THE coming in of the Chinese mining firm, San He Zimbabwe, for the Tengenenge community in Guruve in 2004 was considered a blessing by residents, who were looking forward to benefiting from the mine’s anticipated community development projects.
BY SOFIA MAPURANGA
Guruve was on the verge of becoming a ghost town, with very little economic activities, apart from agriculture and the Tengenenge Arts Centre, taking place.
True to their expectations, the chrome mining firm brought with it new technologies and huge machinery that left the rural community in awe.
Besides exposing the communities to new technology and the construction of new infrastructure in the form of housing units for management and workers, San He offered employment to more than 50 workers from the area, the majority of them working shifts in chrome extraction. The coming of the firm brought about the anticipated boom in economic activity to the otherwise poor communities.
Dereck Kambeu was one lucky worker employed on a permanent basis. His wife, Sarah Dembedza (23) was more than excited, as her husband no longer travelled to Harare to do menial jobs, which earned him paltry wages fortnightly.
“He earned enough to sustain our family of four and his income was guaranteed,” she said.
The benefits of Kambeu’s employment cascaded to his extended family and their fortunes improved.
“Kambeu has always been the breadwinner in the family and his employment meant that he had the capacity to buy us inputs for farming and productivity increased,” his widowed aunt, Stembile Nyoni (55), said.
Jeffrey Gahamadze (21), however, failed to secure a job at the mining firm, but as a vendor he benefited from the spin-offs, as the company’s arrival spurred economic activity.
“I could now sell my products and get some income either weekly or monthly when the workers were paid,” he said.
Sheila Tase, who did catering also reaped benefits, as she sold foodstuffs to the contracted mine workers.
“I made a profit enough to sustain myself,” she said, revealing that making a profit of $20 weekly was better than making nothing.
The community loved the company as it contributed towards the construction of an early childhood development toilet block at a primary school.
“They exhibited good intentions at first and the mining firm sourced and supplied books and stationery to early childhood development pupils,” a village head, Shacky Muzhona Chabvuta said.
He spoke of how the company assisted by transporting the sick, particularly those bitten by snakes, to the nearest clinic Kamusasa, which is about 10km away.
But then joy evaporated and in retrospect, the community thinks it would have been better had the company not come in the first place. They accused San He of leaving a trail of destruction after it was allegedly forced to close in 2011.
The villagers said the company’s activities had not only resulted in massive environmental degradation and added to their health challenges, but the pits they left have cost them human lives and that of their livestock.
Grace Muparaganda said because of the pits left by the chrome extracting firm, a family in the area had lost their child due to injuries sustained when the minor fell into one of the holes.
“It is a very contentious issue because people still fear speaking out and they do not know who to confront because the management at the firm claimed that they were well-connected, so no one dared challenge them,” the 43-year-old woman said.
“Besides, the Chinese nationals that stayed here just disappeared and they are nowhere to be found.”
The village head said besides the gullies left by San He, the mining practices that the firm engaged in were destructive of not only the environment, but left them counting their losses in terms of the safety and availability of water sources.
“They are the ones who caused the siltation of our two major rivers, Dande and Nyabvuti,” Muzhona said.
“Our drinking water is contaminated and it is no longer safe to use.”
The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela) in its 2012 report titled Mining within Zimbabwe’s Great Dykes — Extent, Impacts and Opportunities revealed that the abundance of minerals, including chrome along the Great Dyke, led to many mining operations taking place in the areas ranging from small, medium and large scale.
The Great Dykes is a mineral belt covering areas such, as Guruve, Zvishavane, Shurugwi and Kwekwe among others.
While, the report noted that it was evident that the mining sector had potential to uplift through employment creation, mining activities had the potential to undermine communities’ rights.
According to findings by Zela, communities have been left counting their losses due to mining activities in their respective communities including Guruve.
“While the elite and mining companies have been feasting on the huge profits attained from minerals extraction, communities in the Great Dyke have had to endure the negative impacts of mining operations in their areas,” read the report.
It stated how mining activities were characterised by a lot of displacements without fair and adequate compensation, deforestation, environmental and land degradation, water and air pollution, destruction of cultural sites and limited economic benefits.
Environment Management Authority (EMA) spokesperson, Steady Kangata emphasised the importance for mining firms to adhere to set rules and regulations and ensure that they conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before starting any extraction.
“That company shut its operations a long time ago because they had not complied to set requirements of the environmental impact assessments (EIAs),” he said.
Kangata said it was important for mining firms to ensure that they rehabilitated the land after mineral extraction to ensure the safety of citizens and their livestock.
Another villager said several people in the area had broken their limbs after falling into the pits left by the firm.
“We have over the years tried to cover some of them, but there are those that we cannot rehabilitate because we do not have the resources to do it,” Shadreck Hungwe said.
According to a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy inquiry covering 2011-2013, there were a lot irregularities in chrome mining, which affected growth of the sector.
Findings by the committee established that conflicts between farmers and miners over land use and environmental degradation by the miners presented challenges for the sector.
The banning of chrome exports by government in 2011 also saw the majority of the mining firms dumping stoke piles of the mineral.
Before closing, mining companies ensure that they come up with strategies on how the site will be returned to an acceptable state for a pre-arranged land use.
San He, however, simply walked out of Guruve without conducting any land reclamation or rehabilitation leaving the Tengenenge communities bitter, and counting their losses.