By Conelia Mabasa
Last week this publication ran a story about villagers in Chivhu east who are on the verge of eviction to pave way for an iron and steel company.
It is a known fact that big investment and infrastructure development have always elbowed out communities as governments and their development partners look at the long-term benefits and pay less attention to the trauma of movement, the disorienting effects of relocation, attendant loss and in the local context, the severed ties from familiar surroundings and ancestral lands, which form part of an individual’s identity.
This is not to say communities are static and have remained rooted in one place. Voluntary migration happens all the time.
Dinson Iron and Steel Company, a subsidiary of Tsingshan Group Holdings will mine iron in the Manhize escarpment.
Some of the benefits from the billion dollar investment are 4 000 to 5 000 jobs down-stream, since besides mining, the Xiang Guangda-chaired entity will set up a processing plant in the Midlands town of Mvuma.
A dam on Munyati river is another development project tied to the investment.
According to the AfDB report (2019) Zimbabwe’s quest for economic revival should leverage on agriculture and mining.
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Unfortunately, the mining sector is underdeveloped for lack of capital and a general failure at respecting property rights. Investors in the sector, therefore, are given preferential treatment.
The “new dispensation” led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been inviting investors to come under the “open for business” banner, but statistics show that Zimbabwe has not been that privileged with foreign direct investment (FDI) since 1980.
From 1980-2013, in 33 years, total FDI inflows amounted to US$1.7 billion compared to Zambia’s US$7.7 billion and Mozambique’s US$15.8 billion in the same period. (Kanyenze, Chitambara and Tyson, 2017).
This means that the Chinese businesses showing interest in investing in the country, especially in the capital intensive extractive sector, are given certain privileges.
It is very rare that communities can successfully resist eviction in the face of investment.
The law also gives the government oversight over state land.
Under Section 10 of the Communal Land Act, the Local government minister can set aside communal land for any purpose, after consultation with the local Rural District Council.
The minister can order evictions under certain limited circumstances, including after providing reasonable notice, and in compliance with the country’s constitution, which in section 74 prohibits eviction in the absence of a court order. (Human Rights Watch)
But when the order has been given, what is due process and how do communities fit in the larger scheme of planning?
According to the AfDB, China is a comparator state for Zimbabwe and the government can learn much in as far as economic development and social cohesion is concerned.
While the communities seem sidelined or even forgotten to pave way for investment, China, according to president Xi Jinping, holds in high regard consultative democracy which they believe improves the people’s orderly participation in affairs and strengthens ties between the government and the people.
“China will promote consultation throughout society with regard to major issues of economic and social development, and practical issues closely related to the interests of the people, and adhere to the principle of consultation before policy-making and during policy implementation.” (Xi Jinping 2014: 91).
Is government side-swiping its people for Chinese investment when, if it was the other way, China would have treated its people with respect before an investor could start work?
If it is true that the existence of deposits has always been known, and if it is true that the company has been waiting to start operations since 2014, why does it seem as if the relocation is mired in confusion?
In a case like this, government would have done well to consult people and take note of their concerns, reservations and fears.
The villagers are in the dark concerning where they will be resettled, knowledge they need to psyche up for relocation.
The displacement is both physical and economic for the villagers, who besides leaving for a place not yet known, will lose farm land, pastures, in addition to other assets that may seem small yet significant like orchards, gardens, cattle pens and fowl runs.
The UNDP says evictions have to be lawful and partners must develop a stakeholder engagement plan and start consultations early.
The affected people should not be left behind and access to information must be provided every step of the way.
The framework for fair compensation must be acceptable to affected parties and be paid in full.
Overall, the displacements must come with an improvement in the standards of living and secure livelihoods through provision of water, food, shelter and health facilities.
If displacements are not managed well, they risk increasing poverty.
So far the development doesn’t seem to be of any use to the villagers who consider it a disruptive inconvenience.
They don’t understand how development that happens in the wake of their departure will benefit them.
What they know for sure is preparing for the next farming season is in disarray.
For some pastures and fields have been taken and freedom of movement is restricted.
But how has government fared in previous displacements associated with development projects?
When diamonds were discovered in Chiadzwa people were moved to ARDA Transau, but they were not given any choice.
If one decided to settle elsewhere, compensation was withdrawn.
The diamond company only catered for those who agreed to settle on the ARDA farm.
Villagers were not consulted on their destination and asset valuation was opaque, (Madebwe, 2011).
The Tokwe-Mukosi basin clearance of 2012-2014 is another case in point. People are still in tents in Chingwizi. They have failed to rebuild.
The government failed to honour promises and has condemned thousands of families to degrading conditions.
While the UN says the displaced persons must at least enjoy a better life, those in Chingwizi are worse off and are exposed to elements and disease each and every year.
People’s welfare must be at the centre of every government policy. If government fails to protect its people, who will?
- Conelia Mabasa is the chief sub-editor of The Standard. For feedback email: firstname.lastname@example.org