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Martha Tagarira’s son Gibson was among those exhumed and reburied.


There’s no rest for the dead



BEFORE Max Mind Investments Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of Chinese giant Shenzhen Chengxin Lithium Group Company Ltd, could commence its operations in Zimbabwe, it not only had to move 40 families from their ancestral land, it also had to move the dead too.


Some of the company’s mining operations are being carried out on what used to be graveyards. Villagers from Mukwasi and Tagarira villages in Buhera, situated in Zimbabwe’s eastern province of Manicaland, were left with little choice but to rebury their loved ones.

This, to pave the way for the mining operations, which are expected to generate US$2 billion annually.

Among the exhumed were bodies buried more than 40 years ago. Before the reburials, Max Mind Investments compensated affected families with US$1 500 for every grave of an adult and US$1 000 for every grave of a child.

Some of the villagers say they were traumatised by having to rebury their loved ones. Others complained that their cultural beliefs and values were not respected during the process. The reburials aggravated already strained relations between the company and some community members, who are unhappy about how they were evicted and about their livelihoods having been disrupted.

The villagers also say the company unilaterally reduced the amount of money it had promised to pay them as compensation for tampering with the graves of their loved ones — just as they had done with regard to the agreed compensation for relocation.

“I don’t know if I will ever heal from the trauma I experienced,” said Martha Tagarira, whose son, Gibson, was among those exhumed and reburied.

Martha gave birth to Gibson in 1983, but he died suddenly a month later. He had not shown any signs of illness and died while strapped to the back of his sister. The unexpected death hit the family hard.

“I was made to relive the death of my son. It was very painful for me at the time (1983) because he did not show any signs of illness. I felt the pain again because it was a new funeral. My family gathered and we had to do the burial process again,” she said.

 “But what probably hurt me the most was that my son was not given a dignified burial. The company did not provide a coffin, like they did with others. The chief who was overseeing the process (Chief Nyashanu) said we were not eligible to get a coffin because Gibson was still young.

“He said it was enough just to bury him wrapped in plastic, adding that we had not bought a coffin for him in the first place.

“This really broke my heart. I was really hurt. I asked myself why they had removed him from his original resting place. I was hurt because his father, who buried him, is also now late. So, this time around, I bore the burden of reburying him without his support. Fortunately, his father was not reburied as he was buried in a section with a high grave population, so they just fenced in the area.”

Tagarira said the company had initially offered to pay US$2 000 for each vandalised grave, but it unilaterally reduced the figure to US$1 500 for an adult and US$1 000 for a child. She said the US$1 000 she was given to re[1]bury Gibson was a paltry sum.

 “I spent all the money buying food for friends and relatives who came for the reburial. It was a second funeral because we had to do everything done at funerals,” she said.

“I will die an angry woman because of how I was treated by this company. I am living with the pain of being evicted from my village and then being dumped in town, without any means to survive, just so that they make money. To add insult to injury, they exhumed my son and made me experience pain again.

“I keep asking why they didn’t just let him rest where he was.”

Lahliwe Musikavanhu, a spokesperson for the evicted villagers, said some of the bodies that were removed were intact.

In other cases, only skeletons were left. She said the exercise was painful for most villagers, adding that they had had no choice but to comply after being told that nothing could stop the mining.

 “We were told to tell our relatives, in our traditional way, that they would be moved to another resting place because they were buried where some riches belonging to the state had been found. People complied, but they were not happy,” she said.