Project launched to promote local community rights

A project aimed at ensuring that local communities benefit from the exploitation of natural resources in their areas was launched recent.

Despite the presence of abundant natural resources in many parts of the country, local communities remain largely undeveloped by the wealth in their midst – and often bear the brunt of environmental risks.

Examples of communities neglected by commercial companies included Mutoko North, where black granite is extracted, and Mutare West where the notorious Marange Diamonds are being mined. “In terms of local development, the operating companies are doing nothing for the local people with poor roads, no clinics, hospitals and schools,” the meeting heard.

They cannot access the courts for redress when they are forcibly relocated from areas they were born and lived in – thanks to colonial legislation that remains on the statute books in modern-day Zimbabwe: the Protected Areas Act and the Mines and Minerals Act.

Director of the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association, Mutuso Dhliwayo, who launched the ‘Fair, Green and Global Alliance Project’ in partnership with Action Aid International, said local communities should become shareholders in companies and benefit equitably from the resources being exploited in their areas.

Other countries do a lot for their local communities in terms of development with revenues generated from natural resource exploitation. But in Zimbabwe, such communities remain underdeveloped with poor health, transport and educational facilities.

“In this project we are strengthening local communities’ education and knowledge about their rights in the exploitation of natural resources,” said Mutuso Dhliwayo, the Director of ZELA. The project will be operational in Mutoko North, Mutare West, Mbire district in the upper Zambezi escarpment and around Kanyemba in the north of Zimbabwe.

One of the fundamental shortcomings of the environmental justice movement, he said, was its failure to articulate implementable propositions around community rights issues.

“There are very few concrete proposals on how to rectify the injustice,” said Dhliwayo.

What made matters worse, he said, was that at the national level there was limited accountability and transparency when it comes to proceeds from mining, mining development and other extractive industries.

“We need to start monitoring national budgets and how the proceeds from mining are fed into the fiscus,” he said.

Director for Action-Aid International, Dr Tsitsi Choruma, noted that local communities had the power within themselves which needed to be exposed through active participation in resource mobilization and sharing.

Participants called for the controversial Empowerment Bill to seriously address the issue of community involvement.

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