VILLAGERS in Mutoko district, Mashonaland East province, have heaved a sigh of relief after a magistrates’ court ordered Chinese mining company Labenmon Investments to vacate their land, after it emerged that the firm had flouted legal procedures in acquiring environmental impact assessment (EIA) certification.
The ruling follows an urgent chamber application filed on 30 June 2023 by the villagers, represented by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) seeking an order to stop the company from prospecting, conducting exploration or any form of mining activity in four villages in Mutoko, namely Moyosvi, Chibanda, Gumbeze and Kadore.
Magistrate Terrence Mashaire handed down the ruling this week after the ZLHR proved that the miners had not followed due procedure in obtaining an EIA certificate.
According to the ruling availed to The NewsHawks, Labenmon pegged out 150 hectares of land, entirely covering the four villages, encompassing grazing pasture, cultivation land and traditional and cultural shrines, raising an outcry.
The villagers said the company’s mining operations were likely to expose locals to unmitigated environmental hazards as the firm did not have a proper EIA.
“What the respondent (Labenmon) submitted as far as the issue of EIA is concerned is only a consultation form or questionnaire from one of the residents. The court finds that the form cannot replace the report itself,” read the ruling, with Mines minister Winston Chitando, the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) and the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (Zida) cited as respondents.
The court ordered the company to halt mining activities which local villagers are worried could spiral into an environmental catastrophe, effectively becoming a resource curse.
“The application for the interdict be and hereby granted. The first respondent, be and is hereby ordered not to prospect, conduct exploration or any form of mining activity in the entirety of Moyosvi, Chibanda and Kadore villages without following due process and the law . . . removes its pegs installed around the villages within 24 hours of receiving this order.
“In the event that the First Respondent (Labenmon) does not comply, the Messenger of Court be and is authorised to remove the pegs. That the first respondent be and is hereby ordered to pay costs of suit on the higher scale of attorney and client,” read part of the ruling.
In its defence, Labenmon Investments said the villagers have violated the Mines Act by failing to utilise domestic remedies which provide for the locals to approach administrative courts.
However, the villagers argued that the company had already pegged the area without making consultations, showing the urgency of the matter.
“The first respondent (Labenmon) submitted evidence of some pictures of some trucks with equipment which were alleged they are parked at shops awaiting commencement of mining activities.
“Therefore, by placing those pegs and bringing equipment shows that it is urgent. Court in that case finds that it was not a self-created urgency. The self created urgency is where that applicant waits for the day of reckoning that rushes to court on an urgent baiss. In this case, there is no suggestion that the applicant was aware of the invasion way back, as nothing was submitted by the repondents to that effect,” read the ruling.
According to its profile, the company has been operating in Zimbabwe since 2006, with interests in gold, nickel, and chrome mining while operating a number of logistics businesses.
While Labenmon Investments has been locked in a number of controversies, including allegations of environmental damage and labour exploitation, the company has also been praised for its contributions to the Zimbabwean economy.
Granite mining activities in Mutoko and Murewa have seen the widespread clearing of vegetation, dumping of rubble and interference with natural river flows.
This has harmed the livelihoods of communities who depend on small-scale agriculture, livestock ranching, hunting and gathering forest products, grazing pastures and local businesses.
Various Chinese and European-linked granite-mining companies have been operating in Mutoko and Murewa for long, effecting decades of human rights abuses.
For instance, Natural Stone Export Company (NSEC), one of the oldest firms operating in Mutoko, commenced mining in the early 1970s and its current ownership is linked to Italian shareholders.
Other firms like Zimbabwe International Quarries (ZIQ) and Quarrying Enterprises — with local and Italian shareholders have been operating since 1995 and 1986 respectively — whilst Chinese companies that include: Jintings, Surewin Pvt Ltd, Longlui, Dingmao have maintained their presence.
While the government in August banned the export of raw granite through Statutory Instrument 127 of 2022, little has been done to abate human rights abuses within the mining areas.