BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
ZIMBABWE is witnessing growing conflicts between Chinese mining companies and indigenous communities who are being evicted from their ancestral lands without compensation to pave way for mining operations.
Hundreds of villagers in different parts of the country have been evicted while others face displacement to make way for Chinese firms since the beginning of the year.
In Mutoko, Mashonaland East province, Kaseke villagers face eviction from their ancestral land after a Chinese mining company, Heijin, was given a special grant to extract black granite on land covering 300 hectares.
Similarly in Marange, Manicaland province, Chiadzwa villagers are resisting eviction to pave way for diamond mining by Chinese company Anjin Investments.
In Chiadzwa, the villagers are also accusing the Chinese diamond miner of abusing its workers in conflicts laced with racial undertones.
Over 400 Chiadzwa villagers recently demonstrated against the mining firm demanding that 10% of the jobs be reserved for locals
Twenty-eight of the protesting villagers were arrested and remanded to November 22 on $3 000 bail each after appearing before Mutare magistrate Langton Mukwengi facing public violence charges.
Timothy Masamvu, a Chiadzwa villager, appealed for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s intervention, stating that the villagers were not benefiting anything from the company’s mining operations.
“We are worried because the company is not offering us jobs.
“They are not considering us as people. Even those of us who are working at the company are complaining of poor salaries,” he said
Jonathan Tsopo added: “Anjin should just stop the operations.
“They abuse workers.
“They have not done anything for the community, even improving our living standards. They are just here to collect diamonds and leave us with nothing to show.”
In Chivhu, Mashonaland East province, Chinese multinational company, Tsingshan Group Holdings is seeking to displace hundreds of villagers to kick-start iron and steel mining operations.
The story is the same in Hwange, Matabeleland North province, where 600 Dinde villagers are fighting against a proposed coal mining project by Chinese mining company, Beifa Investments, fearing displacement.
The conflicts between the villagers and Chinese companies have spilled into the courts, with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) providing legal representation to some of the affected communities.
ZLHR lawyer Tinashe Chinopfukutwa said in nearly all cases they handled, villagers were challenging forced eviction.
“The villagers lack the legal knowledge to approach the court to vindicate their right, so they usually do not seek justice when it is due,” Chinopfukutwa said.
“They’re also financially incapacitated to fund for the due process of law, which include paying for legal representation when we are not representing them.
“A serious challenge that is affecting the villagers is that they are being intimidated by these Chinese companies. The villagers are poor and powerless, while the companies use money power to force their way.
“Villagers are very worried about the rate at which their communities and environments are being degraded and polluted as a result of the poor mining methods employed by the Chinese miners.
“Most critical for the villagers is their ancestral land, which they argue cannot be desecrated by the marauding Chinese, who are plodding and plundering the land with impunity.
“What we have established in all the cases that we are handling is that no amount of money will compensate the villagers for the pain of losing their religious, spiritual and cultural values that are attached to their land.”
Centre for Research and Development executive director James Mupfumi said the disputes had also exposed deep-seated corruption in the licensing of the Chinese mining companies.
“The problem with the Chinese miners is that their investments are protected by the government elite.
“They do not follow due processes, but use shortcuts, most of which are resulting in gross human rights violations,” he said.
“Failure to follow the proper procedure has resulted in Chinese mining operations starting without due consideration to the villagers requirements — before even the villagers can consider moving away peacefully.
“We have heard reports of Chinese miners, who have barricaded villagers as they conducted their mining activities.
“But the government is silent when that lawlessness is taking place. We have also seen villagers being exposed to hazardous mining activities.
“There is limited environmental impact assessment that is being done prior to extraction of underground resources.”
Mupfumi added: “The villagers have lost their rights as the government that has pledged to protect them turns a blind eye to their concerns.
“What is worrisome is that the government has joined the bandwagon of abuse by perpetrating arrests of villagers who are demonstrating against the Chinese miners when it should have addressed the issue before they had resorted to protests.
“Protests are a sign of desperation and helplessness.”
He said there was need for lawful engagements and agreements between the affected villagers and the Chinese investors to allow for amicable handover of land.
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.
Mupfumi said: “On the issue of compensation, I am yet to see the villagers who have been compensated.
“Chinese miners are making money from minerals, but the locals are not benefiting anything.
“Despite failing to compensate the villagers for their property, the government itself has failed to avail alternative land for the displaced villagers.
“There is a need for the government to respect the rule of law and the constitution to prevent such conflicts. Nobody would shun an investment that is meant to benefit their area.”
Centre for Natural Resource Governance director Farai Maguwu said citizens were not against exploration of minerals in their areas, but were challenging the questionable process of granting mining contracts, where the negotiations were done in secrecy.
“The real problem is not the Chinese investors, but it is the government itself,” Maguwu said.
“From our research, when the miners started their operations throughout the country, the villagers were afraid to confront them.
“But of late, the discontent against displacements is growing. People are becoming courageous to challenge displacements, as evidenced by the protests we have witnessed in Marange.
“There is no consultation between the government and the villagers over the mining deals. The government is siding with the Chinese, instead.”
Maguwu said there was corruption in the implementation of the environmental impact assessments and the Mines and Minerals Act had fuelled the conflicts between villagers and Chinese
“The government is parcelling out special mining grants to the Chinese and then offering security in the form of police offices, army officers and the Central Intelligence Organisation,” he dded.
“Failure of the government to consult the people on development in their area speaks volumes about the nature of the deals it is striking with the foreign investors.
“Another issue of concern is that the available laws on mining are not being implemented although they have their shortcomings.”