by BERNARD CHIKETO
MVUMA — Squinting his one good eye, George Gwere’s voice breaks as he recounts how his successful agriculture-based community has been reduced to paupers living off insects after a Chinese mining investor took over their fertile lands for an iron and steel processing plant.
“Our women are now trapping termites for relish and selling to raise money to buy mealie-meal,” the 77-year-old former Zanu PF councillor from Manhize in Mvuma told journalists at a press conference hosted by Centre for Research and Development (CRD) in Mutare this week.
Gwere’s community which annually used to have Chivhu Grain Marketing Board (GMB) setting up a mini-depot in the community to buy cereals from the enterprising communal farmers who hold 99-year-leases to their plots has been unable to farm their land for three years now with their situation growing worse with each missed farming season.
Their loss of land has not been compensated with either relocation or food aid by either Dinson Iron and steel Mining Company (DISCO) or government as their wait for a solution stretching despairingly into an uncertain future.
CRD director James Mupfumi said the community was a victim of a sadistic ploy to drive them into such desperate levels of poverty that they would accept any offer that would be thrown at them which offers them an illusion of respite.
“We think it’s a strategy being employed by the mining company to make them desperate and then approach them individually asking if they want to be relocated. They create a situation where people are forced to relocate.
“It’s like creating starvation among them to force them to accept relocation terms that are not favourable to them. Their situation is now desperate,” Mupfumi said.
Mupfumi said the miners had built a security wall that had completely annexed the community’s fields and there was no clarity on when or where the community was going to be relocated to.
“A security wall has taken all their fields and we are mid-way into the farming season they don’t have food. They also have no idea of where they are going to be relocated,” he said.
Sesedzai Chida, a 66-year-old widow from Mushenjere village was at pains to explain that the community was not against government or the Chinese investors who she said had done well to create employment for their children but said mining development appeared to come at the cost to their welfare.
The widow who said she has four children and seven grand-children who all depended on the fields has had all her fields annexed.
“We are deeply troubled that our fields have been taken. As a widow who depended on these fields with all my children. We no longer have any source of livelihood. We are now just seated. What will l eat next season?
“What will I do? This has been troubling us sick. Where will they put us? What do they think we will do that they have taken our fields before relocating us? What will we do?
“We don’t have any communication from either government or the miners and we are now worried about how we are going to survive,” Chida said.
The ill-treatment of this aging community’s members has also triggered undocumented stress-related health complications to many of its senior citizens.
“Most people over 70 are in bed sick right now because of hypertension which is being made worse because of all the uncertainties around their status,” Gwere said.
Nomore Mhike, 51, a fellow villager said the health of the elderly was also taking a huge toll from dust pollution from the heavy traffic.
“We risk losing all our elderly community members to dust-induced health complications because the dust is just too much,” Mhike said.
DISCO Public Relations Manager Joseph Shoko said relocation of the affected villagers was being delayed by government which is still identifying alternative land but work had to begin because the project was “of national interest.”
Shoko said the company was working closely with government and “after identification we will do all due processes. We cannot force people out before we build houses for them.”
He however allayed fears that the company would look on as the community goes hungry as “that would be unfair.”
THE DISCO spokesperson said the company was even working on giving all 22 affected households good cheer via Christmas humpers.
Mupfumi however noted that bad governance on display around the Manhize as mining interests are taking precedence over agricultural and community interests due to government’s lack of a relocation and compensation framework.
“The mining activities that are taking place are not reflecting good governance practices. Its worrisome when you see what happened to Marange 10 years ago resurfacing in new areas when you would have thought government had realised its mistakes and come up with a relocation and compensation framework that encompasses best practices like the free-prior and informed consent. This is what we are not seeing,” the CRD director said.
Mupfumi said the situation was even getting worse at the back of accelerated mining investments as government chased mining targets.
“Behaviour on the part of government is not changing, it’s even getting worse. Now that there is accelerated mining development as a result of minerals like lithium and in terms of government policy to try and achieve its US$12 billion mining industry, national development strategy policy framework targets and also its 2030 vision to become an upper-middle income economy,” he said.
Community living off insects as Chinese miners take over fertile land