Mutasa — Government’s appetite for bribes has led to fly-by-night investors to recklessly exploit mineral resources.
This, according to Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) has come at a cost to communities’ constitutional rights to benefit from locally found natural resources.
The environmental rights group was responding to reports that a Chinese miner Zhongjin reportedly buried 10 artisanal miners during a land reclamation exercise at Premier Estates in Mutasa district recently.
The company has since refuted claims that it intentionally filled the pits without notifying the local communities.
But CNRG has argued that the Zimbabwe Is Open for Business mantra by President Emmerson Mnangagwa administration has opened the country to lawless capitalists and organised criminal syndicates which have no respect for local interest and values.
“There is also a blatant disregard for the law by incoming ‘investors’. It emerged during the tour by Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development that when the Belarusian first started mining at Premier Estates, they were using tourist visas. It remains unclear how these tourists were awarded with special mining grants,” said CNRG.
The rights group said when the Belarusians were challenged by the local community members to declare their interest, they retreated and sought protection from the state which provided them with police reinforcements.
“Police were instructed to disperse the artisanal miners by Belarusians. The heavy presence of plain cloth and uniformed police officers at Premier Estates is testimony of involvement of powerful ruling elites in the activities,” said CNRG.
The group said dubious investors, with no proven track record in mining have taken advantage of Zimbabwe’s economic policy loopholes and rent seeking behaviour by country’s ruling elite to venture into various mining operations in Zimbabwe.
“Since these are not established mining firms, they can only extract surface minerals hence numerous clashes with artisanal miners. Thus, government is teaming up with foreign syndicates to violently displace its own citizens from mining sites and hand over to their foreign allies,” said CNRG.
In Marange, the group said artisanal miners demonstrated since 2006 that they were well capable of extracting diamonds using basic tools such as hoes, picks and shovels.
“The money generated circulated locally as opposed to dodgy companies formed by the ruling elite which former President Robert Mugabe accused in looting of $15 billion in potential diamond revenue,” said CNRG.
The group said chaos, confusion, criminality and impunity surrounding the Premier Estates incident epitomises the extent of chaos and irregularities characterising the mining sector in Zimbabwe.
“There is a likehood of an increase of similar disasters in the near future owing to ever rising tension between guest of the state and local communities who believe they too have constitutional rights to access minerals in their localities.
“It is also critical that government engages locals when they intend to bring an investor,” said CNRG.
The parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development recently visited the disaster site and noted there was absence of a social licence for mining company.
Committee chairperson Edmond Mukaratigwa also highlighted that the Chinese company contracted a Belarusian investor but did not involve the community leadership in notifying the miners.
“The company lacked the social acceptability and social permission that is a prerequisite for any business to operate.
“Our concern is that although the mining activities are susceptible to accidents, our finding here are pointing to an accident as a result of negligence. What we see is the miners were resistant as they went ahead into the shaft despite being told not to do so.
“There is also a gap between contractors and local community, especially in the way they circulated information of the reclamation. They did not involve the local leaders who have a way of making sure that this type of communication reaches people more efficiently when such reclamation are carried out to eliminate resistance,” said Mukaratigwa.