MBERENGWA residents have formed a foundation led by prominent local people to fight the plunder of recently discovered lithium deposits in the vast district as well other available minerals like gold, copper, emeralds, chrome, tantalite, lime, platinum and iron ore.
The entity is known as Mberengwa District Natural Endowments Foundation.
Early this year there was public outrage after more than 10 000 Mberengwa villagers who were digging and blasting for lithium ore around Sandawana Mine were violently displaced by police and forced to leave behind thousands of tonnes of the ore they had piled up.
In a video that went viral on social media, one of the villagers who had been displaced was recorded as saying one of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s relatives, Bernard Mnangagwa, had instructed police to evict the villagers.
In the audio recording that circulated on YouTube, the villager is heard as claiming: “What is happening here is very painful. A son of Mnangagwa came here in the morning and we have all been displaced. These are people who vote for Zanu PF who have been displaced. Are you hearing that teargas which is discharging? Mnangagwa’s son came here in the morning (to displace villagers) . . . so what it means is that the whole country will be finished by children of one person,” he said.
“Why is it that each time there is a mineral rush, children of one person come to take over? We never saw children of President Mugabe doing that. How will Zanu PF campaign in this area after what has happened?”
Several companies linked to the government have also been preying on minerals found in Mberengwa, without ensuring the district benefits through economic development.
Impassable roads, shortages of adequate schools, potable water as well clinics and lack of expanded rural electrification are the order of the day in Mberengwa.
It is against this background that over 500 residents who constitute the Mberengwa Lithium Community Group have developed the idea of forming a foundation to fight plunder of the minerals.
The interim committee of the foundation is led by a long-time Mberengwa resident Collen Shumba, who is deputised by the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (ZESN) director Rinda Vava-Pfunde.
Lawyer Desmond Matete is the foundation’s legal adviser while mining technocrat Dennis Shoko has been roped in as an expert.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou, who is the secretary-general of the foundation, told The NewsHawks this week that over 500 community members had originated idea to ensure the wealth of the district benefits all villagers.
“We have a Mberengwa Lithium WhatsApp group comprising more than 500 people who first nominated 33 interim members for the foundation. Then the 33 members were tasked to meet and reduce the number to that working committee of nine, taking into consideration integrity, expertise in various areas needed to foster sustainable development of Mberengwa. But a more substantive executive committee will be chosen later after completion of a skills audit of all people from Mberengwa,” he said.
The aims of the foundation as specified in the founding affidavit establishing the entity are to retain at least 30% of mineral resources wealth in Mberengwa district; ensure at least 75% beneficiation of locally extracted minerals happens in Mberengwa; develop Mberengwa district infrastructure from mineral proceeds; and ensure equitable distribution of economic resources for the benefit of all citizens of the district.
Part of the affidavit reads: “Lithium is listed by most industrialised nations as one of the most important minerals of the next century. It is, by and large, the fuel of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“The foundation will lobby government to make sure this most precious commodity is not given away or sold for a song. We envisage a situation where government enables more communities’ participation in the extraction of natural resources within their jurisdiction by preferential reservation of mining and processing opportunities to local communities’ stakeholders, individuals and/or groups of people as an extension of government empowerment and devolution agenda.
“It’s envisaged that communities will be organised and capacitated in funding to raise capital to contribute towards the development of business enterprises up and down the value chain within the source district.
“We strongly encourage that local communities (individuals and corporate) be empowered by being allocated at least a 20% stake at fair market value in the total investment to ensure that the community has some significant return from the resources exploited and to prevent wealth flight from our country.”
The foundation says government should also consider allocating between 10% and 20% of the lithium reserves for the commercial exploitation by Mberengwa District Natural Endowments Foundation for the direct benefit of the district, while opening up the rest to other investors whose investments must also be structured in such a way that the wealth benefits citizens.
Zhou told The NewsHawks that the mining chaos in Mberengwa needed to be normalised.
“Chinese, Indians, ZMDC, Kuvimba and politicians are still harvesting large quanties of Lithium that had been dug by artisanal miners and villagers and ferrying them to Zvishavane, Harare and other unknown areas. There were more than 10 000 miners and villagers digging and blasting lithium ore that have now been jettisoned from the mining area and there is so much ore that is taken for free,” he said.
“What is worrisome is that Mberengwa has nothing to show for its rich mineral resources, be it lithium, emerald, chrome, tantalite, lime, platinum, copper, Iron ore, gold and is shimmering in backwardness, poverty and development of underdevelopment and underdevelopment of development.
“As such, the people of Mberengwa are sick and tired of mineral resource curse and have now formed a non-partisan development trust tailor-made to lobby for sustainable development, mineral share ownership, dividends sharing, local processing of minerals in Mberengwa or maximum benefits from natural resources accruing in the area. As host community, Mberengwa would not accept the tag of exploitation and abuse by politicians in cahoots with mining capital,” he said.