by Fadzai Traquino
“Our neighbours ( companies ) only carress the leapard so that it does not bite , they no longer have concern for us .” These were the words of an elderly man at one of the community consultation meetings held in Shurugwi by Oxfam and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. The project by Oxfam and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission sought to document the lived realities of communities living adjacent to mining operation. The exercise was able to expose the impact of mining activities on the health and livelihoods of communities bodering mines, with little positive impact by way of employment and growth at local level.
With the mining industry taking centre stage as the key driver of the economy in the absence of a vibrant agricultural sector, it remains a major concern citizens remain desperately poor and isolated from the benefits arising from their natural wealth. Oxfam supports the right for communities to participate meaningfuly in transparent deciscions about the development of natural resources and the transparent management and use of resources.The extent to which communities participate in mining development processes tends to minimise conflict and manage expectations.Of central importance is recognizing communities of place as rights holders who have a right to know and to decide how resources are expolited and benefit from such wealth
As we interacted with various community stakeholders I was keen to see how communities are participating and involved in deciscion making processes related to any mining operations . A common thread I picked up in almost every focus group and interview we had was the varying degrees of participation that occurred in practice and the inconsistent application of the public participation process. State responsiveness to the needs of its citizens remains very weak characterised by low levels of engagement between citizens and the elected officials or government bureaucrats. Business for the state continued as usual until there was a hue and cry which compelled engagement.
Engagement with Companies operating in the area was riddled with its own challenges . Consultation was not considered extensive or meaningful with public complaints often not taken seriously. Very often, government departments had to intervene to seek redress on behalf of communities. Each of the companies (UNKI-Anglo American, ZIMASCO, TODAL) had its own framework for engaging with communities and determined the nature,pace and whom to engagement with thereby weakening any collective community voices. Most submissions indicated that communication and engagemet with mining companies was the prerogative of a few privileged individuals in leadership position representing the populace. As one elderly man put it “ They have privatised the discussion , we just know the Chiefs attend meetings representing us , we do not know what is discussed there.” He explained how previously UNKI would use its Public Relations Manager to interact with the communities living in close proximity to the mine , in the spirit of good neighbourliness. Such direct interaction helped in building trust and relationships and the communities felt their needs and concerns were given adequate attention by the company. The current framework of engagement through the Community Share Ownership Trusts seemed to frustrate interested and affected parties who are rely on other parties for representation which in most cases is done without consultation.
The establishement of the Community Share Ownership Trust in terms of SI 116 of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerement Act Chapter 14 is a creation by law that enables the communities partcipate and to benefit from the extraction of natural resources. This structure provides a framework towards community led sustainable exploitation of natural resources.The CSOTs have a board of trusteees representing the community chaired by the Chief .Other members include the District Administrator, Rural District Council CEO, Ministry of Youth Indigenisation and Economic Empowerement , a chartered Accountant, Legal Practitioner, representative of the youth , women , war veterans, the disabled and business community. On observation there did not seem to be any democratic process taken to select the representatives of women ,youth , diabled , war veterans and business community neither was there a set criteria to determine qualifications and experiences .
The leadership is appointed by the Ministry and not by the people thereby compromising the rules of engagement and the development of community led actions , that are self managed , self directed and self organizing . With no social contract , mandate derived from the people and oath of loyalty to serve the people on these issues , there was speculation of under representation.
Whilst a formalised structure of engagement between companies and communities was plausible, in the absence of platforms for meaningful consultation, feedback and accountability to the communitites they purport to represent , the CSOTs were easily dismissed as a government “thing” not community driven.It was not surprising that other parallel platforms were created by communities outside this framework .In these platforms they were able to set the agenda and engage with companies and government stakeholders on their own terms.
Conversing with Rural District Conuncil Authorities and Traditional leaders who were board of trustees to the Tongogara CSOT also revealed their own inadequacy in representing the community effectively. Their role in deciscion making to the awarding of mining licenses was overlooked by all relevant Acts .Nonetheless, they were the custodians of the communal lands and were expected to “warmly” receive these investors and conduct the necessary cultural rites and rituals to facilitate exploitation of the resources and deal with the aftermath when a company has closed without following due process or has committed violations.
Traditional leaders lamented they were merely informed of the presence of a mining company to operate in their area by government and their role in facilitating relocation and compensation plans . “ We are told that mining takes precedence over any other activity , so our duty is to inform and assist the communities with the relocation and compensation plans .” remarked Chief Mbanga .
He also argued there was lack of access to relevant information for them to adequately represent communities to ensure such mining development is more socially and environmentally sustainable.The mining contracts signed by government and Corporates are treated as confidential and the community leaders have no access to such documents. Also it appears there is no shared understanding of direct and indirect costs of mining (setting up and production, fees, taxes, licences and rates, among others) as well as the benefits arising from this economic activity.
Chief Mbanga of Shurugwi giving his remarks at the dissemination workshop 20 Feb 2015
The absence of such relevant information compromises the ability of local leaders negotiating benefits that can be derived from extraction of resources espcially in negotiating compensation amongst other things.
Mining operations should be initiated after getting informed consent from communities of place. However, Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) which is basically the right of communities to know and decide is not guaranteed nor protected in the current framework .It remains very tokenistic in practice . The current law refom process can stimulate the use of the law to redefine community particpation and meaningful engagement.
Oxfam believes that if communities are empowered wih relevant information about projects ,fiscal regimes and revenue expenditure must be disclosed in easily accessible and palatible ways , they are better able to protect their land and safeguard their livelihoods.
Article By Fadzai Traquino
Extractives Industry Adviser – Oxfam/Zimbabwe