MUTOKO – Ranganai Zimbeva, from the rural village of Mutoko, which lies about 200km northeast of Harare, plugs his ears with his fingers and shakes his head as he watches miners close to his village blast the hard rock to extract the black granite within.
Deep and wide gullies have replaced the rolling pastures in this village in Mashonaland East Province where thriving livestock once roamed freely. It is difficult to see the blue skies as grey dust formed from the explosions billows upwards to fill the skyline.
“Some who go to the clinic with breathing problems have been told that their illness is caused by inhaling too much dust or smoking.
“The mining companies should set up a health fund to ensure villagers get sufficient treatment,” 70-year-old Zimbeva said.
“The cattle sometimes die after drinking water from the gullies and it could be contaminated by chemicals and no one seems to care. All they want is money.”
But the cattle deaths, which happen every year, are not frequent.
Zimbeva and the people of Mutoko have no proof about what causes this – many do not have the money to seek veterinary assistance.
People here are poor and have been experiencing worsening hunger due to the recurrent drought.
“We have less cattle now because this black granite (mining) has taken away the grazing land. Worse still, (the mining companies) have turned a deaf ear to our requests for them to employ our sons and daughters, choosing to take people from other areas instead,” said Zimbeva.
About 10 companies, which are both local and foreign owned, are extracting granite from this rural district.
The contact details of some of these mining companies are obscure and difficult to obtain.
A representative from one of the mining companies involved, however, refused to comment.
Geologists say that Zimbabwe holds some of the richest mineral deposits in Africa, including platinum, diamonds, asbestos, graphite and gold.
But activists and economists accuse some indigenous and emerging mining companies of not improving the welfare of local communities and leaving them worse off than before.
Independent economist John Robertson explained that emerging mining companies, which the government is heavily involved in, were different from multi-nationals that tend to cater for the welfare of local communities.
“Some of these multinationals have management teams running the equivalent of municipalities, complete with hospitals, schools, housing schemes.
“This is where they differ from the indigenous and emerging extracting companies where rules don’t seem to apply and greed rules,” Robertson said.
For families who once lived on the Marange diamond field in Manicaland Province, which is estimated to be about 71 000 hectares and thought to hold about a quarter of the world’s diamond deposits, the compensation offered to them by mining companies for relocating has not been sufficient.
About 693 families, who had lived for decades on the diamond fields, were moved to a derelict farm called Arda Transau, which is near Manicaland Province’s main town, Mutare.
A total of 4 300 households have been identified for relocation.
While Arda Transau has now been developed and families have been given four bedroom houses as compensation for the loss of their homes, this is seen by many as inadequate.
“The expansion of mining activities in Marange has claimed much of the land used by locals for subsistence, (and also) community infrastructure, such as dams, that provided water for market gardening. Small businesses such as shops and stalls were closed down,” Melanie Chiponda, the director of Chiadzwa Community Development Trust, a lobby group promoting the rights of local villagers whose communities border the mining field, said.