VILLAGERS in Mutoko face the increasing risk of injury and even death in open pits left by Chinese companies mining granite stone in their areas without regard to environmental restoration, the Zimbabwe Independent reports.
Mining companies are obliged to clean up and fill back open-pit sites and also carry out corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in the communities they operate in.
According to treehugger.com, this can be done through flattening solid waste and placing it back inside the pit.
The website states the mine itself can be filled with waste rock. It is then re-contoured. Topsoil is added and vegetation is planted.
However, this is not happening in Mutoko where villagers and Chinese granite mining companies are embroiled in a battleof attrition over the mining activities and possible displacements of the villagers from their ancestral lands.
The villagers, who are also receiving threats from local authorities and being barred from talking to the media, told the Independent that the Chinese granite mining companies were not taking responsibility over the environmental destruction.
They said the companies were not cleaning up the open-pits, putting both livestock and people at risk.
The communities, who are supposed to be consulted, have been excluded from the prospecting stages. Instead, they have observed Chinese nationals visiting their villages in the company of traditional leaders, politicians or officials from the local authority.
Prior investigations on these issues carried out with support from Information for Development Trust — a non-profit organisation supporting independent investigative reporting — revealed that most communities remained vulnerable to arbitrary and sporadic displacements.
This is on the backdrop of numerous factors that include the deliberate violation of the law, connivance between the investors and influential community leaders, out-dated laws and politically-induced fear.
On the issue at hand, ordinarily, the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) is supposed to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources and protection of the environment, the prevention of pollution and environmental degradation and the preparation of environmental plans for the management and protection of the environment.
However, villagers say the agency was not making follow-ups with the companies, citing transport challenges.
A villager, who asked not to be named, said: “If you are unfortunate and your cow falls in the pit, you don’t get compensation for it. We are living in fear because these people (the Chinese miners) are known for beating up people. Even our roads are in shambles. They do whatever they want in our area and are not repairing anything, but instead, they are destroying the environment.”
He said villagers are fined for cutting down trees, but the Chinese firms are not being sanctioned for destroying the environment.
“These people are cutting down trees on vast pieces of land and leaving open pits everywhere, but they get away with it. We are not sure if the mandate of Ema is to fine just the villagers who cut down trees,” the villager said.
Investigations show that four Chinese mining companies, which started mining operations a long time back, have failed to meet their CSR.
The villagers said the roads in these areas were now in a deplorable state as a result of the heavy equipment that transports the granite stone from the mining sites. In addition, they were also not allowed to fetch water from any of the boreholes drilled by the companies in and around their communities.
Another villager said: “Our government should come here to assess these companies because what we want as communities is development. Emamust do its job.
“The companies are supposed to respect our rights not for us to live in fear because they beat up locals. They are supposed to employ interpreters because we are also facing language barriers.
“If they violate our rights, they are also supposed to be arrested. No one is above the law,” she said.
Zimbabwe Environmental Law Agency (Zela) executive director Shamiso Mtisi told the Independent that the assessments made so far indicated glaring shortcomings on the miners’ part, with most roads and bridges being destroyed and not being repaired.
He was, however, quick to point out that this was not to discourage Chinese investment in the country,but said there was need for political will to ensure that conflicts are avoided by enforcing compliance to CSR, stopping violation of human rights and deaths of livestock.
In cases where compensation was due, it should be delivered, Mtisi said.
He said the work being done as part of CSR was not enough, considering the amount of damage the companies were causing in the area.
“You will realise that most companies take time to fill up the pits or those areas that they will be extracting some granite and you will also observe that in terms of the environment, the companies have contributed to shaking of houses through vibration caused by their blasting,” Mtisi said.
“That causes some problems. Even the roads are in a very bad state, one would expect these companies to put some good gravel or some bridges to enable their big trucks to reach those areas. But it’s not happening.
“As companies that are into granite mining, we would expect them to do more in terms of fixing these bridges and roads, but they have actually damaged the bridges that were built long back.
“They should not be found wanting when it comes to ploughing back into the community.
“We also expect the rural district councilto benefit from the extraction of resources, but nothing is happening. So it’s a matter of extraction and they go. When they go, they leave open pits and sometimes they are taking grazing pastures and farming land which they leave degraded.”
He called on government to hold these miners accountable so that the standards that apply to big miners like Zimplats and Mimosa also apply to all other miners in the country.
“It’s the nature of the Chinese that they do not give any regard to the rights of locals. They disregard our rights and assume they are superior,” Mtisi said.
He said this was caused by poor legislative enforcement measures and political will on the part of government to ensure that the Chinese are accountable.
“When I refer to political will I refer to the fact that some of the Chinese will tell you that they have been told to start mining, but were not aware to the laws we will be referring to,” Mtisi said.
But Ema education and publicity officer Astas Mabwe implored Zimbabweans to desist from discriminating against the Chinese.
“From the bi-annual environmental audits we carry out as Ema, most granite mining companies are complying with the conditions set out in their environmental impact assessment certificates,” he said.
“The companies have all the required licences. On rehabilitation, granite mining companies say granite mining can be migratory within the claim precincts depending on the costs and quality.
“Ema ordered all granite mining companies to fence off their claims to avoid any mishaps involving community life. They all complied. As for community social responsibility, community leaders are responsible for following up with the respective companies depending on their agreements,” Mabwe said.
Both the councillor and the CEO of the Mutoko Rural District Council refused to respond to questions sent, insisting on face-to-face interviews.