Mines pose challenges to communities

ROUGHLY half of the world’s vanadium, platinum, and diamonds originate from southern Africa along with 36 percent of gold and 20 percent of cobalt.

Despite positive effects of mining activities in the country, the sector has and continues to give rise to diverse social, local governance, agricultural, environmental and economic human rights violations, particularly for villagers that live in the vicinity of mining operations.

Like most Sadc countries, Zimbabwe is richly endowed with mineral resources such as gold, diamonds, platinum, chromite, iron, nickel and coal among others.
The country, for instance, has the second largest platinum reserves after South Africa as well as 15 percent of the global chromite reserves, making it a significant player in the global mining industry.

In his 2016 national budget, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said: “So critical is mining that it, together with agriculture, is expected to drive a 2.7 percent annual GDP growth for Zimbabwe in 2016.”

The human rights problem in mining communities is  rampant in countries like South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania where mining operations are degrading the environment as well as polluting water sources, according to the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project.

Abel Chikanda, in a paper titled “Environmental Degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa”, added that mercury contamination associated with small-scale gold mining and processing, for example, also represents a major environmental and human health concern in the affected areas in the Sadc region.
In Zimbabwe, villagers in Manicaland, Midlands and Mashonald provinces face serious environmental and human rights challenges caused by large and small scale miners.
Tererai Marimanzi from the Chiadzwa area in Manicaland says diamond mining companies in his area are causing water pollution.

“The miners here are polluting Save River our major source of livelihood and we are now facing serious water challenges. Even our livestock is dying because of this problem,” she said.
A villager from Mundandi in Buhera, Martin Deshe said a mine in the area is not only polluting the environment, but also degrading the land.

“Though, they are constructing a dam in our area, which is a positive development, the mine is contributing to environmental degradation; it digs open pits, but does not reclaim the land. As a result, our lives are in danger,” said Deshe.
Communities in Kwekwe do not have access to clean water due to the activities of artisanal miners.

“Artisanal miners are using chemicals such as cyanide and mercury to extract gold from ore, and these chemicals are contaminating our water, exposing us to serious health problems,” said Shelter Chibuta.

Douglas Kondo, a Suswe resident in Mutoko, said granite mining companies in his area are destroying the area’s most productive land.

“Most granite mining companies are inadequately disposing their waste products. Rubble is left lying about, depriving us of our most productive farmland. Also our houses and schools are cracking due to blasting of granite,” he said.

Environmentalist Admire Betera said while most mining companies Zimbabwe, just like their southern African counterparts, are violating host communities’ fundamental human rights and freedoms they go scot-free.

Environmental researcher, Simbarashe Mpofu added that corporate social responsibility is not legislated in this country; hence it is difficult to hold mining companies accountable for sustainable development.

“There is still a gap in terms of enforcement of corporate social responsibility; the law is not clear on that, especially on what steps the law takes if a company fails to perform in terms of corporate social responsibility,” he said.

Environmental Management Agency (Ema) education and publicity manager Steady Kangata said his organisation is working hard to ensure that the environmental and human rights of host mining communities are respected.

Mpofu believes artisanal miners should be trained and incorporated into mainstream mining if the country is to protect the environmental and human rights of host mining communities.
“There is need for human rights literacy for host mining communities, and this calls for all stakeholders to promote a human rights conscious culture within communities as well as in the private mining sector.”

Mpofu urged stakeholders in Zimbabwe to engage in research as well as develop policy options, strategies and programmes that promote mining and protect communities from all forms of violations.

To close the gap, however, the country’s supreme law mandates the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commissions, established in terms of Section 232 and 242 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe No. 20 of 2013 to promote, protect and enforce human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined under the Bill of Right, and Darlington Muyambwa of Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, believes the Commission needs to be capacitated and its role in dealing with issues of human rights violations also need to be enforced.—Lazarus Sauti

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