By Clayton Masekesa
MARANGE – From a distance, the atmosphere paints a hazy picture as hot thick air pervades the dry open land that has no life, it is a sad scenario that signifies rigorous drought.
After living on one of the world’s richest diamond fields, villagers in Marange have been subjected to excessive hunger following the intense drought that swept through the last farming season.
The villagers, who have been depicted as wretched penury, have been neglected by both the government and the mining companies operating in the diamond soils, as it has become a poignant reality that they have been secluded from the diamonds that they were supposed to benefit from.
A recent visit by this publication revealed that indeed, the drought is ravaging and has left shadows of ruin that are alarming.
Villagers interviewed said they are “dying of hunger” despite having diamonds within their midst.
“We are dead already, dead of hunger. The continuous neglect by the government and the ZCDC (Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Companies), has put us in this situation. We want food otherwise we will die here,” said David Mushunje a villager.
Chief Bernard Marange confirmed the devastating drought and has called for urgent recourse for his long-suffering villagers in Marange.
“There is a drought here and my people are hungry. Other families have completely nothing and they are going for days without eating a meal. I am urgently appealing to the government and the companies mining diamonds here to assist the villagers with food,” said Chief Marange.
“The situation is dire here and I think the issue of providing food to the villagers must be treated with urgency and must be given first priority,” said the Chief who has been so vocal about how they have not directly benefitted from diamonds being mined in his area.
In his report at a Civil Protection Unit stakeholders meeting held in Mutare recently, the Mutare District Development Coordinator, William Boore, said Marange and Buhera districts were hard hit by the drought.
Said Boore: “The whole province has a drought, but Marange and Buhera are hard stricken districts as we speak. We have been assisting 14 wards in Marange with the help of the WFP (World Food Programme). Currently, the distress calls are very high.”
He added: “We are now encouraging farmers in these areas to grow small grains and drought-resistant crops. We are also encouraging them to grow short seasoned crops.”
Various non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations have raised red flags and concerns over the continuous neglect of the hungry villagers.
Shamiso Mutisi of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) said there was a need to find solutions to make diamonds sustainably deliver value and sparkle for Marange communities.
“I challenge ZCDC to do better on local community development and leave a good legacy and positive developmental footprint in Marange. There is a need to promote community development and enjoyment of rights. That is what sustainable mining is all about. It is about creating lasting value for the community while extracting the resource in an environmentally sound or responsible manner,” said Mutisi.
Farai Maguwu the Director of the Centre For Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) said: “The famine in Marange indicates the lack of linkages between the diamond mining and livelihoods in Marange. It shows that the diamond industry is an enclave, an extractivist economy that only benefits those far.”
Maguwu added: “Diamond mining while taking away natural capital of the Marange community, is not giving back to the community in a manner that ensures food security and sustainable livelihoods options.”
The Director of the Centre For Research and Development (CRD) James Mupfumi said: “Extraction of minerals in Zimbabwe is centralized and unaccountable. The form of devolution that the government is implementing is an act of appeasement which is insignificant to address the rights of citizens to their own resources.”
He said: “Under the colonial laws that the government is using, citizens cannot hold the government to account for what is being extracted in their communities, hence, the human security challenges that they face from time to time. Recent moves by the government to award a diamond concession to the people of Marange is a fool’s paradise because there is no legislation to support that.”
The president of Zimbabwe Diamond Allied Workers Union (ZIDAWU) Cosmas Sunguro said: “This is a very sad situation that we are having in Marange. This is the time that we expert people from Marange to benefit from their mineral resources as enunciated in section 13 (4) of our constitution.”
Sunguro said: “Already as an organization, we indicated to both mining companies in Marange to assist in addressing the hunger issue. However, this might not be enough. We need a more sustainable solution to poverty in Marange. Let’s go with irrigation and solar energy. In the same vein, we expect workers to be awarded living wages enough to cater for their financial obligations during this hyper inflationary environment.”
No comment was obtained from ZCDC, as Brian Mangwende from the Public Relations and Corporate Services department did not answer questions sent to him via WhatsApp despite opening the messages.
Several reminders were sent to Mangwende, but, to no avail.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) Mark Mabhudu could not also respond to the questions.
However, in a stakeholder engagement forum held at the mine in May this year, Mabhudhu said the company will work together with various CBOs and traditional leadership to solve the issues raised by the stakeholders.
Mabhudhu said, as a company, they were going to fulfill all promises made. He said management at ZCDC was determined to work with the community on issues of development.
He said serving the community was the company’s first priority.