Enormous blocks of granite debris lie scattered in a field that once beamed with an assortment of edible greens all year round in Mutoko, Eastern Zimbabwe. A stones' throw away are ruins that once served as the happy home of a successful Buja farmer, long displaced and forcibly relocated to wastelands after receiving pittance for compensation.
“We were given US$3000 as compensation for moving from our ancestral home and fields. When we protested that the amount was inadequate, they threatened that they would raze our homes to the ground and withhold compensation; the village headman said we had no choice but to leave. Now we live on this wasteland, wasting away in poverty all because of granite miners that come to destroy our lives,” said Eddington Reza in an interview with Humanitarian Eye.
Such is the story of many families of Buja origin whose lives and livelihoods have been disrupted by granite mining companies that also mete out massive environmental degradation and destruction on communal lands. The mines, according to the registrar of companies are mostly of Italian and Spanish origin including CRG Quarries, Illford Services Mining Company, Natural Stone Export Company, Zimbabwe International Quarries and Quarrying Enterprises among the major players. However Chinese firms have joined the plunder in recent years with firms such as Surewin, Dingmao, Jintings and Longlui claiming a stake in the lucrative sector. A number of political figures have been known to be associated with the firms including Uzumba Member of Parliament, Simbaneuta Mudarikwa who is associated with Natural Stone and former deputy mines minister, David Chapfika, who has been linked to Quarrying Enterprises.
Reza is one of the lucky few that actually received tangible compensation as some villagers are simply deceived off their land. Black granite miners have since perfected the art of swindling the illiterate villagers by coaxing them to sign unfair compensation contracts. Eunice Chakavinge, a 55-year-old widow is a case in point as she was pressured into signing a despicable contract for the disturbances she is encountering from Illford granite mine, when the reality on the ground will eventually force her to relocate. Illford which runs Southern Granite mine has been operational since the mid-1980s.
“When Illford came into our community, they noted that their activities would cause major disturbances to me and my family through noise, dust pollution and cracking of my house from the constant blasting of black granite. They said they would compensate for this disturbance through four bags of fertilizer annually in addition to monetary compensation.
“However, when they eventually offered me the written contract, they said there would be no monetary compensation. They did not offer me a chance to consult, I had to concede to their pressure and sign the contract without even reading it as they were accompanied by the village head and councillor. It was only after I informed my relatives that I realized I had been swindled. They did not leave me with a copy of the contract either. The mine is located only 50m from my home, I reckon that I will eventually be forced to relocate,” she said.
Chakavinge has since engaged community monitors for redress, however the miners are reluctant to renegotiate.
Some villagers have given up on seeking compensation altogether discouraged by the unfair treatment of neighbors by granite mining companies. Deliberate Gumbo of Nzvengwe village, whose homestead has been invaded by one of the granite mining companies, said she is currently seeking alternative accommodation without pursuing compensation.
“I feel pursuing compensation is a futile exercise against these powerful mining companies. We hear the stories everyday of how villagers are being displaced without compensation, what would make my case any different?” she lamented.
Gumbo said she had gone to visit her relatives when the mining company came and pegged their mine inside her homestead without any form of consultation.
Corruption and intimidation
Community monitor, Loise Guvheya, says suspicion is rife that the local leadership is being bribed to facilitate unfair compensation for relocations.
“There is no transparency when it comes to matters of compensation and relocation. We constantly sit for our ward assembly, however councillors and headmen never table these issues for deliberations which leads us to suspect that they are being bribed by the mining companies to sell out their own. Local leaders are offering no protection to their constituents, they should be able to scrutinize the compensation contracts and advise accordingly.
“Ideally, community monitors should be engaged in the negotiation process as we have been empowered with knowledge on communal land rights and the need for adequate compensation. Most families that actually receive compensation are paid between US$3000 to US$4000 which is far from adequate as their source of livelihood is disturbed. They are often forced to buy land when they relocate to inappropriate locations,” she said.
Politicians have also been blamed for underhand dealings to facilitate swift relocations with inadequate compensation. Resisting community members are threatened that their homes will be bulldozed to the ground, forcing them to retreat into submission.
Weak customary land rights
A recent report titled ‘From Fountains of Hope to Anthills of Despair’ notes how communities have weak grounds for redress as the law prioritizes mining over communal land rights.
“The research observed that mining licenses and certificates granted to granite mining companies provide stronger rights than land rights held by communities. Communities do not have free-hold ownership of the lands they occupy; they occupy and use their lands at the mercy of the state or local governing authorities. This means that in the conflict over land uses, communities lose as their rights are weak, less protected by legislation and have very few remedies as compared to rights held by mining companies,” read the report which was commissioned by the Trustone initiative, a collection of civic society organizations concerned with resource governance in the granite sector.
At the heart of the disputes with communities is the large swatches of land required for a successful granite operation which leads to mining companies invading communal land initially designed for communal functions and environmentally friendly activities such as pasturing, farming and wild fruit gathering. This is in stark contrast to the environmentally destructive granite mining process which requires a minimum of 50 hectares of land for a license, according to the report. This is slightly bigger than the Vatican city which measures 44 hectares.
“Since huge tracts of land are involved, the livelihoods of most of communities in Mutoko based on land uses are greatly disturbed. The research observed that these livelihoods are dependent on small-scale agriculture, livestock ranching, hunting and gathering forest products, grazing pastures, ritual ceremonies and practices, firewood sourcing, setting up homes and small businesses. Massive disturbances are occasioned on community lands by granite mining companies. The extreme noise from blasting disturbs both humans and livestock.
The conflict of mining with other established rural land uses often results in forcible eviction of persons residing in the vicinity of mining operations. These evictions greatly affect the relationship between granite mining companies and local communities. Extreme levels of dust make habitation in the vicinity of these companies impossible. The vibrations from the trucks transporting tons of granite cause cracking on the houses located by the roadside. Mining activities are therefore difficult to co-exist with other community activities,” read the report.
In an interview, one of the authors of the report, Darlington Chidarara who is also the Projects Coordinator for Action Aid Zimbabwe (AAZ) said the law greatly favors mineral extraction over communal land rights.
“It critical to note that once there is mining activity in any rural set-up, the land rights of the communities are vanquished. Looking at our mineral resource governance, the mines and minerals act clearly gives precedence to mining in relation to the Rudd Concession which says ‘do what you may if you need to extract minerals.’ This therefore tramps on the rights of the communities living in areas like Mutoko identified for mining activities.
“To this end, the mining communities are always at the receiving end. We are therefore advocating for sustainable mining in which the miner is environmentally responsible and has a social contract with the community," said Chidadara.
"At one point, a Chinese miner told the community that they do not have rights to the land, which goes to reflect the huge gaps in the Zimbabwe land question,” he said.
Government authorities and agencies offer little to no protection to members of the Buja community facing eviction. According to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), granite mining companies are only required to provide an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) as opposed to the more stringent Environmental Impact Assessment. This has catastrophic implications from an environmental perspective and limits community consultations before commencement of operations. Critically important is the absence of clear processes to challenge the awarding of a mining license in the event of community land rights being violated.
To this end, the aforementioned report noted how granite mining companies do not apply Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) principles which refer to the engagement of communities in large scale projects to seek their consent prior to onset of mining in a manner that is voluntary. Furthermore, the FPIC principles dictate how communities must give their consent with full knowledge of the proposed mining operations and their probable consequences. Consequences which not only impact humans but grievously harm the environment.
The environmental catastrophe in Mutoko has reached alarming levels as multilateral companies continue to displace indigenous Buja unabated for environmentally irresponsible mining activities. Indigenous populations the world over have been hailed as defenders of the environment, their removal in Mutoko has unleashed terror on Mother Earth.
Granite mining companies have been known to use open-cast mining which results in large pits that the miners never bother to fill up. The pits are then filled with water to create granite ponds which pose a danger to both humans and domestic animals. The number of animals falling into this environmental trap is on the increase.
The mining process also involves the destruction of mountains, a major source of visual intrusion in Mutoko as most majestic mountains have been cut in half. Coupled with the requisite clearing of forests, soil erosion in Mutoko has been exacerbated leading to siltation of rivers.
Villagers are also on record for decrying how the granite mining sector have been diverting rivers to their operations, thereby denying them water to irrigate their produce. Studies have also shown how water abstraction has resulted in reduction of the water table.
According to the report, granite miners have been able to evade prosecution on the basis of the weak EMP which is less strict on environmental matters.
“EMA is unable to insist on rehabilitation of the huge open pits when a company states that it will return to mine again in the same spot in the near future. EMA however admits that only one company seems to have re-explored its old sites, namely Natural Stone Export Company. This means the huge environmental degradation and destruction is not rehabilitated, even in terms of the EMP that would have been binding on companies,” added the report.
The report noted that granite mining companies have remained reluctant to reduce their environmental footprint as there are no certification mechanisms for environmentally friendly companies which buyers can track. Furthermore, it was noted that EMA has lackluster environmental records even though they conduct biannual inspection on all mining operations.
“There is a disconnect between granite mining activities, environmental regulation of granite mining and the international marketing and export of granite from Zimbabwe. Pertinently, there seem to be no plans by the Minerals Marketing Authority of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) to establish a formalized framework whereby they advise international buyers of the environmental compliance report card of local granite mining companies,” read the report.
Impact on women and children
The impact of granite mining on women and children has been gravely felt by the Buja community as two children were reported to have drowned in granite ponds last year.
In an interview, Evelyn Kutyauripo, a paralegal based in Mutoko decried the gender discrimination against women in the sector which employs very few women.
The paralegal said prostitution is now rife owing to the absence of opportunities for women in the sector. This has led to high incidence of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) among community members and the highly sought-after quarrymen that are deemed financially stable.
“We have also recorded high levels of child marriages among our girls as they fall prey to quarrymen that are not usually from the Buja Community. Child-headed families have also been noted after children have been orphaned owing to the high prevalence HIV/AIDS,” she said.
Kutyauripo said granite mining has also resulted in human-wildlife conflict as wild animals are now encroaching into communal lands as they are being displaced from the forests.
“Once upon a time, it was rare to see a python, however these large snakes now roam freely as they were disturbed from their habitats. Wild animals now feed on our crops, compromising our livelihood. Hyenas are also being sighted regularly, we had an incident of a child that was bitten by a hyena during prayers last year which goes to illustrate how dire the situation is,” she said.
Infringement on cultural rights
Kutyauripo also decried the infringement on communal cultural rights as evidenced by the destruction of sacred places by the mining sector which she said has led to a reduction in rainfall as the ancestors are displeased with the conduct of the granite miners.
“Granite miners wantonly desecrate our sacred hills by extracting the black gold from mountains that were never meant for mining. Furthermore, they exhume the graves of our loved ones during relocations which violates our cultural rights as this is unheard of in our Buja tradition. Resultantly, rainfall patterns have fallen in Mutoko as we are no longer able to practice our rainmaking ceremonies on sacred shrines. We are a people that has been robbed of our culture,” she said.
Chidarara called for adequate compensation for communities as opposed to what is currently being offered to displaced members of the Buja community.
“In addressing this, we need to rectify our land ownership question and ensure that the mines and minerals bill clearly lays procedures with regards to mineral induced displacements. The procedures should also look at the modalities of compensation and whether the host community is happy with the process as land rights issues cannot be separated from the livelihoods of rural communities. The process should equally involve cultural rights with regards to ancestral graves and sacred mountains,” he said.
Chidarara also called for the mediation of institutions such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to place rights of the community at the core of any decisions.
The report urged companies sourcing granite from Mutoko to develop and implement human rights due diligence processes so as to ensure that potential and actual human rights risks are identified, prevented and mitigated throughout the granite mining supply chain. Furthermore, companies were urged to adopt an action plan that identifies specific human rights risks, communities affected by the risks, costs of remediation or mitigation, timeline for implementing response measures and means and methods of engaging suppliers and affected communities.
The firms were equally urged to develop a portal for the submission of grievances and complaints by persons and communities from the sourcing areas. In the long run, environmental degradation and infringement on communal rights could have a detrimental effect on the price allotted to Mutoko-sourced black granite, which activists hope will act as a deterrent.
Chidarara said AAZ is working with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) on the Fair Green and Global third successor project aimed at empowering and defending communities in the face of development-induced displacement.
“Through FGG3, we are working to ensure that we capacitate communities with regards to their rights, providing them with the right arsenal for negotiations. Secondly, we also make sure that we create platforms for discussions between communities and the corporates as well as the local leadership. Such platforms are critical when it comes to conflict management. Thirdly, we are also working to influence policy on the land question and the highly anticipated mines and minerals amendment bill,” he said.
Although the laments of the Buja people have rang out for long, government seems to be finally listening with plans to repeal the unfair mines and minerals act.
The Zimbabwean Government has also started tweaking the regulations that govern granite mining with a ban on raw granite exports through Statutory Instrument (SI) 127 of 2022 which was introduced on the 8th of July. The SI defines unprocessed granite as the igneous rock with grains large enough to be seen by the naked eye. Granite firms were allowed to fulfil orders of unprocessed granite until expiry of prior contracts. The SI elaborated that unprocessed granite could only be allowed in the event of a written reprieve by the minister of mines.
Anyone that violates the government order will be subjected to a fine twice the value of the granite or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or both such fine and imprisonment.
Activists have expressed hope that the new wave will also address the contentious issue of communal land rights in Mutoko.
This story was produced with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published by Humanitarian Eye on 31 July 2022 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Waste left behind by Granite mining companies / Credit: Humanitarian Eye.