Buhera- Mysterious loss of livestock, joblessness and a daily struggle for livelihood routes due to lost farmland are some of the tribulations that families displaced by a lithium mining company have to contend with on a daily basis.
Last July, this publication ran an investigation into the displacement of villagers from the environs of Sabi Star mine that, besides leaving them high and dry, did not follow proper procedure in the relocation of the community members.
The investigation was conducted in partnership with the Information for Development Trust (IDT) under a project whose aim is to support investigative reporting focusing on foreign investment accountability and governance in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.
It established that the Chinese- owned Sabi Star mine violated several provisions of the relocation contract with the 40 families that had to be moved to pave way for the firm’s mining operations.
Of these 40 families, 22 were moved to Murambinda in Buhera, one to Mberengwa while 17 others were relocated locally to new homes built by the company in Tagarira and Mukwasi villages.
Max Mind Investment Zimbabwe Private Limited is reported to have injected more than US$22 million into the lithium project to date whose declared resource is sixmillion tonnes of lithium and tantalite ore.
But Mnangagwa’s optimism contrasts sharply with the painful realities that the relocated villagers are facing.
Out of the 22 families that were moved to Murambinda from Mukwasi village in Buhera last year to pave way for lithium mining by Sabi Star, numerous have lost entire herds of goats within a few months of relocation.
The victims were not sure about the real cause of the deaths, but they suspected that the goats could have been affected by the new environment they suddenly found themselves in.
Whereas they roamed free in the relocated families’ old homeland, they now had to live in cramped pens, scavenge for food at the nearby Murambinda growth point and hardly had enough water to drink, a situation that exposed them to the risk of disease.
Besides the massive loss of livestock, the families feel they were cheated by the lithium miner after several of the promised conditions for relocation were not fulfilled.
The Mupengos, who have lost all their goats say they feel dejected.
They feel exposed to poverty and face a bleak future having lost their ancestral home, including large expanse of crop fields and proper livestock kraals back at the village.
“It is double tragedy for my family as we have lost a total of nine goats including their kids. We have nothing left and are back to square one,” said Mai Mupengo.
She said the tragedy struck in July and August last year.
“They just died one after the other. We would sometimes just wake up and discover a dead goat in the morning. The cause for their death has remained a mystery” she said.
Jestina Kemba, a widow who was also relocated to Murambinda together with 22 other families, still cannot come to terms with the reality of being disconnected from her ancestral land and being suddenly removed from the peasant farming culture generations before her had depended on for subsistence.
“They got us out of the way and now they don’t care. They promised to move my cattle but to date, they are yet to fulfill their promise,” she said.
Kemba accused Sabi Star officials of violating the agreement with her and other displaced families.
Kemba’s cattle were still in Tagarira village where she paid a herdboy to look after them, but that was a struggle because, being jobless and mostly depending on well-wishers, she hardly generated any money on her own.
“I pay him (the herdboy) a monthly fee to take care of my cattle, yet I have no source of income and the mine officials are just quiet,” she added.
“We have no one to talk to regarding our concerns. We were shortchanged and we feel cheated.”
Tendai Mupengo, (26) accused Sabi Star of ignoring the relocated families’ repeated plea for employment despite the mine’s undertaking to substantially employ from the local community.
Mupengo accused mine officials of demanding bribes in exchange for jobs.
“They are employing outsiders because we cannot afford to pay the US$300 that unscrupulous officials demand as bribe money,” she said.
“People from as far as Harare, Bindura and Bulawayo are being employed here yet, as the affected communities, we should be given priority. We are now foreigners in our own land,.”
The relocated families are getting increasingly disillusioned about their lives ever turning around and accused the officials of lying to the media that locals were getting jobs from the mine.
“We are jobless,” Mupengo said.
“Only seven people have been employed from the families displaced by the mining activities. They have now erected a high perimeter fence around the mine(that shuts out locals).
“Unlike what the company sought to present upon arrival—an appearance of oneness with the community—they have now shut the community out completely.
“No one listens to us anymore because we signed the relocation contracts and they now have us where they wanted us.”
The mine recently advertised vacancies for a diesel generator maintenance technician, electrician, plumber, vehicle maintenance, technician, mechanic, translators, sprinkler, truck crane, trailer and bulldozer drivers, warehouse supervisor, geological assistant, receptionist, chef, kitchen potter, earth movers and forklifts operators.
Addressing delegates who attended the official commissioning of the mine’s floatation plant, Mnangagwa was upbeat about the gains that the lithium project would bring to the local community and Zimbabwe at large.
He said: “This mine’s potential will empower our economy and create opportunities for our people. Together, we build a stronger Zimbabwe.”
Such positions are considered “alien” by the locals, who hardly have any expertise in the advertised positions.
Efforts to obtain a comment from the mine officials hit a brick wall.
The Sabi Star human resources manager, Knight Muchakata referred this publication to the new public relations officer, Emmerson Njanjamangezi, who was yet to respond to questions by the time of going to print.
The Centre for Natural Resource Governance director, Farai Maguwu, called for the adoption of a solid relocation policy that cushions communities against shocks associated with the displacements.
Such a policy must ensure fair consultations and compensation for displaced people, said Maguwu, who also urged government authorities to put in place mechanisms that facilitated civic education to empower communities with knowledge relating to their legal and related rights when negotiating resettlement.
“These companies come with the support and protection of the government and they use deceptive and coercive means to extract consent.
“There are a number of organisations that can represent communities in court pro-bono. I encourage communities to seek legal recourse,” added the CNRG director.
Hilary Zhou, the Zimbabwe People’s Land Rights Movement (ZPLRM) coordinator said there must be adequate consultations before the crafting of relocation agreements.
“The law should compel mining companies to be open and transparent to communities and communities should be allowed to seek legal assistance from their preferred legal practitioners ahead of appending their signatures,” said Zhou.
Zhou urged the land commission to take a more active role in ensuring fairness and full reparations especially for rural communities affected by new mining ventures.
He urged the relocated Buhera communities to re-engage the mine and renegotiate their relocation packages.
“What would work best is to renegotiate in good faith so that the shortcomings are addressed.
“The mine is also expected to act in good faith in fulfilling its contractual obligations,” added Zhou.
This story was commissioned by IDT and published by The Zimbabwe Independent.