THE lack of laws protecting indigenous people’s rights in Zimbabwe is exposing rural communities to human rights abuses, it has been established, with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights raising concerned over the looming displacement of the people of Dinde in Hwange to make way for a miner.
The commission, through the chairperson of its working group on extractive industries, environment and human rights violations, Solomon Dersso and the country’s rapporteur Jamesina King last week said they were worried about the violations of human rights in Dinde, as guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
Despite protests from villagers, a Chinese mining company, Beifa Investments, has continued exploring for coal in Dinde, riding on a special grant permit from the government.
According to the villagers, more than 600 people are faced with eviction as a result of the mining activities, which they say also violate the culture and heritage of the Nambya people.
The company intends to explore coal deposits in three wards covering 470 000 hectares, but says it will cover only 2 070 hectares during exploration.
The commission recommended the suspension of mining activities in the area until a social, human rights and environmental assessment impact has been conducted with the full participation of the community.
“The commission is alarmed by the serious risk that this situation poses including the loss of access to their land and resources on which they depend for their livelihood such as cultivation for their sustenance and grazing land for livestock, the destruction to their cultural heritage and social and cultural systems associated with shrines and ritual sites and the pollution and environmental degradation that the mining activity would cause,” the statement by the commission reads.
“The commission notes that the rights of members of indigenous communities and minorities to live on their land, and to make a living off the land is established in a number of provisions within the African Charter. Article 14 provides guarantees of the right to property which may only be limited under very limited circumstances; article 21 provides, broadly, that natural resources must be administered ‘in the exclusive interest of the people’ and without any deprivation of the people thereby; article 22 guarantees the right of peoples to their economic, social and cultural development, with due regard to their ‘freedom and identity’ and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind; and article 24 provides that all peoples shall have the right to a satisfactory environment for their development.”
Zimbabwe is among the countries in Sadc failing to implement regional and international instruments despite ratifying them.
Wildlife Conservation Action founder and executive director Moreangels Mbizah said although communities speak out, their powers were limited by lack of property rights.
“Communities always speak up when such things happen (mineral exploration or land being taken away for other activities because most of it is their ancestral land). Most of these people would have settled there for many years and the land would have value but the challenge is that communities do not have land tenure rights. However, they are still trying to use the courts and other traditional laws and customs to influence the government so that they are not removed from their land,” she said during a webinar on on the impact of natural resource management laws and policies on indigenous people’s rights this week.
Speaking on the same platform, Legal Assistance Centre co-ordinator Sharen Zenda said: “Zimbabwe has no specific laws dealing with indigenous people’s rights although it is a party to several international and regional instruments. Zimbabwe has a Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources, also known as Campfire, limited to the San and Doma people. However, due to their limited political participation, the needs of individual people are not addressed.”
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