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Manhize villagers demand justice

FOLLOWING the eruption of demonstrations by Manhize villagers against the Chinese-owned Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Disco),




FOLLOWING the eruption of demonstrations by Manhize villagers against the Chinese-owned Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Disco), there are growing calls for the firm to urgently put together social safety nets for the desperate community that is now reeling under abject poverty after losing their farmland without compensation.

On 14 June, local villagers in Manhize blocked Dinson Iron and Steel Company trucks from accessing the plant in protest against degrading treatment including arbitrary acquisition of their farmland without compensation, the resultant hunger and immense dust pollution.

The Centre for Research and Development (CRD), a civic society group that works to promote human rights, democracy and good governance, said the company must provide social safety nets to safeguard the community.

During the demonstration, a woman identified as Mary Tsiko (58), said their protest was caused by biting hunger after Disco grabbed their ancestral land and the situation is also exposing them to diseases due to dust pollution.

“Children are not going to school because our source of livelihood, which is land, has been taken away by the company. Many people are sick because of the dust that comes from the company operations. Our protest is to pressure the company to address our concerns,” Tsiko said.

According to CRD, villagers in the Mushenjere area, who are settled at Inhoek Farm in Mvuma, have been displaced from land they have occupied for over 40 years.

This has stoked growing concerns over the weaknesses in the land tenure system that have resulted in the mass evictions.

Communities in Chivhu and Mvuma, particularly those relocated to pave way for the establishment of Disco’s US$1.5 billion 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 case.

Disco, a local subsidiary of Chinese firm Tsingshan, has been touted as Africa’s largest integrated steel plant, but displacements have plunged victims into abject poverty, amid indications of serious food insecurity.

Since 2021, more than 100 families from Manhize’s Mushenjere Village have lost their land to Disco’s operations, with the villagers, once self-sufficient, now unable to produce enough food, according to CRD.

“The conditions of living on the land outlined in their permits rest solely at the discretion of the minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement,” the CRD said.

“Thus the minister ‘may for any public purpose reverse this permit at any time and under such conditions as he thinks fit on payment of the holder of such compensation the minister may decide.”

In an interview with The NewsHawks,  Mupfumi said to urgently alleviate the plight of desperate villagers, the company must provide cushions in cash and food hampers.

“Dinson has an obligation to meet the food basket for each family pegged at CCZ [Consumer Council of Zimbabwe] poverty datum line of at least US$500 backdated to 2021 when they started dispossessing farming land until a new area of relocation has been adequately prepared,” Mupfumi said.

“Forced relocations is an international crime and the government has a responsibility to protect the rights of people affected by the Dinson mining establishment.”

“Dinson is creating conditions unbearable for farmers. People already relocated by Dinson are living in abject poverty without food, education and health facilities, drinking water and cracking houses. These families didn’t receive compensation for loss of production on their land.”

Mupfumi said the latest demonstration symbolises desperate attempts by vulnerable groups affected by mining activities to be heard in an environment lacking government protection.

“Mining has been dominated by opacity, policy inconsistencies and flagrant violation of human rights by both government and mining entities,” he said.

“It is shocking that the government rushed to allow Dinson to start mining without Environmental Impact Assessment, no relocation plan amid degrading treatment of locals in violation of the constitution and international law.”

“Local inhabitants have lost four seasons of farming after Dinson arbitrarily took their land. Dinson has not shown commitment to compensate locals for loss of production and livelihoods. New area of relocation has not been prepared, leaving people facing abject poverty.”

The company has been accused of being insincere in providing food to the villagers as per its promise. On 23 January this year, Dinson delivered a paltry two kilogrammmes of flour, 10kgs of mealie-meal, two litres of cooking oil, two kilogrammes of laundry soap and 500 grammes of salt worth US$14 to villagers in Mushenjere.

This was seen by villagers as an attempt to test their resolve in demanding compensation.
In March, permit holders were also given US$200 each, but only ahead of a visit by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa.

After Disco commenced operations in 2021, it built houses for 14 families who were relocated to nearby Rusununguko Farm in 2022, leaving more families, including the 32, living on state land.

Locals believe the company has been trying to push the villagers away since then.
The CRD said the uncertainty has been worsened by the government’s failure to repeal repressive land tenure law.

“The government exploited colonial and unjust mining law aided by an unsecured multiple land tenure system to grant Dinson exclusive mining rights over farming land in Manhize.

Despite Zimbabwe adopting a progressive constitution in 2013 that recognises fundamental human rights and freedoms of citizens, the government has maintained regressive laws such as the Communal Lands Act 20:04 formerly Tribal Trust Lands and the 1965 Mines and Minerals Act.”

“These laws do not respect the rights of traditional communities where land has been prospected for mining or set aside for any public purpose. At the same time, the permit and lease land tenure system applicable to agricultural landholders vest all powers in the state.”

At least 1 170 hectares of farmland have been taken from plotholders by Disco in Mushenjere Village, leaving farmers without a source of livelihood since 2021.

Disco has erected a wall to enclose farmland and grazing pasture, further shutting out families from Mushenjere Village.

The loss of grazing land to Disco has brought to farmers and forced them to sell their cattle at giveaway prices.

A total of 138 families from Kwaedza Village are also facing a similar predicament as Disco has already set land survey pegs in their village.

The villagers are mainly from the poor and densely populated communal areas of Rukovere, Mahusvu, Msasa, Unyetu villages of Chikomba district in Mashonaland East province.

In 1984, they were allocated land on farms purchased by the state under the “minda mirefu” land reform programme that was initiated by the government soon after Independence in 1980. 

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