ZIMBABWE is endowed with an abundance of natural resources which, if used properly can help turn around the fortunes of the economy. However, there are allegations of rampant looting of these resources.
Some human rights activists have tried, albeit in vain, to challenge the government to arrest the corruption and looting of these resources. Some activists were arrested for speaking up against corruption and looting. NewsDay (ND) reporter Thomas Chidamba interviewed Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) director Farai Maguwu (FM) about these issues.
ND: Tells us about CNRG?
FM: CNRG was formed in August 2012 with the goal of defending the rights of communities endowed with natural resources and to ensure Zimbabweans derive maximum benefits from their natural resources. We are a team of 10, backed by a board of trustees who give us strategic direction. We believe that with the correct set of policies and political will, Zimbabwe’s natural resources can be an answer to the country’s economic misery. Our desire is to see an improvement in living standards due to accountable governance of natural resources.
ND: As a human rights defender, how do you assess Zimbabwe?
FM: At times, it has been very scary, especially between 2009 and 2012. The involvement of top government officials in resource looting means our work is usually frowned upon by those who should be allies. Most district administrators won’t let us hold workshops in their areas of jurisdiction, fearing we will inspire communities to resist looting. But we still hold them anyway.
ND: Tell us about the incident that led to your arrest and subsequently spending 40 days in prison?
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FM: I returned to Zimbabwe in August 2007 after spending a year studying in Austria. Three months later, government launched Operation Hakudzokwi to drive out artisanal miners from Marange. It was extremely brutal. A friend in Harare wrote me an email early December 2007, asking for details on what was happening in Marange. That email marked a turning point in my life. In January 2009, we produced a preliminary report which was widely circulated in diplomatic and human rights circles. The more we researched the more we were shocked with the severity of the abuses. News of our work reached the Kimberley Process (KP) which dispatched a fact-finding mission in June 2010. The chair of the mission invited me to attend a KP plenary session in Namibia in November 2010. I narrated the situation in Marange as I knew it and Zimbabwe was suspended from selling diamonds. A joint workplan was agreed between Zimbabwe and the KP, to be implemented within one year. The founding KP chair, Abbey Chikane was appointed monitor for Zimbabwe. When I met him I told him the truth and later he claimed in his report that I gave him classified information. He, therefore, reported me to authorities leading to my arrest. He probably thought I was going to disappear and his name would never be mentioned. But things turned out differently.
ND: The prison term didn’t break your spirit, what is your secret?
FM: It’s a combination of factors — personal conviction and encouragement from friends, family and Zimbabweans. At that point, most civic society organisations (CSOs) were pre-occupied with civil and political rights in the context of MDC and Zanu PF contestation for power. My arrest put the spotlight on the extractive sector. There was a huge local, regional and international response. Because I continued speaking, somehow many Zimbabweans also started asking questions about how their resources were being extracted and traded. Today, we have a somewhat national movement of communities demanding a share of their resources. Most of the communities experience a paradox of resource curse issues, where extractive industries sit side-by-side with stinking poverty. We continue to receive Macedonian calls for help from throughout the country.
When I finished my studies in Austria in August 2007 I was persuaded by my academic director Dietrich Fischer to remain in Europe. He feared for my life and thought I should wait for things to calm down, but I felt my heart was firmly in Zimbabwe, hence I returned immediately. When police came to raid my home and offices on May 27 2010, I went into hiding for six days and during those days I was offered asylum by some diplomats, but I turned them down.
ND: Don’t you think it is dangerous or risky to be a human rights activist in Zimbabwe?
FM: It is dangerous, but if one is looking at the bigger picture, we are at a critical juncture as a country. The situation requires sacrifice to pluck the country from its perennial economic crisis and place it on the development escalator. I don’t see my work as fighting the government, but rather sharing a vision that seems to be embraced by the majority of our citizens. Countries with no minerals such as the United Arab Emirates are creating both jobs and wealth out of our minerals. We are simply saying let us make natural resources work for Zimbabwe.
ND: Why do you say that extractive industries are deepening structural inequalities in societies?
FM: Extractive industries perpetrate violence and repression against defenceless communities. There is land and water grabbing and unrestrained pollution. Corporations enjoy impunity. Currently, I know of five communities being threatened with eviction. The Sese community of Chivi, Kusena ward in Marange, wards 12 and 14 in Dotito, the Chihota community where diamonds were discovered recently. Toxic waste and raw sewage are dumped into rivers with impunity. Along Save and Odzi rivers, livestock are dying due to water pollution by diamond mining companies.
ND: You have spoken out against the displacement of families from their land to pave way for mining operations. In your view, what do you think should be done to protect families from such incidents?
FM: Zimbabwe needs a relocation policy which lays down procedures to be followed if displacement is to take place. The policy must deal with compensation, how to handle cultural heritage and sacred sites and provision of services at the relocation site. These must not be left to the discretion of corporations. The primary duty of government is to protect its citizens from abuse.
ND: You are on record claiming that there is rampant corporate looting in the extractive sector, can you justify?
FM: The biggest piece of evidence was provided by the late former President Robert Mugabe who said of potential $15 billion diamond revenue, Zimbabwe only realised $2 billion. The probe by the late Chindori Chininga and Temba Mliswa-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines also unearthed credible leads which needed the Executive to act on, but this didn’t happen. We have gross undervaluation of our minerals, tax evasion and falsification of documents to enable smuggling. A significant percentage of black granite from Mutoko is smuggled. The same applies to chrome, platinum, gold etc. Instead of holding mining corporations accountable, government is watching closely those demanding accountability.
ND: Communities are not benefiting from natural resources being exploited from their areas, what do you think needs to be done for them to benefit?
FM: Devolution of decision-making. The reason why Zimbabwe is not developing despite rich natural resource endowments is because important decisions are made by a few filthy corrupt officials in Harare who are not held accountable by anyone. 100% of extractive contracts are extremely bad for the country no wonder government will never publish them. Each province must engage its own investors, collect natural resource revenues, give a stipulated share to central government and use the rest on local development. If Manicaland was allowed to make decisions pertaining to Marange diamonds, there would be a massive transformation of the province, beginning with Marange itself.
l Follow Thomas on Twitter @chidambathomas