ALTHOUGH the Chinese-run Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Disco) has been claiming that villagers displaced by its plant in Manhize are happy and have been amply compensated for their land and property lost, community members say they are now facing an acute food crisis, The NewsHawks has learnt.
Chivhu and Mvuma communities, particularly those relocated to pave way for the establishment of the steel plant, say their lives have deteriorated despite the project being hyped as a game changer in the nation’s economy, stoking fears of another resource curse.
While the US$1.5 billion plant by a local subsidiary of Chinese firm Tsingshan has been touted as Africa’s largest integrated steel plant, displacements have left the victims in abject poverty, amid indications of serious food insecurity.
Since 2021, over 101 families from Manhize’s Mushenjere Village have lost their land to Disco’s operations, with villagers, once self-sufficient, now unable to produce food for the family unit, according to a watchdog, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD).
As previously reported, Manhize Steel project director Wilfred Motsi told The NewsHawks that the company has held a series of meetings with the villagers, whom they claim are happy with the relocation process.
“We made some promises and have been improving their living conditions. So, I do not really know where these complaints are coming from. We have drilled them boreholes for water, we have given them fields and constructed a bridge. They chose land, and we built them houses,” Motsi said.
“The houses were an upgrade — three-bedroom houses. Most of the people, those I know, are content with everything. I just do not know where the complaints are coming from.”
However, George Gwere, a community leader from Mushenjere village, said the project has done more harm than good in the area, with the villagers now wallowing in abject poverty.
“We were happy as our young people did not have jobs, but what came afterwards has really affected us. This is what has happened. Since 1986 up to around 1996, the two affected villages, particularly Mushenjere, where the Dinson Iron and Steel Company plant is located, produced such high grain yields that pleased the Chivhu GMB depot,” Gwere said at a Press conference last week, recorded by CRD.
“The Grain Marketing Board [GMB] saw the burden that we farmers had in transporting the yield to its depot. As a result, they would establish a mini depot at our shops in August to ease our burden. Within those villages, we no longer had very poor people, we were happy that our lives had been uplifted by farming.”
“But now, all farming activity has totally been halted because all the farming land is now in the perimeter wall. We are no longer able to go there. So, for these three years, we have been sitting, suffering from hunger.”
Gwere said Disco has been insincere in fulfilling its promises over the past years since relocation, which he says has created psychological and physical difficulty for the communities in Manhize, particularly Mushenjere.
“The company told us not to worry, because it would provide us with food. But, we never got anything. So, we are experiencing tough times psychologically and physically. We have a duty right now of taking care of our adult children and their families, while we have nothing to give them. We are in tough times,” he said.
“We are urgently asking for prompt relocations from the area as we cannot sustain our livelihoods and find another place. We hope and ask if we have homes as we have already built infrastructure. As people who had already established their livelihoods, as I had mentioned that the GMB has set up a depot in our area as a result of good crop yields, therefore, we ought to have a disturbance fee for these disturbances.”
Gwere added: “Our greatest concern is that, to avoid constantly approaching the district administrator [DA] or the mining company [Disco] with our concerns, we request to be given a certain percentage of royalties from the mine. Our area is rich compared to other places like Penhalonga.”
Gwere implored Disco to at least disburse royalties to ensure the resuscitation of community livelihoods which have been shattered since the plant was set up in the area.
“The miners are having a lifetime benefit, and the government can renew their lease after it lapses. Therefore, from their profit, we are asking for a certain percentage to sustain our livelihoods. We request for immediate intervention on the food security issue,” he said.
The worsening poverty is now causing social decay, with young people slowly turning to stocktheft, while women in the area now sell termites for a living.
“Would it be nice if they would hear that people in Manhize are dying of hunger? The elderly, those around 70 years of age, have many health issues such as blood pressure (BP). One elderly person collapsed and was taken to Harare. On diagnosis, they found no other disease outside high blood pressure. All this is resulting from the emotional distress to the elderly facing relocations in Manhize,” Gwere said.
“Also, due to poverty, our young people are now engaging in stocktheft, among other things, as a coping mechanism to hunger in their homes. Women are looking for termites to sell and eat. They consume some of them and sell the rest to buy mealie-meal. We are not against the government initiatives or the mining company. We have maintained our silence since the company came to our community.
“Until now, we have not said anything despite our challenges. This means that we were giving respect to the mining company and the government. So, we are begging for this to be attended to urgently, so that our livelihoods can be preserved.”
A report by CRD titled; Hold Disco to Account has shown that relocated families in Rusununguko and Singleton in Mvuma are facing hardships owing to a lack of potable water, untilled land, cracking floors and walls of houses poorly constructed by Disco, among other issues.
Despite the complaints from the villagers to the company, no action has been taken, raising an outcry. The Chinese have also been underfire for failing to fulfil their promise to uplift surrounding communities through undertaking local enterprise development.
CRD director James Mupfumi said the problem has been stemming from the government’s failure to disclose Disco’s contract.
“It is strange that a project is declared to be in the national interest when it is opaque to the extent that even Parliament cannot carry out oversight. The food security issue is the greatest challenge because the land tenure system vests powers over land and minerals in the President,” Mupfumi told The NewsHawks.
“So what people lose first when a mining licence is issued opaquely is farming land. People on communal and agricultural land live on farming and the flagrant awarding of mining contracts by government without the consent of local people and, worse still, alternative livelihoods and compensation, is torturous and a crime against humanity. The solution lies in the government amending the Communal Lands Act and the Mines and Minerals Act to ensure local authorities and traditional leaders have autonomy over their resources.
“In the interim, government has a constitutional obligation to ensure that the rights of citizens to land, shelter, food, health, education, dignity and environmental protection are guaranteed by coming up with a relocation and compensation framework that ensures those rights are protected in communities facing threats of displacement. Mining operations must conform to human rights principles enshrined in our constitution.”