Resettlement schemes poisoned chalice

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LAST week’s ceremony at Bimi Farm in Murehwa district where Lafarge Cement unveiled a US$350 000 model village for people displaced by the company’s mining operations at their original home in Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe was characterised by joy and appreciation rare among ordinary Zimbabwean villagers wallowing in poverty and misery.

By Herbert Moyo

The spontaneous clapping, ululating and dancing, as well as praises for God and ancestors characterised the event where 35-year-old Spiwe Kagonda and nine other families received a three-bedroomed house, a thatched kitchen and blair toilet valued at US$32 000 per household.

“This house is way better than the crowded two rooms my family had back in Uzumba,” Kagonda said, adding that her family is grateful for what the company had done.

The Murehwa villagers are not the only ones rejoicing over the company’s relocation and housing initiatives, but also those in Chisumbanje where Green Fuel, owned by Billy Rautenbach and Arda, has transformed the lives of the villagers living around the ethanol plant.

A drive through Chisumbanje and its sun-bathed environs presents a picture of renewed life, vitality and an enduring hope that the future can only get better.

Villagers like George Chinyamukwakwa (42) and his wife Elizabeth Makuyana (28) are among families who benefitted from 0,5 hectares of irrigation land provided by Green Fuel, allowing them to farm and harvest three times in one year in the arid region.

Developments such as these in Murehwa, Chisumbanje and many other areas including around Mutare where villagers were relocated from Chiadzwa by diamond mining companies, all demonstrate that Zimbabwe is certainly moving from yesteryear practices where firms simply moved in, displaced villagers without compensation to exploit whatever natural resource was in the area.

This is sustainable development which, according to the Institute for Sustainable Development website, refers to change that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

However, analysts say while there are certainly welcome initiatives such as those recently shown by Lafarge, Green Fuel in Chisumbanje and Zimplats in Selous, the country still needs to do more by way of legislation and practice.

“When we hear the definition of sustainable development we are reminded that it is development that takes place without compromising the ability of future generations to survive,” said Matanhire, adding that “therefore all industrial operations need to consider this type of initiative in any basic strategy which drives their ability to survive”.

Even for those who have been resettled like Kagonda, there is still more that needs to be done as their model village lacks water facilities. The distance to the nearest school and clinic is said to be 20 kilometres presenting a daunting prospect for them, especially to people like Kagonda who is pregnant.

Apart from this, there are also inconsistencies in the manner in which different companies attend to their obligations to the local communities which analysts blame on the failure by government to enact clear resettlement legislation and frameworks.

Only last month, the families relocated from the controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields reportedly petitioned the government, complaining they had been dumped at Arda Transau resettlement area, just outside Mutare, without alternative means of survival.

Even the parliamentary portfolio committee report on the issue released in July accused the companies of reneging on their promises to build enough houses for the affected families.

At the time of the report’s release, it was said Mbada Diamonds had constructed only 100 out of the 487 houses, while Marange Resources constructed only 184 out of 350. Anjin Investments is the only company that constructed its full complement of 474 homesteads, while Rera Diamonds did not construct any of the promised 92 houses.

According to environmental lawyer Shamiso Mutisi, such discrepancies in the companies’ performances are due to the absence of clear legislation.

“Unfortunately, the communities live on land which legally belongs to the state,” said Mutisi. “At best they can only be compensated for improvements not for the land itself even if they have lived on it for more than 60 years.”

Mutisi also said even where such compensation is offered, villagers get a raw deal as they generally do not have the money to engage their own independent evaluators to determine the value of their improvements.

Brian Raftopolous, a senior research mentor at the University of Western Cape, said even though there were attempts at cushioning displaced communities, the current efforts were “ad hoc and like other policies such as the land reform and indigenisation, they are not part of a broad long-term vision of development”.

While some villagers are happy with the relocations so far, the overall situation shows that some of the resettlement schemes have proved to be a poisoned chalice; for they appear attractive at the beginning, but toxic in the final analysis.

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