By Cosmas Sunguro
Mutoko villagers of Chagumarira and surrounding communities living near Illford mine are up in arms with the employer as they feel they are being treated unfairly. Like a jilted lover, they feel they were misused while the company made a lot of fortune. The argue that the fortune was realised out of their sweat, blood and tears of hard work. This was revealed on a recent field visit to Mutoko Granite mines.
The visit was organized by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) and United States Forest Services.The trip was meant to be an appreciation of how granite mining is benefiting the community of Mutoko and Zimbabwe at large.
The trip to abandoned granite mining sites offered participants an opportunity to interact with community members and most importantly to appreciate the impacts of granite mining in the area.
It was during the interaction that a lot of environment and labour injustices prevailing in the area were revealed. The area is like a giant mining area slowly suffocating and dying with its untapped potential. Indeed the area of Mutoko can be another ‘Mecca’ of Zimbabwe if the natural resources available in the area is properly harnessed. Black granite and gold are some of the prominent minerals found in the area. It’s proximity to Harare and the border with Mozambique means that a lot of revenue can be realized.
So what could be the problem decimating this giant that has been milked of its finite resources for the past decades? Villagers cry foul that they had been victims of repeated abuse by the mining companies without realising any meaningful development in the area. Companies mining granite are not paying gazzetted salaries and benefits.. They are taking advantage of the economic situation in Zimbabwe.
Chinese and Italians were singled out as being prominent in abusing the villagers and workers. The roads in the area are damaged beyond repair and one wonders why are they being allowed to continue causing this environmental havoc. This writer together with other visitors were shown one of the bridges damaged by the Chinese that was never repaired. School children and villagers are now forced to walk long distances to basic amenities such as shops and clinic due to the impassable road. Cases of abduction and sexual abuses of young ones and women was told as they are now using unsafe roads.
A case in point is the Illford mine where villagers and former workers have ganged up to avoid the mining company to vacate the premises without addressing their environment and labour concerns. The company operated more than 20 years and is now relocating. Amai Grace ( not her real name) complained that their houses had been damaged with cracks due to blasting by companies. Their farming fields are no longer viable for agricultural activities. Dip pits can be seen around the place. These are so risky to human life and livestock as they can fall into the pits. During rainy season, they form huge pools of water that can breed mosquitoes. Livestock is succumbing to poisoning when these drink water from the pools. Besides the dangers posed, the pictorial view is just an eyesore.
A couple of villagers interviewed indicated that many were injured during mining and some are still nursing the wounds due to unsafe mining, what is perhaps disappointing is that they were not compensated. The company still owes workers outstanding salaries. One of the ladies interviewed said,’ I am not saying that prostitution is good but it’s now rife in the area due to mining activities around ‘. Drug abuse is also rampant as youths and elderly resort to it as a way of running away from their frustrations.
Efforts to contact one of the miners was futile as he closed his mine in anticipation of our visit. However, this did not stop the drone to take videos and photos of the mining company. Mutoko Rural District Council (MRDC) senior official complained about the less realisation of revenue from granite mining yet they are leaving ecological debts. This have hampered the frantic efforts to repair damaged roads and other developmental projects in Mutoko. Infact, they still query the presence of the mining companies without making any meaningful development or cooperate social responsibility. The taxes companies are charged are so meagre compared to the environment degradation they are causing.
This is a simple case of the resource curse. A community that has been fleeced of it’s resources for too long by foreign companies with the assistance of ‘untouchable’ officials. It is a question of acting too soon to address this resource flight before it’s finished. The greatest fear being that one of the days we shall be importing black granite yet we once had them. There is need to mine sustainably such that communities realise benefits. It is also high time that we consider value addition of black granite as opposed to exporting these in their ‘raw’ state.
Last but not least, the ownership structure of granite miners has to be revisited as it remains skewed in favour of investors. Zimbabwe being ‘open for business’ also entails the authorities to relook into contract agreements that are beneficial to the locals.