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Key concepts & approaches on community capacity building in the mining & natural resources sector

Compiled by Shamiso Mtisi-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association


This write up is an expression of theoretical and practical concepts, lessons and approaches that have been observed and noted as potential best practice for improving the capacity of community based groups to effectively represent the environmental, economic, social and cultural interests and rights of communities in the natural resources sector. The best practice aspects and approaches were observed by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) during the implementation of a project titled “Strengthening Community Based Organisations for Sustainable Livelihoods and Rights Protection”. The project was supported by the European Union from March 2010 to February 2012. The objective of the project was to strengthen and improve the capacity of grassroots organisations so that they act as the voice of the community in demanding and claiming their rights in the natural resources sector especially mining. ZELA has learnt some key concepts, approaches and best practices that can be replicated in other and future projects that any rural development activist, worker or community based organisation can apply to improve community participation in the natural resources management sector. The following tools and aspects were identified as critical elements in building strong community institutions that can demand and claim the rights of communities against government and private sector interests; registration of community based groups to exist as legal entities, community based human rights training, community based monitoring and reporting, community based lobbying and advocacy, litigation through taking class action cases, participation in initiatives that call for mining sector transparency and accountability and community based income generation projects. In addition, participatory public expenditure and budget tracking and monitoring as well as skills share and learning visits to other countries can act as part of the arsenal for community groups to horn their capacities and effectiveness.  These concepts, approaches and strategies are based on lessons learnt by ZELA in working with community based groups affected by diamond mining operations in Marange, inequitable wildlife management practices in Mbire District, granite mining operations in Mutoko and the activities of waste management and environmental action groups in Harare. 

This article is therefore, a summary and synthesis of community development methods that have been applied by ZELA and that have achieved significant outcomes on improving community capacities to assert and claim legal rights. The important thing is to build strong community groups that can act as a voice for the whole community. The concepts and approaches are a useful tool in claiming the rights of deprived communities, communities facing threats from state and non-state actors and from political elites. However, this publication is by no means exhaustive, it is simply a short instalment that reflects some of the standard practices that can be used to strengthen community based groups from a legal, policy and practical perspective. The concepts are presented in a simple way for easy reference and are explained to ensure that local communities understand them. Reference is made to success stories in the work of community based groups that ZELA has been working with in urban and rural areas such as Harare, Mutoko, Marange and Mbire.

Formation and Registration of community based groups

Formation and registration of community based organisations as common law trusts enables community based groups to exist as legal entities that can represent community interests and needs in matters that require legal and non-legal interventions. In this case community members with a shared vision of community development can come together and form a common law trust under a Notarial Deed of Trust and Donation executed before a notary public. By law a common law trust should have trustees and beneficiaries. Trustees will hold any assets or property or do any other thing in trust for the benefit of beneficiaries. Therefore, whenever a community based organisation is registered as a trust, the trustees are supposed to ensure that all the projects benefit the community which will be the beneficiary.  It was observed by ZELA that the formation and registration of community based groups serves to build the legal capacity and confidence of such groups to demand equitable and fair service provision and to foster self reliance and income generation for poverty reduction in both urban and rural communities.

By facilitating the formation and registration of community groups as common law trusts in Marange, Mbire, Chiredzi and Harare, ZELA observed that once community groups exist as legal entities they were able to open bank accounts, enter into contractual agreements with the private sector operators and purposefully engaged local authorities and other government departments on issues affecting the whole community. This was witnessed in Marange where the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust has been engaging diamond mining companies and in Harare where environmental action groups have been actively calling on local authorities and the private sector to improve environmental service delivery. In addition, community based groups in urban and rural areas have also been embarking on income generating activities such as recycling waste (in Dzivarasekwa) and cattle rearing (in Kanyemba in Mbire District). In Marange, Mbire and Harare it was noted that government officials and private companies were more responsive to the collective demands of legally recognised groups than of individual members of the community. There are several community groups that were registered by ZELA that now exist as legal entities and are now powerful voices of the community. These include the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust in Marange diamond mining area, the Chapoto Community Development Trust in Kanyemba Communal lands in Mbire District, the Chibhememe Earth Healing Association (CHIEHA) in Chiredzi and other groups in Harare that are spearheading community projects on waste management. In urban areas the registration of the group has built their confidence and they are now able to approach local government officials and other stakeholders as a collective entity. Consequently, formation and registration of community trusts lead to improved community participation and consultation in urban environmental planning, budgeting and social service provision and governance. The groups are now demanding for access to services on behalf of the community without fear of victimisation. 

Until next week!

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