Local communities need empowerment

There is an increasingly disturbing trend among mining companies, especially those that started operations in the last 10 years. Instead of using some of their profits to empower and develop the communities around the mines, their very actions are driving families into poverty with no prospects for a better future.

Paul Bogaert
Paul Bogaert

The sad story of the Marange diamond fields has been well-told and it would be surprising if there were still people out there, especially policymakers, who were not aware of it. For the record though, hundreds of families were removed from their ancestral homes and relocated to Arda Transau. Others await the same fate.

While relocation to new homes would be a reasonable, even noble concept, these relocated families are living in hell. They depend on meagre handouts of food, they have no access to medical help and there is hardly any farmland at Arda for the families to sustain themselves.

The mining fields keep encroaching on the pastures and farming plots that are still home to the families who have stayed put. Other means of survival – such as selling produce – have been banned by the mines, worsening food insecurity and poverty among the households.

The story is similar in other areas, including rural Mutoko where several mines are extracting black granite and making huge profits while the local communities suffer.

Expanding activities has reduced pastures and farmland, and there are other fears too. There is also widespread concern that the clouds of dust generated through blasting and truck movements could be causing respiratory problems among the villagers.

There is, therefore, a glaring contradiction in the manner in which the mines are conducting themselves. Extracting minerals is supposed to bring profits to the companies, but those profits are also supposed to compensate and develop surrounding communities.

Failure to strike a balance between profits and local development is a sure recipe for strife, as we have seen in countries such as Nigeria, where conflicts have broken out when multinational oil companies have failed to share the benefits with local communities.

What is even more disturbing is that the government, which must have a supervising rôle in the mining sector, is doing nothing to right this wrong. In fact, government seems to be collaborating with the mines. Maybe this is inevitable when you consider that the government has become intimately involved in the actual extraction of the minerals and so can’t possibly police itself.

But this needs to change. The government should limit its involvement in the mining sector to the rôle of overseer and stop being a mining company. After that, it should come up with appropriate legislation, policies and regulations so that mining companies have to account for their actions and ensure that local people benefit from the exploitation of minerals in their areas.

Post published in: Editor: Wilf Mbanga

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