BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
“Instead of joy and fulfilment, the fortunes sitting in the bowels of our fathers’ land have brought misfortunes upon us,” 78-year-old Chokutaura Chananda said ruefully.
Chananda is among hundreds of Chivhu villagers, who have been forced to leave their ancestral land and to desert their homes of generations, to pave way for a US$1 billion iron and steel mining project sitting in their land but now owned by a Chinese multi-national company, Tsingshan Group Holdings.
As he spoke about the impending evictions, the old man’s voice faltered, overcome by fear, despair and uncertainty.
Since the news of the looming evictions filtered into the village, Chananda has been hoping with each new day that he would wake up from the nightmare of losing his farmland.
But the nightmare grows into reality with each day that comes.
The once peaceful villages are now a hive of activity as the Dinson Iron and Steel Company, a subsidiary of the Tsingshan Group Holdings, comes to the ground and prepares for the real business of extracting iron in the Manhize area, some 60 kilometres east of Chivhu town in Mashonaland East province.
The project, which is situated on a 12 000-hectare area, will see the displacement of thousands of unsuspecting villagers.
They are being made to go to places yet to be known, or announced by government.
Having spent over 30 years in Mushenjere village in Ward 7, Chikomba district where he settled after independence, Chananda is finding it difficult to come to terms with the reality that he could lose his home.
“At this age, do you think if I am relocated from here I will be able to build another home like this one?
“Wherever I go I may build other house, but certainly not another home.
“This is the only home I have known for almost four decades.
“There will never be a place like this one,” he said, wiping his teary, blood-flecked eyes, fighting hard to hide his helplessness.
“The need to make money has overtaken the principle to value the welfare of the people.
“I would have understood better the so-called development taking place if I would be staying in this same village.
“We could have bargained for more from the project, that is, if they were conducting the mining activity without disturbing us.”
Dozens of the villagers in the Manhize area have already lost their fields to the multi-million dollar project in their area, and they decry lack of consultation from the responsible authorities.
Villagers who spoke to The Standard said the disadvantages of the Chinese miners coming into the area for the project outweighed the benefits.
They said being evicted was the worst nightmare they had ever imagined.
With the 2021-2022 farming season fast approaching, the villagers, who are subsistence farmers, have cast doubts on its benefit to them.
Some have stopped preparing their fields, because they have been told the land was part of the 12 000 hectares which now belonged to the Chinese miners.
Others have already lost the fields and cannot prepare for the farming season.
Queen Dhliwayo (27), a Manhize villager, said she was not amused by any of the developmental projects, which the Chinese miners say they would implement in the area.
Her greatest fear was to be evicted.
“We have heard of several opportunities earmarked for our locality from the mining project,” Dhliwayo said.
“They say they are going to build roads, dams and that the project will result in creation of thousands of jobs, among several other opportunities.
“No matter how ideal the projects could be, if we are to be evicted, then it is not development to us.
“As it is now, the project is to benefit other people from the peripheral areas and not us. In other words, the development is not for us.
“We have been sacrificed for the improvement of other people’s welfare.”
In another village called Trydo in the same area, the Chinese miners have barricaded the village and restricted the movement of the villagers.
The village is now part of the land they have been given by the government and therefore out of bounds for the former villagers, even when the villagers have not yet been served with eviction orders or alternative places to go to.
“We have lost our grazing land.
“We can’t move freely in our land,” another evictee, James Munemo (39) said.
“It has become their territory.
“We are being told of development, but what development is it when we are losing homes, properties and our freedom?
“Who will benefit from the development when we are gone?
“They have constructed roads cutting across our fields, but they are barring us from accessing the roads.”
A manager at Dinson mining company site, who only identified himself as Fanuel confirmed to The Standard that the company was restricting usage of some roads.
“We are barricading the roads just for security purposes,” he said.
“We can’t allow passers-by to use the roads because we have not yet erected a security fence on the site we are working on.”
The conflict between local settlers and prospective miners is a problem that has affected many countries globally, according to studies by international human rights organisations.
In Zimbabwe, Chinese mining operations have caused discord in communities, with thousands of villagers facing evictions while others have already been displaced.
In Uzumba district, Mashonaland East province, human rights lawyers are challenging the eviction of hundreds of villagers in Kaseke.
They are supposed to pave way for black granite mining by a Chinese mining company, Heijin.
According to the 2014 United Nations Special Rapporteur report on Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, the state should permit evictions only on special circumstances, but it should regulate the exercise to ensure rehabilitation and fair compensation of the affected members.
While the villagers in Chivhu are fretting over the iron and steel project, Mvuma in Midlands province was last week granted town status by the Local Government ministry ahead of the commencement of the actual mineral extraction processes in the Manhize area.
Although mining will be conducted in Chikomba, the manufacturing plant has been set in Mvuma, which has stirred another controversy among the Chivhu residents.
Chivhu Residents and Rate Payers Alliance chairperson Collen Zvarevashe said the residents objected to the processing of the mineral resources in another district at their expense.
“Whilst Chikomba has the mineral resources, it will bear the brunt of displacements which are breaking family ties and destroying the environment, among other ills,” Zvarevashe said.
“It is for the benefit of people in a neighbouring town.”
He added: “We do not shun development but when it is discriminatory, then it is an issue of great concern.
“Going by the concept of devolution, it is difficult to understand why a mineral resource from one province, (Mashonaland East), is being extracted to benefit another province (Midlands).
“We have lost our treasure. After the extraction, the district will be left in desolation, with its people displaced, while another town is enjoying its proceeds.”
Traditional leader in the area, Chief Mutekedza born Andrew Zhakata, bemoaned lack of transparency in the implementation of the mining project, which he said had put the welfare of the villagers in jeopardy.
“We want development, but we can’t accept it when our people are shedding tears out of it,” said Chief Mutekedza.
“We want transparency on procedures of how people are going to be relocated in accordance to our customs, to uphold humanity.”
In its 2014 report on Forced Evictions, the United Nations said the marginalised and poor communities were often targets of evictions due to their perceived little resistance and the vulnerable groups of society, which include women and children, were most affected.
“Forced evictions constitute gross violations of human rights,” the report reads.
“They violate directly and indirectly the full spectrum of civil cultural, economic, political and social rights enshrined in international instruments.
“These violations can be directly or in directly attributed to the way evictions are decided, for instance, no consultation, no information or no recourse mechanisms.
“Forced evictions are generally discriminatory or lead to discrimination.
“In many instances, the victims of forced evictions are those belonging to specific groups of the population: the poorest, communities facing discrimination, the marginalised and those who do not have the clout to change the decisions and designs of the project leading to their displacement.”