Reports show that more rural people are vulnerable today than at Independence, increasing the spectre of instability as resources continue to be plundered ahead of development.
Community-based economies that could provide jobs and improve the lives of rural people, where the majority of Zimbabweans live, have failed.
A case in point is the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) that was launched in 1989 to assist communities in managing and benefitting from wildlife resources. Communities under the CAMPFIRE project are supposed to benefit from trophy hunting but in most instances, local authorities have diverted the funds, taking advantage of the low levels of literacy and knowledge of financial accounting among rural folk.
In many instances in Zimbabwe, the problem facing rural communities is either the lack of will power and capacity to embark on business or a lack of locally based resources.
Rural communities are generally living on less than a dollar a day despite sitting on billions of dollars worth of resources, a situation that has resulted in armed combat in countries such as Nigeria.
In Zimbabwe, the discovery of resources has often led to even deeper suffering for community members while foreign companies and politically linked individuals enrich themselves.
Communities have been displaced as soon as resources are discovered in their areas. Years later, as foreign elements make a mint, local people have nothing apart from bitter memories to show that they once lived in resource rich areas. The Marange issue, where families forcibly removed from diamond rich lands are being dumped at a disused farm only represents the most recent example of government neglect.
Their situation is reminiscent of that of the Tonga people who, in the 1950s, were displaced to make way for the construction of Kariba Dam, which today generates electricity for Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Half a century later, many Tonga community members have no access to electricity and the lucky ones with an extra dollar resort to candles and hazardous paraffin lamps. Most youths, failing to get a piece of the lucrative fishing and tourism business generated by the dam, skip to South Africa. In the streets of Johannesburg, they do menial, low paying jobs and stay in shacks, forever fearing xenophobic attacks.
In Mutoko, the community wallows in poverty, making a living from poorly resourced farming ventures. But daily, trucks traverse the dusty, poorly maintained roads transporting black granite for export.
While Mutoko residents may not have been moved to make way for the extraction of giant rocks, the same could not be said about the Marange communities who are cursing the discovery of diamonds in their area.
The manner in which families are harassed by soldiers guarding the fields, denied employment by private firms mining there, and for some, relocated to an abandoned farm, exposes how communities are detached from local resources in Zimbabwe.
Phillip Pasirayi, the executive director of the Centre for Community Development (CCDZ), an organisation working with different communities across the country, said it was important for local people to benefit from resources.
“We are opposed to the siphoning of resources to benefit a few politicians in government,” said Pasirayi. “We want these resources to benefit the local people who suffer damaged environments.”
Pasirayi’s organisation has produced a paper on local government reforms advocating for legislation that explicitly allows local authorities to benefit from resources found in areas under their jurisdiction.
Pasirayi said his organisation advocated for companies to satisfy minimum standards of corporate social responsibility before being awarded contracts to extract resources.
South Africa’s state-owned Royal Bafokeng Resources Holdings which partnered Impala Platinum to extract the mineral from that country’s Bafokeng community provides such an example. The community has a significant stake in the company and development around the area is visible.
The situation is different in Zimbabwe, where secrecy surrounds the value of natural resources.
It is not clear, for example, how much diamonds from Marange are worth. The maiden auction of 900 000 carats last week caused more confusion, as official figures kept changing.
Analysts say while Zimbabwe’s population is largely peaceful, the nature of resource allocation was unsustainable for the country’s long-term stability.
In Nigeria for example, communities mobilise, sometimes militantly, to demand a share of natural resources.
The dictatorial Sani Abacha regime hanged activist and writer Ken Saro Wiwa in 1995 for speaking out against the environmental damage caused by Shell Oil to the Niger Delta. Wiwa brought international attention to Shell Oil, which had been extracting the precious liquid from the country for 37 years then, allegedly contaminating the air, water and land used for agricultural purposes.
There are no Wiwas in Zimbabwe, and communities continue singing the blues while the fat cats whistle all the way to the bank. Analysts, however, warn this could be unsustainable.
In a paper presented last year, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, an independent Swiss foundation dedicated to helping improve the global response to armed conflict, pointed out that failure to properly manage natural resources was a potential cause of conflict.
While these issues are especially important in decentralised nations and are particularly salient in a federal context, they can arise in any state confronted with demands for increased autonomy over local resources from individual communities, said the authors of the report, titled Negotiating Natural Resources for Peace: Ownership, Control and Wealth-sharing.
Under these circumstances, the framework for the treatment of natural resources can strengthen a nation or cause conflict.
While chances of serious conflict over resources, along the lines of what happens in West Africa, may be remote in Zimbabwe, the authors said it was important to include provisions on natural resources in the constitution.
Some local organisations have seized the debate on constitutional reforms to push for provisions that would guarantee the accrual of benefits to communities living in resource rich areas.
Shamiso Mtisi of the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association said there should be provisions in the founding principles of the constitution that guarantee transparency and accountability when dealing with natural resources.
The Bill of Rights should have something that relates to economic rights, said Mtisi.
The constitution should also guarantee rights to communities and access to justice in situations where their rights have been violated.