A Report on a Monitoring Visit to Mhondongori, Zvishavane
1.1 Introduction and Background
In early 2016, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association commissioned a research into the social, economic and environmental impacts of mining to rural communities that host mining investment in Zimbabwe. One of the driving factor for the research was seen as the high levels of unmonitored chrome mining activities in Zvishavane. Some of the recommendations from the ZELA/OXFAM research directly related to the promotion of Social Licensing, promoting community consent and decentralisation of key reporting institutions.
In February 2018, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) in partnership with Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) commissioned a separate, independent monitoring visit to Zvishavane, in Mhondongori village. The primary purpose of the visit was to follow up on community members’ activities and reflections that were being put in action after the members had visited other mining areas in South Africa and Mozambique, and learnt various lessons. Further, the monitoring visit would aim at creating a platform where communities discuss emerging issues from chrome mining and also freely share with the Environmental Management Authority and Runde Rural District Council representatives on these issues.
1.2 The Good
Chrome mining is an important economic activity in Zimbabwe. Indeed, Zimbabwe is the seventh largest producer of Chrome in the world. In 2017 the country earned $293 million and $84,4 million from high carbon ferrochrome and chrome ore respectively. Further, in 2018 the Government projects an output of 1,7 Million tonnes from Chrome, which is a significant 80 percent increase from 2017.
Chrome mining has been seen as critical tool in community empowerment and economic development. One way adopted by government to achieve this is to acquire large tracts of land from mining companies and redistribute it to small scale miners in the community through a tributary mining system. For instance, in 2016 the Government announced that ZIMASCO had ceded 22 000 hectares of land containing massive chrome rich deposits while a further 20 000 hectares were ceded by ZimAlloys to small scale miners. This model has empowered local citizens and communities by giving them access to resources occurring in their areas, thus benefitting from their natural resources.
1.3 The Ugly
Despite good governmental intentions in relation to community empowerment through tributary mining, the local communities continue to pay too high a cost out of mining activities. One affected community member pointed this out:
“We are facing harassment from chrome miners in our village. Some of the miners come from outside Mhondongori. They(Chrome Miners) are stealing our livestock when not paid properly by their employers. We have also recorded several cases were local communities are attacked coming from shopping and the victims are dumped in open pits (left from chrome mining) for dead. We are losing grazing land for our livestock through veld-fires as the miners are resorting to poaching wild animals.”
The community members further highlighted cases of sexual abuse of minor girls as young as 12 years from the miners. The mining operations are also leaving open pits as there are no proper rehabilitation plan in place. One villager, a member of the Mhondongori Development Trust stated:
“Last week we stopped the large mining trucks from passing through our community. We detained the truck for three days demanding the mine owners to engage us and hear our grievances. The Police intervened and we released the trucks”.
The trust mobilised other community members to stand against the miners, and this canbe regarded as an innovative way of compelling dialogue and engagement. An EMA officer confirmed community claims, highlighting that:
“The tributary miners are leaving open pits. It is difficult for us to hold these miners accountable. We cannot demand for their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as ownership of their claims is not recognised by Ministry of Mines.”
Yet another official, the Environment Officer of Runde Rural District Council complained:
“Our worry as council is on sanitation. There are no toilets in the proximity of the mining activities”.
1.4 Way forward
Women from Mhondongori have gone a step forward in creating women Forums to fight against the negative impacts of chrome mining in their community. The forums give them a collective and louder voice to stand against the abuses of the tributary system and other wrongs of mining in the area. In the context of the discussions and the lessons that communities learnt from their regional experiences the following recommendations were made:
- The Government should ensure that the tributaries are registered under the Ministry of Mines before such tributaries can commence operations.
- EMA should make demands on number of open pits to be rehabilitated as opposed to having miners submit their rehabilitation plan.
- Communities should be consulted on miners who will be mining in the area to create room for accountability.
- Runde RDC in partnership with EMA must ensure close monitoring on all land degradation activities.
- The Mhondongori community has to identify opportunities presented by the mining operations such as the currently running fishery project, where the Mhondongori Development Trust converted open mining pits to fish ponds.
- ZELA should continually support and educate the women forums with legal skills so that they are conscious of their rights, available remedies, legal strategies and approaches to problem solving.