By Tinashe Mungazi
The Dinde community had petitioned the Parliament of Zimbabwe to halt a proposed coal mining project arguing that it would lead to displacements, pollution of water sources, desecration of cultural and heritage sites among others.
Chinese company, Beifer Investment has for the past two years been at loggerheads with the community with Dinde villagers accusing it of not consulting them and producing a doctored Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Several government interventions to persuade the villagers to allow the company to conduct its exploration works further hardened the community resulting in the petition.
Following a visit to the area by the committee on a fact-finding mission tensions reached a tempo when the company moved on site to commence exploration works. Subsequent scuffles which saw villagers attempting to block the Chinese company led to the arrest of Dinde Residents Association vice-chairperson, Never Tshuma.
He became a free man last Friday when the state withdrew its charge of incitement to commit violence while Beifer Investment continued with its exploration works.
In a report set to be tabled before Parliament, the committee said it had set out to ascertain the concerns of the Katambe petitioners.
It noted that ignorance on the EIA process could result in manipulation of communities to reject or accept investment projects.
“It is apparent that the Dinde community are expressing their displeasure at the lack of communication and transparency in the manner the coal exploration process was handled. The community is in the dark regarding the whole exploration process either because their traditional representatives have not adequately or clearly informed them about the exploration exercise or they have not been made aware at all.
Both consultants and lawyers can easily take advantage of the community’s ignorance and manipulate them to accept the project or reject it through swaying the community’s thinking towards what they want them to believe. Therefore, there is need to protect the rights of people living in mining areas while the Government promotes economic investments. The community needed information to be able to make decisions on development plans that directly affect them. Transparency and accountability on the part of investors must be guaranteed for the Dinde community to develop trust in the investment projects that are taking place in their area,” said the committee.
In its recommendations, the committee called for the authorities to come up with a standard procedure on consultation while urging EMA to educate communities on EIAs.
“The Committee recommends that the Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry immediately amends the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) to clearly spell out the scope and standards to be followed by registered Consultants on stakeholder consultations by 31st December 2021. It also recommends that the Environmental Management Agency introduces creative capacity-building initiatives for communities in mining areas to understand the EIA processes and provide the local leadership with the requisite information that empowers them to handle the consultation processes by 31st December 2021.”
It concluded that in order to avoid divisions and rejection of investments for the rights of concerned people needed to be upheld through involvement.
“If the rights of communities living in mining areas are not protected and guaranteed and transparency and accountability are not upheld, the nation will witness divisions and disagreements between and among communities because of investment in their respective areas. Communities need to be informed and adequately capacitated to be fully knowledgeable about mining ventures so that they decide from an informed point of view. With the above submissions, Mr. Speaker Sir, I now commend this report for consideration by this august House.”
From the recommendations, legislators will give in giving policy direction or amendment to governing statutes or laws.