as ‘weapons of the weak’.”

There are widespread fears Chilonga communities may suffer a similar fate.

The Zimbabwe Environmental law Association (Zela), a civil society organisation which seeks to protect rights of communities, conserve the environment and monitor the exploitation of natural resources, says rural communities are vulnerable when it comes to these situations.

“Mining operations in Zimbabwe operate within an economic enclave that is de-linked from other sectors of the economy. The result is that mining operations impose high negative social costs on local community members, with very limited benefits,” Zela says.

“Communities in mineral resource-rich areas suffer from mining-induced irregular displacements, degradation of their lands and environment, loss of life and livestock to deep open pits left by mining operations, and loss of communal land and natural resources. Because local communities do not have strong communal title, mining companies typically fail to pay compensation to local community members in cases where they are displaced.”

Zela says the Mines and Minerals Act of 1961 prioritises mining over other land uses, further weakening communities’ land rights. There is often collusion between government and mining companies due to officials’ efforts to promote investments “at all costs”, but mostly due to corrupt self-interest.

This is worsened by the fact that the state is now playing an increasingly direct role in mining through establishing mining operations or claiming stakes in mining operations. This conflict of interest often results in government failing to protect the rights of local communities.

“In 2010, the community of Marange faced forced relocation due to diamond mining operations. Initially, 136 families were earmarked for relocation; the number of families has since risen to 4 321. The companies involved in mining projects included Mbada Diamonds, Diamond Mining Corporation, Canadile, Anjin, Jinan, Rera Diamonds and Marange Resources. The companies were looking to relocate communities without paying fair and adequate compensation and before the development of adequate social infrastructure (education and health) at the relocation site in Arda Transau.

“The mining companies besieged the community, catching them unprepared to resist the eviction. There was no official notice given to the community members that were earmarked for relocation. Given the surprise, the immediate response was not a concerted effort to refuse relocation. Some community members accepted the relocation because they felt they had no choice and the community had not yet mobilised to resist the demands of the mining companies. Many were relocated forcefully, in the dead of night or at gunpoint. Others resisted the relocation process and demanded fair and adequate compensation before they were moved.

“The relocation process posed a serious threat to the health and livelihoods of local community members. The mining companies and complicit government officials threatened to relocate the communities to a farm just outside Mutare (Arda Transau) before housing, schools and clinics had been put in place. Some community members were initially settled in tobacco-curing barns because there were no housing facilities at the relocation site.

“This risked a potential health crisis due to the lack of sanitation facilities. The absence of adequate housing and the arbitrary, violent nature of the relocation process also meant human life was at risk. In addition, once relocated, some community members lost livestock when they failed to adjust to the new environment. Some of the relocated community members also lost livelihoods as they had been primarily engaged in trading and in farming on lands that they now could not access.”

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