WHEN formal diamond prospecting commenced in Chiadzwa, surrounding communities were under the impression that development had finally come to their doorsteps.
Nearly five years on, the perception has completely changed.
Some families in Chiadzwa and surrounding communities in Manicaland Province have been left poorer and at the risk of life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
This is as a result of environmentally unfriendly mining activities in the area.
Politicians and environmentalists have been raising the red flag about these dangers, but no one seems to care about their warnings.
Chris Mushohwe, the outgoing Manicaland Provincial Governor and Resident Minister, once warned companies operating in Chiadzwa that they risked a revolt from the surrounding communities.
His warning was based on the fact that communities affected by the mining operations in Chiadzwa have not been benefiting from the riches discovered on their ancestral lands.
Miners operating in these fields have not grasped the import of Mushohwe’s statement…and the warnings are getting louder.
A report prepared by biological scientists from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) last year has also helped lift the lid on the unfolding crisis in Chiadzwa.
The study, commissioned by the Zimbabwe Environment Law Association (ZELA), revealed massive pollution of the Save and Odzi rivers, putting human and animal lives at risk.
UZ scientists found water in both rivers as having high concentrations of iron, chromium and nickel emanating from mining activities in Chiadzwa, with the latter two metals scientifically proven to be potentially cancer causing agents.
The water was also said to have been contaminated with high levels of fluoride, which puts residents at the risk of dental and skeletal flourosis, diseases affecting teeth and bones respectively.
“The metal concentrations, especially that of chromium, which is carcinogenic (cancer causing), are of particular concern being close to or higher than World Health Organisation standards for drinking water. The problems of bacterial contamination in the water are of serious concern and pose an immediate risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases,” reads part of the report.
“It is quite obvious that the water quality problems in this region have far-reaching socio-economic implications for the livelihoods of local communities and the mines must take full responsibility in accordance with the various legal instruments that protect the environment.”
The report recommends regular monitoring of the water situation to assess any seasonal changes in water quality in both rivers.
There are communities elsewhere in Africa that have paid a heavy price for ignoring warnings of impending disasters caused by environmentally unfriendly mining activities.
Doctors Without Borders said two weeks ago they would be treating 1 000 Nigerian children, some now blind and suffering serious neurological damage that cannot be reversed, due to lead poisoning.
There are already some tell tale signs that this could happen in Chiadzwa.
According to ZELA, communities interacted with have stated that there have been unexplained deaths of hundreds of cattle, pointing to pollution emanating from diamond mining activities.
“In Chipinge, the dead cattle number is more than 360. This is regrettable as cattle contribute to the local community economies and livelihoods. Families in Buhera and Chipinge, as in any other rural community areas, sell cattle to raise children’s school fees, buy household foodstuffs and pay off debts,” said ZELA in a statement to The Financial Gazette.
Mines and Mining Development Minister, Obert Mpofu, could not comment on the matter saying it was an issue for the Ministry of Environment headed by Francis Nhema to handle.
“Talk to the minister of environment he is the one who deals with those issues,” he said when contacted for comment this week.
Nhema, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, also referred this reporter to the Environment Management Agency (EMA), saying they were the right people to comment on the matter.
“EMA went to Chiadzwa. Talk to them about their latest report,” said Nhema.
EMA had not responded to queries by the time of going to press.
Experts, however, said the companies operating in Chiadzwa could be in violation of the government’s mining policy.
They include Marange Resources, which is wholly owned by mining parastatal, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), Diamond Mining Company in which ZMDC has a 50 percent stake; Mbada Diamonds and Anjin.
The mining policy whose focus is based on the African Union’s “Africa Mining Vision” of 2009 seeks to achieve mutually beneficial partnerships between the State, the private sector and local communities.
Its other stated goal is to create a sustainable and well governed mining sector that is environmentally friendly, socially responsible and appreciated by surrounding communities.
Experts said companies operating in Chiadzwa could also be in violation of the affected families’ rights protected under the United Nations’ Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development Based Evictions and Displacement as well as the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlement.
It is not only the surrounding villagers that are aggrieved by the companies’ activities, workers too at the diamond firms feel hard done by the developments.
Officials at the Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Workers Union (ZIDAWU) told The Financial Gazette that the majority of their members were being paid “peanuts”.
“We do not know where the money is going. They are failing to abide by basic worker conditions expected in the mining sector, for example lack of protective clothing. There is harassment of employees and racial discrimination. The Chinese are treated as first class citizens as compared to locals,” said ZIDAWU, in a statement.
The majority of Manicaland businesses are also yet to realise benefits from companies extracting the gems in their own backyard by way of supply contracts.
In its last report to the seventh Parliament of Zimbabwe, before the legislative assembly’s dissolution on June 28, the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development drew parallels between lack of development in Manicaland and some well renowned cities such as Dubai that have become world attractions, with huge volumes of trade and business following the discovery of minerals such as oil.
“The committee had an opportunity to meet the business community of Manicaland, who highlighted that it was almost impossible to supply goods and services to companies operating in Chiadzwa. As a result, there has not been much development in Mutare, the capital city of Manicaland,” said the committee.
In Mutare, Anjin has infuriated residents after taking over Meikles Park for purposes of developing a hotel. The public area is regarded by many as a prized family treasure which should not be interfered with.
Also, out of the 4 300 families that need to be relocated from Chiadzwa, available data shows that only 693 families have been resettled.
Less than 700 families and six businesses have received compensation for the forced relocations.
Although the companies have done a commendable job in building houses, schools and health facilities at Arda Transau for those that have already been relocated, there is no consensus among them on the funding mechanism for a promised irrigation project that would provide sustainable livelihood for the relocated families.