Byron Zamasiya-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association
The partial repeal of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment (IEE) Act through the Finance Act of 2018 had ended all hopes for host mining communities to benefit from the resources in their areas. The IEE Act provided for the participation of indigenous Zimbabweans in mining activities through share ownership schemes such as the Community Share Ownership Trust (CSOT). In the absence of empowerment laws, communities are left at the mercy of companies through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, the major caveat of CSR is that it is not compulsory, and this leaves the companies to do it at their discretion. Companies use CSR to obtain a good social licence in the communities where they work that unfortunately, most mining companies, mainly in the chrome sector rarely give back to communities citing low prices and escalating operating costs. Following Legal Aid Clinics by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), communities in Mapirimira ward in Zvishavane District decided to put the theory into practice.
Mapirimira ward is home to many chrome mining companies that include Asia Ferry and Bhunday. Community members in this ward pointed out that chrome mining is causing extensive damage to the road infrastructure and the environment. When the mining companies abandon the pits, they leave them open, and these pose as death traps to both livestock and humans. The issue of open pits is a common trend that has characterised chrome mining in Zvishavane District. In most cases, the host mining communities feel powerless to demand that these companies rehabilitate the areas where they would have finished chrome extraction.
When the community members in Mapirimira ward engaged Bhunday Chrome Mining Company, the company executives refused to meet with the communities and went further to cite that their company is broke and therefore cannot do any CSR activities. The community members then demanded that if the company is broke as claimed by the management, then they should halt operations. These community members include environmental monitors, other villagers and the councillor for Mapirimira ward decided to stage a peaceful demonstration on the 13th of November 2020. On the day of the protest, about 80 people, mostly women turned up at the Asia Ferry chrome pits. The women blocked the road that leads from the chrome pits to the processing plant. They held placards with messages demanding that the company repairs the tertiary roads in the community, sink boreholes and scoop weir dams.
Realising that the community members were determined in their peaceful demonstration, the executives of Asia Ferry company bowed down to the demands of the community. The executives offered to address two concerns from the community that is scooping sand from weir dams and repairing the dust roads. While the peaceful demonstration was ongoing, news agencies such as YaFM, The Mirror and TellZim rushed to witness the event. One of the Executives then engaged the women and negotiated with them that the company would address at most two of their demands. The company Executives offered to repair the tertiary roads and to scoop the weir dams. The Executive verbally promised that the company would avail two tipper trucks and an excavator to do the work. The women and the company verbally agreed that the work would begin on Monday the 16th of November 2020. Some of the dams that the company will scoop include Maketo dam in Maketo village and Govarezadza in Imbayago village.
This story from Mapirimira ward demonstrates that when communities are empowered with knowledge on Environmental-Economic Social and Cultural rights and advocacy skills, they can use the skills to engage with mining companies. In the absence of such skills, communities will continue to suffer the violation of the EESC rights and damage to their infrastructure and environment.