BY TAWANDA MAJONI
Let’s go east this time around, and take a close look at things that are happening in Mutare.
You know Mutare, right? A very, very beautiful city couching within the natural beauty of the mountains that don mystic mists on their crests all the time. Forget about ugly, dirty and rude Harare. Mutare is just one gem of a city, very majestic, decent and well-mannered.
Save for the city parking attendants who will clamp your car the moment you step out as if their lives depend on it. Save also for an emerging quarry project owned by this Chinese company, Freestones Mines, which has set base on the Dangamvura mountain.
Let’s get it straight right from the start. There is nothing wrong with Freestone—or any other Chinese investor for that matter—doing mining business anywhere in Zimbabwe. What matters is how you will be doing it.
The City of Mutare granted Freestone a licence to quarry on the Dangamvura mountain. The mayor of Mutare, my brother Blessing Tandi, seems set to kill, literally, to ensure that the project proceeds. With his own mouth, he wants to be remembered for facilitating the project that he says will bring cheaper stones and related materials to home builders, road makers and the like in the city. He is rigidly convinced that the quarry project will bring jobs to the jobless of Mutare.
He may be right. But, as far as the majority of Mutareans are concerned, he is walking off at a tangent, and they wouldn’t mind calling him a crab for that.
The residents have serious misgivings, which look straight enough even from a distance. Number one, as they allege, Freestone was fraudulently issued an environmental impact assessment certificate. Sometime late last year, the mining company said it had not been given one. But it then made a flipping U-turn and claimed that it had been given one on a date earlier than the date when it said it didn’t have one. Who does that? Why the contradiction? But, anyway, even the Mutare municipality admitted that the certificate that Freestone went about flaunting was not procedural and even halted the quarrying.
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You don’t have to listen too hard to this. What it says in plain terms is that there was fraud in the manner in which Freestone got the certificate. Since it takes two to tango, the council—or some people within council—and Freestone committed a crime. By normal standards, if you commit a crime, you must be prosecuted. But no prosecution has taken place.
And you tend to wonder what’s going on. If Zimbabwe was Britain where a prime minister faces deposition for partying during a Covid-19 lockdown, the Mutare mayor, his councillors and the municipality secretariat would be back in Chendambuya or Checheche by now, farming potatoes or pumpkins after serving sometime in the cooler. And the Freestone management would be rotting in some dingy prison.
Number two, the people of Mutare—more specifically Dangamvura—were not consulted as is required and expected. Out of the tens of thousands of the residents, only 20—you heard it right, 20—are rumoured to have been engaged as part of the process to obtain the certificate. That was also fraudulent because nobody knows how the consultations took place, if at all they did.
Still on this one, you see some skeletons in a dark closet here. Because, you see, the agent that did the purported environmental impact assessment is a guy who is closely related to some big guy at the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). If you have heard about nepotism, you know what this means. But it’s worse than that because the assessment was unprocedural, anyway. It’s corruption and crime rolled in the same sheet. For, how would EMA not pass the assessment if the agent is this compromised?
Number three is an offshoot of both one and two. Because the people were not properly consulted and the quarry was okayed fraudulently, it means that the project will harm the people of Dangamvura. The project is too close to the suburb. It’s not surprising that the dogs of Dangamvura are always barking and wailing. The noise is too much for them. What’s bad for animals, needless to say, is worse for humans.
Put aside the dust that comes with the quarrying. There is a water pipeline that runs close by and supplies Dangamvura and yonder. There is no guarantee that the digging and blasting will not encroach on the pipeline and then leave the residents high and dry. You know how these investors operate now. They don’t care a squeak about the damage they do to the environment.
After all, the city council gave away part of that mountain for a song. For slightly over US$600 in monthly rentals, Freestone will be making huge millions from the project.
This is why the residents, at a recent meeting in Mutare, vowed they would stop the quarry project at any cost.
Problem is, the sheriff wants the project to proceed, at any cost. At the said meeting, Mayor Tandi talked about representative democracy. He said, as the mayor, he was supposed to carry the voices of the people. But most of the residents were not prepared to listen to that stuff. They spoke and said they didn’t want the project. Yet Tandi spoke and said he wanted the project. It’s very difficult to walk away from such a contradiction without creases on your jacket.
No wonder the residents got whispering that Tandi has been contaminated by the Chinese company. In their minds, the mayor is eating at Freestone, so he doesn’t worry about the hunger or troubles at home.
And the mayor is not making things easier for himself. Like, he was recently at the high table when Freestone went out to meet the residents when things started heating up. The naughty ones say he was given money to attend the meeting after being bribed to accept the project. But the controversy during this belated engagement with the residents went beyond Tandi. There were reports that journalists and some representatives of civil society were given brown envelopes too. My ears and eyes say the big guys got as much as US$2,000 each.
There must be something special but ominous about the figure 2,000. You will remember that, just recently, some Harare journalists offered the same amount to a rarely honest female scribe in an attempt to get her to kill the investigation of a tobacco company called Voedsel.
It’s not clear what the money the journalists and others got was for. It was certainly not for lunch. Because, you see, you would have to have a sense of taste to eat lunch worth US$50 in Zimbabwe. The average guy won’t do that.
But, whatever the purpose, it seems the Freestone strategy is working. Civil society in Mutare is already divided. That’s because there are some who spoke with so much energy against the project just recently who have now smoothened their tongues and are more or less cheering Freestone on. And, no doubt, you see one or two chaps pretty like stroking Freestone with a gentle touch of the pen in the newsroom.
Which may mean, when all is said and done, the greedy have mortgaged the city of Mutare and its people for two pieces of silver. At this rate, the quarry project will go on, much against the people’s wishes and will.
Have you ever wondered why Chinese commercial imperialism is succeeding throughout Africa? What you see happening in Mutare right now is the one big answer.
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on [email protected]