By Roselilly Nokhutula Geza
The extractive industry revolves around operations that remove gas, metals, minerals, stones and the earth with the intention of repurposing or adding value to them. Zimbabwe is a country endowed with vast extractive resources and has potential to harness these for sustainable development. Situated in the North- western part of Zimbabwe, the coal mining town of Hwange plays a major role in the country’s extractive industry. Since 1902, coal (a hydrocarbon) mining has been the major economic activity in the small town. Sadly, there is little to show with regards to its contribution to social, economic and environmental justices that is naturally associated with mining of such magnitude. It is against this background that the article seeks to highlight the social, economic and environmental injustices that have emanated from this mining activity. The article further seeks to give recommendations to government, mining companies and civil society on how best to right these wrongs. Reference will be made to Hwange mining town.
It is critical to highlight that the focus on the extractive industry is hinged on three distinct features. Firstly, extractive resources are finite and therefore their extraction should be in a sustainable manner such that future generations can also benefit from their extraction. Secondly, extractives are a country’s capital wealth therefore it is only prudent that value be returned to source country after extraction. Lastly extracting comes with significant and to a large extent irreparable environmental degradation therefore it is imperative that Zimbabwe gets as much revenue as it can from the extractive industry whilst enforcing laws that minimalize impact to the environment.
Hwange Colliery Company is the largest operational company with smaller companies such as Makomo, JINGAN Corporation also partaking in the extraction of coal. Inspite of the challenging environment fuelled by Covid-19 pandemic the Hwange Colliery Company recorded increase in production volumes by 50%, a revenue increase of 860%, gross profit present increase of 22% and net loss decrease of 65% for the 3 months ended 31 March 2020 compared to the corresponding period 2019 (ZSE QUARTER TRADING UPDATED:HCCL,2020).Despite such positives the town of Hwange is in a despicable state. In 2018 the spouses of workers from the HCCL staged a 98 day demonstration over non-payment of salaries (New Zimbabwe.com 15 September 2018).
The failure to pay workers their wages is an infringement on the rights of the workers. The Labour Act [Chapter 28:01] which defines an employee as any person who performs work or services for another person for renumeration or reward on such terms and conditions as agreed upon by the parties. The failure by mining companies to pay wages is detrimental to the livelihood of the workers who in turn fail to pay for basic services such as food, education and healthcare. Furthermore, the female spouses of these workers bear the brunt of unpaid care work. Young girls have also been drawn into prostitution where they mill around the Victoria Falls highway where they wait for truckers’ sexual favours in return for money and food
The buildings in the mining town of Hwange are in various states of dilapidation. Of note are the workers houses which are in dire need of renovation. Overcrowding is a main feature of these houses. Through overt investigations it was established that two rooms are housing up to eight people due to lack of decent housing. This has had a bearing on the sanitary facilities that are not designed to cater for such large numbers.
A number of accidents have been recorded that involve human being drawn down into coal fires that just give in on unsuspecting individuals. A lot of individuals and animals have been burnt by these coal fires and the mining giants have not done much to assist the people who have had such calamity befall them. The extension of coal mining into the Chilota area in Hwange has threatened the coexistence of humans and animals as there is a constant completion for space. Wild animals encroach human settlements ad humans disturb wildlife as they push further into wild animal territory.
Despite Hwange being a mining town, it exists in one of the biggest game parks in Zimbabwe, that is the Hwange National Park. Wild animals freely roam the area but due to open cast mining wild and domestic animals have fallen into these deep pits and succumbed to premature death. The state of land degradation is alarming. Land overburden is also rife as mounds of slurry are dumped on the land leaving limited space for developmental activities. This stifles the growth of vegetation which can help mitigate the effects of climate change.
The clearing of naturally occurring vegetation, levelling of land, creation of hard surfaces and the creation of compacted surfaces to make way for development of Chilota, WMK, Hwange Colliery and Makomo mines generated changes to the environment which caused alteration of normal drainage patterns. Vehicular movements/maintenance create the potential for substances such as oils and lubricants to leak into the surrounding environment. Once in the environment, these substances are carried into the aquatic ecosystem via water runoff. Aquatic life within the Deka river has been affected by these pollutants. These substances drain into Deka River which is the main source for local communities (Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG),2017:10) The pollution of water bodies is a threat to biodiversity as polluted water can harm both humans and aquatic life. The leaking of harmful chemicals into underground water reserves also threatens the water security of the locals considering that Hwange lies in a very arid area.
Thick blankets of smoke can be observed during various operations in the mining town. Air pollution is largely attributed to coal fires that release high levels of carbon dioxide which is an accelerator for climate change. Increased atmospheric CO (2)- concentration is widely being considered as the main driving factor that causes the phenomenon of global warming (Christodulides&Florides,2008). Although carbon dioxide is vital for plant growth it is critical that its production be kept at sustainable levels.
Zimbabwe has an external debt of over USD $18 billion (ZIMCODD:2020). As the country is already in debt distress it is only prudent to use Domestic Resource Mobilisation (DMR) as a tool for sustainable development. As aforementioned, the extractive industry is Zimbabwe’s capital wealth therefore the country must be able to maximise its revenue collection through the extractive industry using various forms of taxes and royalties however there is no transparency on how mining rights are awarded in the first place. The Africa Mining Vision of 2009 states that “transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources should underpin broad -based sustainable growth and socio-economic development. The lack of transparency in mining deal negotiations has led to shady deals being agreed to as there is lack of extensive consultation as to the impact of the activities.
After Zimbabwe’s fallout with the Western countries, our biggest trading partner has become China. Since the operation of Chinese multinational companies in Zimbabwe’s extractive industry commenced there have been widespread reports of abuse of Zimbabweans by their Chinese employers. Recently, Hang Xuelin, a manager of Reden Mine in Gweru allegedly shot and injured Wendy Chikwaira and Kennedy Tachiona for demanding their salaries. It is such instances that one is made to believe that Zimbabwe has no bargaining power over deals with Chinese Mining companies operating in Zimbabwe to the extent that they have free reign of operations and this has extended to abuse. The reason for economic activity is to better the lives of the people and the loss of bargaining power leaves the state and its inhabitants vulnerable.
The social contract that exists between the government and the people is what should drive the government to negotiate better deals on behalf of the people or better yet allow the people to conduct activities that benefit them. The youth make up over 67% of the population and make up the bulk of the unemployed. However, it is difficult for them to enter the mining industry because of the high cost of licensing and registration. Statutory Instrument 95 of 2020 allows for amendments to mining regulations and this has seen a special mining lease costing $25 000 whereas to register as a prospector one is required to pay $20000 (Africa Mining Market 2020). This becomes a screening factor for the youth who have no access to such sums of money. Currently the bulk of the youth in the coal mining area work in mines and those without the skills have resorted to collect the slurry realised from coal production to make bricks, whilst this is commendable in cleaning up the overburden, it would be progressive for youths to be key stake holders in coal mining.
It is apparent from these issues sighted above that the state of Zimbabwe’s extractive industry is in shambles. There is need for the Government of Zimbabwe to maximise revenue from the extractive industry whilst at the same time ensuring that the quest does not leave the population vulnerable. The negotiation of mining contracts should be as transparent as possible so that the best decisions can be reached through extensive consultation.
Whilst giving tax incentives is a way of attracting Foreign Direct Investment, it does not make economic sense to give tax incentives when the economy is already on its knees. If there is need for tax incentives the incentive should not be used to fuel the existing problems of Illicit Financial Flows. Furthermore, there should be a thorough follow up on the operations of mining companies so as to establish malpractices such as tax avoidance and worse still illegal operations such as tax evasions.
Government must assist youth who want to venture into the extractive industry by removing barriers to entry and providing financial and technical support to those who wish to enter the sector. It must also subsidize the cost of learning in line with developing mineral resource governance in Zimbabwe. The exorbitant fees charged by the colleges such as the Zimbabwe School of Mines is one of the reasons why there are a number of artisanal miners who are adding environmental degradation due to lack of technical know-how.
Mining companies are encouraged to look into the social welfare of its human resources so that employees can be motivated, have career growth and self-actualise. Furthermore, the health of its employees should be a priority. Mining companies should provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect employees from work hazards. It is regrettable to note that Hwange Colliery Hospital has become a shadow of its former self with shortages of staff, drugs and equipment. The extractive industry is a high-risk industry and as such hospitals in mining areas should be equipped with adequate medication, equipment and staff.
Furthermore, it is alarming that mining Companies fail to satisfactorily give back to the community. Mining companies should establish skills centres in their areas of operations. This enables them to develop new skills and have a continuous flow of human resources. It is critical to establish a human resources base as it will cushion the companies from shocks of staff turnover and ensure continuity. It is appalling that Hwange has no Coal Mining Skills centre although coal has been mined since time immemorial.
The Civil society organisations should continue educating communities about economic, social and environmental rights so that they are in a position to interrogate and challenge detrimental policies so as to ensure a sustainable future for all.
About the author
Roselilly Nokhutula Geza is a youthful social, economic and climate justice activist from Matabeleland North. Zimbabwe