By Jeoffrey Ncube
Mutoko is home to quarries of granite rock, a highly valued resource that is treasured for its polished finish as well as its wide use in tombstones, multi-story building surfacing and decorative interior designs.
Miners, businessmen and politicians have all exploited the resources over a long period of time with little benefit if any for the local community.
While mining establishments can be regarded as vehicles for development, the evidence of positive effects in terms of sustainability in the case of Motoko’s black granite is weak.
The quarrying work is very noisy and disruptive to the serene atmosphere which this community was accustomed to. The working conditions are also deplorable as many workers have suffered injuries whilst others have died on duty.
The community is angry that despite being the victims of environmental hazards created by the companies, nothing tangible is ploughed back to the community. The mining companies are causing deforestation, noise pollution, destruction of farmland through rock waste depositing in the fields, cracks in houses and schools through dynamite blasting effects, and destruction of mountains.
Located 120 km from the capital, Mutoko is well known in economic terms for its fruit and vegetable produce such as mango, guava, tomatoes, and cabbages which are marketed both in the district and the capital city Harare.
The springs and gushing waters from the mountains have been fundamental to the economic survival of communal people in the area, commonly known as “kunorira pfene“.
There was hope that the mining of granite would transform the fortunes of the district but alas , Mutoko is still rated among one of the poorest districts in Zimbabwe in spite of the proliferation of granite mining with Murewa Centre its neighbor awarded a town status where a lot of development is taking place.
According to the survey undertaken by this writer, black granite mining has affected a lot of communities in Mutoko with little of the mining dividend earned being ploughed back into the community.
While other mining areas like Mhondoro, Shurugwi Zvishavane and Mberengwa are benefitting from the partnerships established with mining companies operating in the local community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mutoko hospital does not have a single ventilator and personal protective equipment for frontline workers, yet day in and day out, heavy vehicles filled atop with black granite take away, Mutoko’s mineral wealth.
The absence of mutually beneficial relationships with the community by the miners has raised the ire of the local community. Youths in Mutoko are concerned about the lack of transparency, accountability and proper management in the exploitation of black granite in the community.
“This is not the Zimbabwe we envision, as young people. We are benefiting very little. Just a few people are benefiting in terms of employment.
“Young people in the communities where black granite is being mined get paid but all the same they are getting peanuts. They are not getting salaries equivalent to the effort they put in the job.
“These mines do not give back to the society. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) stopped some time ago because it was being said that the Zimra officers would demand taxes for the CSR work, so the miners decided not to give to the community because they were saying how can we be taxed for giving back to the community,” said Emmanuel Manyati a youth from Mutoko.
“We have seen abuse of young women by the miners. This has increased the number of early marriages in most mining areas. Once they have acquired the black granite most of the sites are left with lots of pits that are never covered up and this has resulted in people losing lives and animals as well as they fall into these pits.
“Structures within homesteads have been destroyed inclusive of houses and graveyards, including noise pollution. People’s rights have been ignored; and these miners never seek consent from local residents before they establish their sites. Cultures and religious beliefs that are of relevance and seek to protect our communities have not been adhered to.
“The community as a whole has not been benefiting from extractions of black granite, rather they have been left with more problems than before,” said Rosemary Frank, a youth from Mutoko.
“They employ only security guards and the jackhammer guys. You will realise that employment has gender discrimination in the sense that it favors men at the expense of women. It is the minimum paid job that the local people get and those that actually get it are not even huge numbers because of technological advancements. So very few people get paid at the site.
“Most of the better paying jobs are occupied by foreigners that come from the countries that the company originate from, so there isn’t really meaningful employment in Mutoko which is not fair for us,” said Kudakwashe Makanda.
When it comes to infrastructure development, the quarries in Mutoko district are not doing well, let’s take for example health. The community doesn’t really benefit anything because there is one clinic in Gurure Ward 5. A survey established that the clinic has been under construction since 2010. This is a project that was initiated by two quarrying companies but up to now they haven’t finished the clinic and they always refer to that unfinished project as part of their CSR initiative.
“These guys do not support the local clinics with any medication whatsoever, even though these clinics are the ones that give services to their workers. They don’t have clinics of their own as they rely on council clinics.
“What they have just done in all the clinics is to make promises, for example, in ward 8 they promised to construct a borehole, but they haven’t done that yet and it’s been three to four years down the line. In as far as the health aspect is concerned, they are actually worsening it because they leave their pits open and the pits trap water becoming breeding places for mosquitoes. There is a lot of malaria prevalence in these mining areas because of these pits. Their operations are becoming a health hazard,” added Makanda.
Makanda is also concerned about the negative impacts of the mining activities on infrastructure in the local community.
“In terms of infrastructure, for example, there are structures and people’s houses with cracks due to the quarrying operations in ward 8, 5 and 10 in Mutoko. If one is to visit Kowo Secondary School in ward 8 right now, the school structures are in a dilapidated state.
“Those trucks that carry blocks pass very close to the school and the vibration from the moving trucks break the windowpanes of the school and cause cracks in the structures. The school has cracks all over and there are no windowpanes. The floor is also cracking. This is a school that is less than two kilometers away from the mining site and it is in that deplorable state.
“In as far as infrastructure is concerned, they are actually disrupting infrastructure. If one is to go to the Nyadire Bridge there’s a weight restriction sign of not more than 7 tonnes, but right now you find 30 tonne trucks passing through the bridge carrying huge blocks.
“If you go to ward 5 close to the Nyamakope village you will realize that there’s nothing to call a bridge anymore. So, what they have done is to put stones so that at least their trucks can pass, but for regular vehicles some of the areas are now becoming inaccessible due to the state of roads,” he added.
When it comes to issue of transparency, accountability and proper management of exploitation of the black granite, several youths revealed that they fear to participate since there are a lot of politicians involved in the operations.
They also revealed that local authorities like the Rural District Council have no power over these quarries because they do not get their permits from the local authority, as they get them directly from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development.
“l think you’ve realised that when (Robert) Mugabe was removed from power that’s when people started to claim that that he had shares in the granite mining companies in Mutoko. So, there are a lot of politicians that are in Mutoko, so this is the reason why we see that these mining companies will never ever respect the mining regulations or laws because they have political shields from the politicians.
“It then becomes difficult for young people to have their voices taken up because there will be conflict of interest since those who are supposed to represent them are the ones with interests to protect the mining companies.
“You find a member of parliament being a shareholder in a certain mining company. How will the needs of the young people reach parliament? So, it means the voices of the young people are already suppressed from the governance of natural resources,” said Tafadzwa Pamire from Ward 8 in Mutoko.
“The management of resources is centralised, it is done at central government level, it wasn’t devolved, if there was a devolution system that requires each district to manage its resources and revenue collection from those resources that’s when the young people can start to make demands at local level.
“But the only revenue the council is getting from mining companies is 15 RTGS per tonne which is less than the cost of half a loaf of bread, even for 30 tonnes.
“It can only get unit tax only and all the other royalties are paid to the national treasury at central government level but if devolution was to be effected then all royalties will be paid to the rural district council to raise revenue from mining.
“This will then allow local council to then be able to provide services like health, clinics and schools and roads because they will be having enough money but most of the money is going to the national treasury and it’s a challenge for it to return to the district. That makes it difficult for the young people to then be involved in the governance of their natural resources because it’s centralised,” said Kudakwashe Makanda.
“We have a lot of young people that are participating in making sure that they’re well equipped with skills, with knowledge on issues around extraction. My recommendation to the government regarding black granite mining is that the government should quickly or speedily enact the new Mines and Minerals Act and do away with the old one because the old Act gives power to the miners at the expense of the community.
“It is not in conformity with the new constitutional provisions like environmental, socio-economic rights of people that hub natural resources or that hub minerals. So you will find that the old Mines and Minerals Act says one thing and the constitution is saying the other so the two contradict each other.
“If we have a new Mines and Mineral Act it actually means that it is going to be walking in the right direction as far as the constitutional provisions are concerned. What would work most for the community is to ensure that Mutoko RDC starts to manage the proceeds that come from black granite mining. At the moment, it is the government that manages or that collects tax or revenue,” added Makanda.
“The management of the environment is in dire state, the pits are being left open and they connive with the EMA leaving the pits like that and they see it fit to leave the pits like that and pay the fine rather than carrying the cost of filling those pits.
“These guys are living the community badly damaged and most of the communities are left poor. In terms of transparency and accountability there is requirement that mining companies publish what they pay in terms of tax but the community does not even know the price of granite wherever they sell it.
“It’s actually hidden, it remains a mystery. It’s difficult for the community to know how much it is losing to these miners. The miners don’t even want the community to know how much they are selling these blocks at the national markets. It’s actually a very sad and pathetic situation where we find that everything is done under the cover of the darkness,” said Tinomudaishe Mukombero, a youth from Mutoko centre.
“These guys should have Environmental Impact Assessment, but some of them don’t even carry out the EIA processes or they don’t do it in a public hearing kind of format. They look for certain individuals (names withheld) whom they bribe and make them sign and then claim that their EIA’s are authentic.
“It will then become a surprise to the community because they won’t be consulted which leads to evacuation of people from their homes and they are given a bag of fertilizer or minimal stuff.
“The other reason why young people are not participating in the resource governance is because there are a lot of politicians involved.My recommendation would firstly to devolve the process, if devolution is implemented it means that the council will be getting permits from the mining companies. They won’t be getting 15%-unit tax but also getting royalties so that per every exportation they will be given a certain percentage meaning they will be earning more what they are getting. If that is implemented, it will be able to provide revenue because the tax money is the one being used for in service provision so devolution is the first thing that needs to be implemented.
“Secondly there’s need to also enforce and capacitate government institutions like EMA because right now EMA is failing to go and carry out surveys to make sure that these mining companies are adhering to their EIA’s because if you go there they will simply say we don’t have enough personnel and transport to get to all these mining sites. Secondly EMA’s environmental assessments are expensive so it becomes very difficult for someone staying in Nyamakope to get the required capital to book EIA from EMA.
“So, there’s need to revise the amount of money required for one to have an EIA and also the process of accessing them should be very liberal, you cannot access it as an individual but rather you are supposed to be representing an organization meaning that if you disagree with whatever is in the EIA and you act on it they will come for you,” said Tanaka Chihuri, a youth from Mutoko.
“My recommendation is that since the black granite is being paid and exported in forex it means royalties should also be paid in forex as well or even at least the taxes should also be paid in forex.
“This is because 15 RTGS is not worth anything and yet it is the money that is supposed to be used by the council to offer services. So what then becomes important is that if it’s possible that unit tax should be paid in forex so that it will be of value and will also enable the procurement of the required services.
“There is also the issue of beneficial ownership that is critical for us to know the owners of companies and those with shares. If there is disclosure of the beneficial ownership that’s very important so we know who owns what in this company and how many shareholders are there.
“Lastly there is need for companies to publish what they pay. What they are paying to the central government should be published mentioning who they pay to and how much they pay so that citizens can then track the amounts of money paid and compare with the services being rendered and see if it tallies,” said Makanda.