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Mberengwa Lithium Community Group to engage government

There has been a fresh Lithium rush in Mberengwa.  Having learnt from the past plunder of resources without any meaningful development of communities, the people from Mberengwa have regrouped to play a key role in the extraction of natural resources from their district. The people from Mberengwa across the globe have now formed a group to ensure that this time around natural resources from this neglected district will have to benefit the community. The group has been mandated to engage all stakeholders to ensure transparency in the exploitation of natural resources in the district.

Below is a summary of discussions taking place:

Mberengwa Lithium Community: Summary of Group Discussions

28 November 2022

Historical Background

Aware of the current Lithium rush in Mberengwa, and many other mineral resources.
Realising that Mbererengwa is a typical case of a resource curse area that has nothing to show for it’s mineral wealth;
Cognisant of the historical marginalisation of local communities in development when their natural resources are exploited;
Exalting community participation and collective efforts to increase and exercise control over use of resources in Mberengwa;
Acknowledging the need for an active process whereby Mberengwa communities influence the direction, path and execution of mineral resource benefits rather than merely wallow in poverty, exploitation, penury, underdevelopment of development, and development of underdevelopment;
Recognizing that Mberengwa has a dynamic, tolerant, enthusiastic and versatile human resource and technocrats in every field;

A decision was made to form a lobby group in November 2022 that could collectively navigate the best way forward for deriving inclusive sustainable development from natural resources, particularly Lithium. The deliberations that ensued in the Mberengwa Lithium Community group are hereby summarised.

Challenges Faced

-Lithium mining activities are largely in a Reserved Area including Sandawana Mining Concession Area. No big Lithium Mining Company has a chance of getting mining rights in the RA, thereby leaving selected small scale miners mining the resource exploited by opportunists (Chinese and Indians)
– Although there are indications of large scale Lithium resources stretching from the Southern part of the Great Dyke in an eastern direction along the Mwezha schist, there has been no Geological Survey to determine the exact quantity of the owe, thereby leaving both gvt and local communities at the mercy of capital flight from the resource by stupendous mining capitalists.
– The involvement of Kuvimba Mining Company in the Lithium Mining area around Sandawana lacks clarity.
-The involvement of Chinese and Indians in prospecting for Lithium in Mberengwa is also worrisome.
-The involvement of Henrietta Rushwaya led Zimbabwe Miners Federation is worrisome, let alone her locus standi in parceling Lithium Mining claims in Mberengwa to her entourage and on partisan lines.
– There has been no engagement with local communities, chiefs, RDC etc in the prospecting and mining of Lithium, let alone in parceling Lithium Mining claims.
-Current tapping of Lithium resonate with plundering, wrecking, siphoning, looting and primitive accumulation of wealth by people from outside Mberengwa, Chinese and Indians.
– Gvts globally have been weak in protecting communities from mining companies’ environmental malpractices.
– EMA has been very weak in enforcing regulations governing implementation of Environmental Impact Assessment.
– There has been environmental degradation of the worst order and destruction of sacred places in Mberengwa.
-Armed robberies and other social ills are also on the increase in the Lithium Mining areas in Mberengwa.
– Weakening of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act (IEE Act 14 of 2007) by the 2018 Finance Act that watered down Community Share Ownership Trusts to voluntary exercise as opposed to the hitherto mandatory 10% of production.

Legal Framework for Intervention

There was intense debate over the Legal Framework of Intervention. While some doubted if we had legal framework
for Intervention, it is noteworthy to consider the following,
– The Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013) sections 73 on environmental rights, 264 devolution, 282(c) on functions of traditional leaders.
-Traditional Leadership Act, Chapter 29: 17, 2016
– Rural District Council Act, 2009
-Environmental Management Act, 2005
-Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, 2018
– Finance Act, 2018
– Mines and Mineral Act
– World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, 1979
– International Council of Mining and Metals, 2017
– African Union (AU) Mining Vision (AMV), 2009

In a nutshell, international, regional and national bodies (and national Constitution) have come up with Economic frameworks to bolster community benefits from mineral resources around them. Fundamentally, they stipulate that mining firms should contribute to the social, Economic, and institutional development of the communities in which they operate.

Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs), 2012-2018

Initiated in 2012 CSOTs were meant to act as vehicles of community development using proceeds from mining activities within each district. Unfortunately Mberengwa with abundant minerals has had a white elephant CSOTs.

The CSOTs were established under the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, 2007, and subsidiary legislation on the same. Under this legislation, mines were to give at least 10% of the shareholding to CSOTs as representatives of communities surrounding areas of their operations.

The composition of CSOTs Board of Trustees was as follows:
1) Traditional Chief (who was chair of the CSOTs on an annual rotational basis);
2). Deputy chair, DA (now District Development Coordinator)
3) Secretary, CEO of RDC
-chairperson of RDC
-District head of Ministry of youth
-Rep from qualifying businesses
-Rep of local business community
-legal practitioner
-Qualified accountant
-Representatives of Special Interest groups – the youths, women, people with disabilities, and war veterans

It is noteworthy that while this has slackened after the Finance Act of 2018, mines have continued to fund CSOTs on a voluntary basis in other areas such as Zvishavane, Mtoko, Gwanda, Shurungwi, Mutare, etc.

It was in light of the foregoing that members from Mberengwa Lithium Community group suggested that we should:
-Produce a Lithium White Paper that becomes a blue print for sustainable and inclusive model for exploiting resources in Mberengwa carrying the local community along with the Transformational Agenda that natural resources should be used for and where everyone must feel the impact of good investment in Mberengwa District.
-Exploit the existing regulations to advocate for the operationalization of CSOTs in order to balance the interests of local communities and mining companies.
-Harness stock holders like chiefs, RCD, DDC, Mps and technocrats to resist naked exploitation and ensure operationalization of some modicum of devolution that would allow benefits from mining ventures to benefit local communities.
-Put mechanism that will ensure we get value for our resources as communities and protect communities from exploitation and revenue leakages.
-Claim rights based on Constitution, Mining laws, environmental regulations and traditional laws as no one will give us rights on a silver platter.
-Establish an organisational institutional framework, viz, formation of a Community Trust mandated and well represented that becomes the engagement/communication channel with miners/investors or operators. It can also champion development and resource distribution in Mberengwa.
-Establish a clear cut stakeholder engagement matrix in which stakeholders can be identified from local communities, district, provincial and national levels in line with layered structure of Zimbabwe. Mr Desmond Matete provided a paper that can provide a starting point in this endeavour.
-Lobby gvt and in particular Ministry of Mines to carry a Geological survey of Lithium resources in Mberengwa. Technocrats from Mberengwa can also join the gvt team in the Geological survey in order to establish the quantity of Lithium resources in order for both gvt and Mberengwa community to make maximum benefits from Lithium exploitation.
-Lobby for large entities to be allowed to operate in the RA in order to maximise on value addition and contribution on Community Share Ownership Schemes and Corporate Social Investments.
– Ensure that comminities must be engaged from the exploration stage to development, maturity and decline and closure stages, and their input seriously considered.
– Mining companies must carry Environmental Impact Assessment before starting to exploit Lithium, and sign Memorandum of Agreements over sound corporate social development, and environmental and cultural respect.
– Ensure that Lithium Mining companies must build local processing plants so that there is value addition and beneficiation. A win-win investment plan and local processing is a must for development.
– Lobby for a Lithium battery making company in Mberengwa or Zvishavane as a long term impact.
– Collectively make sure that the greatest contribution Lithium Mining can possibly make to the development agenda of Mberengwa is skills development and capacity building of the local community which in turn guarantees maximum shared benefits.
– Benefits from Lithium make immerse contributions towards infrastructural development in the areas of education, health, transport, agriculture/food security, livelihoods, water, and sanitation etc.
-Lobby Minister of Mines to stop the machinations and one armed banditry operations of ZMF and ensure that mining claims are given by a credible board that takes cognisance of interests of local communities.
– That the best way for the people of Mberengwa is to unite in their diversity in a non-partisan sustainable development modus operandi.
-Hold an all stakeholder conference at an agreed venue in Mberengwa that would come up with binding resolutions and mandate an inclusive committee to be full operational and act on behalf of communities in Mberengwa.
-Form various lobby committees with a focus on inclusive sustainable development. Some suggested committees include one comprising some technocrats and Mps tasked with engaging Minister of Mines over challenges emanating from current Lithium exploitation and best methods that can accrue benefits from such mining. It is noteworthy that as much as Mps are sponsored by a political party, their mandate as representatives of constituencies goes beyond their parties.
-A mobilisation committee was also suggested, as well as Information Committee to applify the best ways for Mberengwa communities to benefit from natural resources. Other committees will be agreed on soon.

As resource owners, we should participate in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation, as well as dividends sharing of natural resources in Mberengwa, particularly from Lithium. The government and mining companies must also ensure that a greater share of Lithium resource wealth in Mberengwa is used for social services and development programmes nationally, as well as to directly benefit local communities. Nothing for the people of Mberengwa without their participation, and anything about Lithium in Mberengwa without the people of Mberengwa is against us. Our participation and benefit from Lithium mining is a basic human right that must be respected by our gvt and mining companies in particular.

By Dr Takavafira M. Zhou: Interim Secretary for Mberengwa Lithium Community