Local communities in Mutoko are crying foul over the manner in which black granite mining is being carried out by private companies. Revenue leakages are the order of the day while the environment is being wantonly destroyed by the mining companies. The trade has gone on for decades and yet no meaningful employment has been created for locals while the mining companies have been accused of refusing to contribute to the community share ownership scheme set up years ago to benefit the local communities.
Villagers have bemoaned the wanton destruction of their environment ever since granite mining started in the 1970s. After the government realised that black granite was the strongest rock in the world and the most expensive, it was re-classified from a natural resource to a mineral. But since then the lives of poor people in Mutoko North have not changed for the better.
Only a few politicians and mining companies have reaped huge financial rewards. Agricultural land is being transformed into deadly dungeons and dumping sites. Environmental damage has reached worrying levels, while the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) officials have been allegedly bribed by offending companies to turn a blind eye on environmental degradation.
Three school children were killed in 2012 and 2013 after drowning in one of the deep water-filled pits left by the miners. Livestock have not been spared from this disaster. Despite all this no action has been taken by the authorities.
The EMA Act Chapter 20:27 says mining companies established before the act should produce Environmental Management Plans for all their mining activities, the effect on the environment and the mitigatory measures they would take. But in Mutoko companies do not comply. They are heavily protected by influential political heavy-weights and as such they are immune to any form of accountability.
Nobody from the EMA was available for comment, but the Zimbabwe Environmental lawyers Association said it was hard for EMA to take action – especially in situations where politicians are involved.
According to some Mutoko residents, politicians and quarry miners are believed to have reached a deal that resulted in each politician getting a stake in the granite mining business. The ordinary people in this area were not part of these negotiations.
They claim that the loss of revenue in the black granite is as a result of political corruption that has been taking place between top politicians and the top leadership of the quarry mining companies. Political giants own companies that provide services to the mining firms and collect thousands of dollars every month. In return the local politicians protect the quarries from external interference by law enforceme-nts agents. Robert Mabvuta, a local councillor in Mutoko, bemoaned the state of affairs in the town. ‘The main problem in this area is that politicians are also quarry owners and that is why the companies are refusing to contribute to the community share ownership,’ he said.
Ousted Provincial Affairs Minister Simbaneuta Mudarikwa was implicated as one of the politicians who owns a quarry in the area. He was accused of working against the interests of the community to maximise his profits.
Despite efforts to get a comment from the legislator, it was impossible. He insisted on written questions being sent to him via parliament on issues that do not concern parliament.
In 2012 it is alleged that a company called CRJ refused to pay $55 000 land development levy to the Mutoko Rural District Council. The district council took the matter to the High Court and the CRJ refused to attend the court hearing. Efforts to get comment from CRJ owners were unsuccessful. Villagers believe that these companies have the courage to ignore court orders because they know they are backed by powerful political figures. Over sice granite mining companies have over the years refused to pay Land Development Levy and several cases have been taken to court. Some companies have paid after years of fighting with the council.
Land development levy is money paid annually to the Rural District Council for the purposes of beneficiation, rehabilitation and developing of communities affected by quarry mining.
While the companies continue to short-change local villagers, investigations show that black granite is fetching much higher prices in places such as South Africa.
Speaking at the Media Centre’s roundtable discussion on extractive industries, Obednigwa Mguni, representing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mining, said the committee had conducted investigations and established that the stone was fetching much more in foreign lands.
Often companies under-declare the correct quantities of stone they carry out of Mutoko. There is no weigh bridge or any other mechanism to determine the weight of the stone loaded in trucks. Companies take advantage of this and loot the black granite with impunity. This is suspected to be the reason why the bridge along the highway collapsed some years ago. It succumbed to overloaded trucks.
It is suspected that the bridge along the Harare–Nyamapanda highway collapsed due to the pressure exerted by overloaded trucks transporting granite from Mutoko to Harare. These companies are accused of destroying existing infrastructure without making any improvements.
It is yet another case of mineral resources being a curse to local communities as granite mining has only brought environmental degradation and other social ills to the lives of Mutoko villagers. Mining companies take advantage of political complicity and complacence to exploit local communities and act with impunity.Post published in: Business