BY MELODY CHIKONO/TINASHE KAIRIZA
SCORES of disgruntled villagers in Mutoko are on a collision path with Chinese mining company, Shanghai Haoying Mining Investments, which is pushing for their eviction after being allocated black granite mining claims and rights to land straddling over 168 hectares, investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent have revealed.
The planned evictions are likely to affect about 1 500 households, with villagers fretting over the impending displacements.
This comes in the wake of a stakeholders meeting presided by Chief Mutoko in June, during which villagers compelled black granite mining firms to participate in the area’s developmental initiatives, including rehabilitating the environment.
At that meeting, villagers implored the mining firms to set up a community revolving fund, from which resources would be injected into development projects.
A recent visit to Mutoko, in Mashonaland East province, showed that Richbase, another Chinese firm, is setting up a processing plant that will be part of the black granite mining and beneficiation value chain which is mostly controlled by investors from the Asian country and Italy.
Natural Stone Export Company, Illford Services Mining Company, Quarrying Enterprises, CRG Quarries and New Obsidian Granite are some of the companies mining the lucrative mineral in Mutoko, resulting in massive degradation of the environment.
An estimated 1 500 households are set to be affected, as sources disclosed to the Independent, with villagers vowing to resist the planned removal from their ancestral lands by the Chinese firm.
The villagers told this publication that “some people had visited the area in recent times” announcing the planned evictions.
Mines and Mining Development minister Winstone Chitando could not respond to questions as he was attending a meeting.
“Can you kindly send your questions in writing, I am in a meeting,” Chitando told the Independent yesterday.
He did not respond to the written questions.
It remains unclear if the government has plans to resettle and compensate the 1 500 villagers.
Investigations, however, revealed that representatives from Shanghai Haoying were moving around the area, notifying villagers of their plans to set up black granite mining operations.
Efforts to get a comment from Shanghai Haoying representatives were fruitless at the time of going to print.
Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CRNG) communications officer Simiso Mlevu said the Mines ministry should be stopped from “recklessly parceling” out mining grants to foreign mining firms.
CNRG is a pressure group which has been advocating the extraction of the mineral for the benefit of the Mutoko community, among other objectives.
“Minister Chitando must not be allowed to continue issuing special grants that lead to disturbance of communities without first engaging the people to be affected and working out plans to mitigate the effects of the proposed projects. Government should meaningfully engage local communities before awarding extractive contracts to the investors. This will give the citizens the opportunity to give or withhold their consent in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” Mlevu told the Independent this week.
“Shanghai Haoying Investments P/L should also fully adhere to Chinese Guidelines on Environmental Protection in Investment and Co-operation Overseas (Guideline on Environmental Protection), which compels Chinese foreign investors to respect the values of the hosting communities.”
Villagers in Tome, Karimazonde, Kahwa and Katsukunya are among others who are reportedly going to be affected as the district slowly alters from being a habitable environment into a predominantly granite mining zone.
A representative of the villagers, Elizabeth Mukucha, said they have resolved to fiercely resist the evictions and have since engaged the government to block the move.
“People from Tome, Chingamuka and Karimazonde have been told that they will be affected. Our position is that we would rather fight to death than be evicted from the land of our forefathers. We will not allow that to happen,” Mukucha said in an interview.
“We know that some councillors and officials were bribed to support the evictions, but we will resist them.”
Mutoko North National Assembly representative Rambidzai Nyabote denied that evictions were looming.
“There is nothing like that (evictions). It would be good if you can visit the area again,” he said during a telephone interview.
The disgruntled villagers have since approached headman Nyamukapa, to engage the government to ensure their protection.
Two other headmen who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity confirmed the looming evictions.
Richbase representative Norman Maja declined to comment.
“I am sorry I cannot disclose anything about the plant. You need to speak to the Chinese owners,” Maja said.
Sources close to the granite cutting and polishing plant, which is almost complete, said while Richbase would concentrate on beneficiating, the firm had entered a partnership with various mining firms to ensure a steady supply from the lucrative granite mining.
“From what we understand, Richbase will be getting the black granite from some of the firms which are already operating in the area. Richbase has an agreement with the miners to ensure a consistent supply of the mineral. That is how they will be operating,” a source close to the developments said.
Mutoko North has 43 schools, 25 of which are primary schools and 18 are secondary schools. Of the 25 primary schools, 19 schools do not have access to water and eight do not have electricity. Three clinics in the constituency do not have running water.
In 2011, global traders were selling a one square-metre block of black granite mineral stones from quarries across Mutoko at prices between US$500 and US$600, while the local rural district council was levying US$1 from a tonne of the mineral.
During that same year, records from the Minerals and Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) showed that Mutoko contributed 75% to Zimbabwe’s cumulative black granite output.
The bulk of it is exported to China and Europe, particularly Italy.
Poor monitoring of the granite extractive sector has resulted in the loss of revenue running into millions of dollars as companies understate weight and production figures.
Extraction of the lucrative mineral in Mutoko, which dates back to 1972, has been characterised by shadowy mining firms who have leveraged on their intricate political connections to plunder the resource at the expense of the impoverished community.
This is not the first time the government has been accused of orchestrating evictions of locals. In March this year, the government caused global ire when its plans to evict over 15 000 people from Chilonga area for the establishment of a lucerne grass production project were exposed.
Villagers fiercely resisted the move, which has since been halted by the courts.