- Chinese investors are allegedly abusing their proximity to the state authorities by taking advantage of locals
- Chinese investors are pouring money into the Zimbabwean economy
- A Chinese employer is accused of shooting a man over pay disputes at the Reeden mine 25km south of Gweru
Chinese investors hold sway over the Zimbabwean government leading to the citizens of the Southern African nation becoming uneasy with the foreigners.
Zimbabwe has found itself entangled by Chinese influence like many other African nations. This influence is not only felt on the political scene but has also trickled down to affecting entire communities.
The Zimbabwean authorities have a significant problem with their look East policy. Chinese investors are pouring money into the Zimbabwean economy.
Unfortunately, this has created a hostile atmosphere for local communities who feel their government is giving Chinese nationals a carte blanche on rules of engagement.
Zimbabwe has vast mineral resources, but these blessings curse villagers in rural areas. Chinese investors are allegedly abusing their proximity to the state authorities by taking advantage of locals.
All this happens in front of local law enforcement with little to no intervention. The situation is deteriorating to the extent that some locals have lost their lives. A Chinese employer is accused of shooting a man over pay disputes at the Reeden mine 25km south of Gweru.
Because of such events, local civil societies have decided to take action, but how did we get here?
With Emmerson Mnangagwa’s stance on relying on Chinese aid and loans, his government has been playing a blind eye to some of these atrocities. It has become the norm for Chinese companies to underpay and abuse the local labourers. There are reports of mineworkers earning as little as US$30 per month. The unemployment rate is so high that people end up accepting low wages. The working conditions are hazardous with no implementation of health and safety at all. Last year some locals and a Chinese manager lost their lives after a leaking gas tank blew up at a gold mine.
To make matters worse, the employers allegedly assault local employees with impunity. Such is the desperation in these mines. This has brought about civil societies to lobby the government to intervene.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is one of few speaking out. Chinese diplomats attempted to appease the Union leaders, but nothing tangible was coming despite guarantees. The stalemate has led to growing calls by civil groups speaking out with the hope of seeing some noticeable change.
Anti-Chinese sentiments have been spreading over time as people became aware of their oppression at the hands of entrenched Chinese interests. Chief Chiweshe, a traditional chief of Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland Central Province, accused Chinese companies of looting minerals. He says they are looting minerals such as granite, chrome, and gold. The Chief emphasized the prevalence of abusive behaviour by Chinese employers in his area due to low wages and appalling working conditions. He also accused these companies of damaging involvement in desecrating critical cultural places and the environment.
Chiweshe accused Afrochine, a Chinese mining firm, of ruining the renowned world heritage site Mavuradonha. The area is a sacred location. This is where their ancestors and spirits live, according to the local tribes. Locals clam Afrochine are destroying the Mavuradon Wilderness area through their mining activities.
The Chinese used excavators and heavy machinery to clear a path to access the mineral deposits. Once at the site, they cut down virgin forests and used more heavy machinery to extract chrome from the otherwise forbidden area. All these Chinese predatory endeavours are in cooperation with local authorities. The allegations are that these authorities are getting bribes.
These Invasions could be only the beginning
Case Study Kaseke Village vs. Hejin Mining Company
Top government officials visited one of these affected areas in Kaseke Village, Uzumba. This area is a known Zanu PF stronghold and performed well in the last elections.
The fact-finding mission was necessary after a Chinese mining company allegedly took over an entire village. This is a result of the presence of black granite in Uzumba.
The delegation included the Local Government minister, Mines deputy minister, Zanu PF acting Mashonaland East provincial chairperson, and traditional leader Chief Nyajina. The local Chief did not mince his words accusing provincial mines officers of being “reckless” in granting Heijin Mining Company permission to enter the area without following procedures.
The mines officers had first indicated that no more than 20 families would have to make way for the mining activities. They were falsifying what was happening. This upset Chief Nyajina. He alleged that the mine officials were misrepresenting facts to the delegation.
He corrected the figures by stating the number of affected households exceeded 70. The mines officials made use of loopholes, which resulted in the pegging of the mine in an entire village. This was a result of irregularities during the pegging of the claims.
Chinese miners have a reputation for not holding enough consultations. They turn up and start harassing villagers. The allegations are that Hejin Mining Company obtained mining licenses to peg the whole of Kaseke Village. The village was a target to extract the black granite from two nearby mountains.
The government intervened and stopped the operations because of resistance from the villagers and traditional leaders.
Case Study Mutoko Village vs. Heijin Mining Company
Once again, Heijin was at the centre of another dispute. This time around, it was displacing more villagers in Murehwa. Murehwa is a village in Mashonaland East province.
This time around, it affected up to 100 families. As with the example above, the company received a special mining grant to mine black granite in the area. The mining claim sits on a densely populated place covering between 200 & 300 hectares.
Due to the presence of granite in the area, Chinese companies are laying siege on the province. All this to get their hands on the rare and lucrative stone. Heijin’s newest intrusion follows another bloody battle between Mutoko and Shanghai Haoying Mining Investments villagers.
They have claims to mine black granite, which was. At the same time, Shanghai Haoying has compensated households who would lose their home due to mining activities. The Chinese company’s plans to establish operations in the area have met fierce opposition from angry locals.
Impact on villagers
Apart from the distress of losing their home, these communities have far-reaching consequences. When the extraction of black granite takes place, there will be dust in these areas polluting the air. The pollution will affect schools, homes, and water quality. Furthermore, villagers are against the mines as they encroach on grazing land. Many are traditionalists. The villagers are afraid these activities will desecrate villagers’ religious sites. Some of these areas in question are sacred places used for rainmaking rituals. Hence, they believe tampering with the areas will affect the community.
The government is turning a blind eye to its laws
These actions by the Chinese firms in conjunction with the government raise questions about the rule of law. Property rights have been a contentious issue in Zimbabwe.
This has been since the eviction of white-owned farms in the early 2000s. Lawmakers and civil societies allege the government is not following precedence. They say, legally, the government has a legislative and constitutional obligation to involve people before taking unfavourable activities.
It failed to consult the communities about the upcoming mining activities in all these cases. There is a growing trend of communal land exchanging hands in shady deals. In March last year, there was an acquisition of 1200 hectares from villagers in an area called Chiredzi to make why for dairy pastures to grow lucerne.
There are 12 500 villagers who are facing the threat of displacement. According to the constitution of Zimbabwe,
“Communal Land” means land set aside under an Act of Parliament and held in accordance with customary law by members of a community under the leadership of a Chief.”
The constitution states communal land is excluded from being classified as “agricultural land.” Thus communal land is not subject to appropriation by the state, and those who live on it have rights. The only instances where the government can get communal land are well defined.
These include defence purposes, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning. All these are to develop the land for purposes beneficial to the community.
If an acquisition is necessary, the government must give reasonable notice to the community. If the acquisition is contested, the acquiring government must seek a court for an order affirming the acquisition within 30 days. The government must return the land if the court rules against the acquisition.
The acquiring authority must compensate the property owner “fairly and adequately.” The individual whose property has been seized must be granted the right to petition a court for an order assessing the amount of compensation due.
Furthermore, the Chinese companies should seek the buy-in of all stakeholders. This could have been done by meeting traditional leaders, villagers, and district officials before breaking the ground.
What will happen to these communities?
What seems clear is that the affected communities have been dealt a losing hand. They are at the risk of losing their homes, but they risk being worse off. This is a bitter pill to swallow as they won’t receive tangible financial benefits.
The reality on the ground is mass pillaging of natural resources and environmental damage. After these Chinese companies have exhausted their resources, they will leave ugly scars. There is talk of compensation, but the amounts thrown around are insulting. Some villagers are being offered amounts as low as US$3000 to vacate.
Other trinkets such as agricultural inputs for a few seasons or two have been mentioned.