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November 22, 2013

Zimbabweans relocated from diamond fields blame Chinese investors for their woes

By grant recipient Marcus Tawona, originally published in The Zimbabwean

According to Zimbabwe’s Mines and Mining Development Ministry, the Marange diamond fields could generate more than $4 billion a year – yet the country is teetering on the verge of economic collapse, with western donors pouring in billions to keep people fed, children in school and clinics stocked with medicines.

Instead of making things better, our investigations show that one mine in particular, jointly operated by Chinese and Zimbabwean companies, has made things worse. Local communities have been relocated to an unsustainable new environment - unable to get even the most menial jobs on the mine. Their drinking water is polluted, harming people and killing livestock.

Diamond mining giant Anjin Investment, jointly owned by China’s Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company (AFFEC) and Zimbabwe’s Matt Bronze, built a housing scheme, from which a total of 474 local families have so far benefited.

Being relocated from Marange diamond area in Chiadzwa to Arda Transau in Odzi was a dream come true for many families, who had little hope of ever buying similar houses themselves. Built at a cost of about $55,000per unit, according to Anjin, the houses have all the features of a modern rural home, including fire hydrants, irrigation, solar power and running water.

Hardly a stone’s throw away is a state- of- the- art clinic, a primary and secondary school, equipped with a modern computer lab. The Chinese company has also built a business centre, run by locals.

A delegation from Botswana Defence Forces (BDF), along with then Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and an EU delegation led by Aldo Dell’ Arricia, visited the project last year and described it as the best they had ever seen.

“We need to consider this model in future land resettlement programmes,” said Tsvangirai at the time.

Anjin claims to have invested close to $400 million in the mining and relocation exercise. But behind this façade of splendour, locals have a different story to tell. They accuse the company of failing to give them food, provide clean water, education and health facilities as initially promised. They last received food in October 2012 and have been living hand-to-mouth since then – having been driven off their fields.

They also say the houses are not suited to their polygamous family units, resulting in conflict, overcrowding, and deteriorating standards of living. The relocation exercise has been described as haphazard and disruptive.

“These people have forgotten about us and are only interested in mining diamonds. Government should open its eyes and see that the Chinese are exploiting us. They are failing to fulfil what they promised,” said one villager who declined to be named as his livelihood depends on the company.

“At times we go for days without access to water. We were told the Chinese handed over the water purification station to government through Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) but it’s not clear who is responsible,” said another villager who was searching for water at a nearby stream.

The chairperson for the resettled villagers, Timothy Ndamera, said 0,5 hectares of land under irrigation was pledged to each family, but the project had not yet started, exposing them to “extreme hunger”.

Mutare District Administrator, Cosmas Chiringa, confirmed that the villagers had sought redress over pending issues, including non-supply of food and health and education issues.

The majority of relocated villagers are members of the Apostolic Church, which allows polygamy. They said neither the government nor the Chinese had considered the issue of tradition and land tenure in the relocation programme.

“Our inheritance system has been disturbed because we now only have small portions of land, which are difficult to divide among siblings. We are not happy here because the set-up is modelled around an urban settlement. The Chinese did not consider our cultural background. Four women are forced to be accommodated in a three-bedroomed house with one husband. Is that normal?” said one woman who spoke on condition of anonymity

“The issue of land tenure is a challenge. This means our children will be destitute if they are not allocated their own land,” said Paul Mutsago, a village elder.

Anjin Investment defended their position, saying they had done enough as per their agreement with government, and outstanding issues were for the state and villagers to resolve.

“Which contract stipulates that we should do everything?” asked retired Brigadier General Munyaradzi Matyatya, speaking on behalf of Anjin.

Villagers also complain that the company uses Chinese labour for even menial tasks, while locals remain unemployed. The Manicaland Business Action Group said Anjin Investment was not being fair by hiring foreigners to do menial jobs like gardening and sweeping.

“It’s high time this nonsense should stop,” said Basil Nyabadza, who chairs the Manicaland Business Action Group advisory board. “We can`t have Chinese coming to do menial jobs while our locals are jobless.”

Former Mines and Mining Development portfolio committee chairperson in the inclusive government, the late Edward Chindori Chininga, was vocal in his concerns over unfair business practices by the Chinese in Chiadzwa.

He said local companies were failing to get contracts from the Chinese diamond mining firms because they were importing everything from spare parts to toilet paper. Chininga described the Chinese-Zimbabwe partnership in Marange as a “one- sided affair”, where millions of dollars were being made, with no visible development on the ground.

The City of Mutare, just 70 km from the diamond fields, is operating without a single functional traffic light, while the provincial health referral centre is facing critical challenges such as shortage of drugs and a mass exodus of qualified staff due to lack of funding.

Chininga urged government to implement a policy stipulating that companies providing services to local diamond mines must be resident in the country.

Those who have been employed complained of unfair labour practices and poor working conditions, but the company insisted this had been resolved.

Construction workers downed tools recently in protest against poor labour practices ranging from physical abuse to irregular working hours and poor wages. They said they earned $4 per day - far below the rate set by the Zimbabwe National Employment Council for the construction industry.

"This article was written with the assistance of a grant from Wits China-Africa Reporting Project".

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