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Writes Clayton Masekesa
Villagers in Mushenjere and Kwaedza in Manhize, Midlands province, are facing acute hunger, as they are failing to plant their fields after losing their farming land to a Chinese company mining iron ore in the area.
Dinson Iron and Steel Mining Company (DISCO) is a Chinese mining company that was awarded an open-ended lease by the Zimbabwean government on 23 June 2023 to mine iron ore and set up a US$1.5 billion steel plant on 12 270 hectares of land.
In an interview on Monday this week, a traditional leader said the situation of hunger in the area was now dire.
“They took our land after telling us that they will do their mining underground and that we will continue with our mining and farming activities without any disturbance. Look at us now. We no longer have our land. We do not have anywhere to do our farming and we are hungry. Many people are going to die of hunger,” said the traditional leader.
“They promised to take good care of us by uplifting the community through undertaking local enterprise development, but, nothing has been done. This matter now requires urgent attention from those above. They promised us food but now nothing is coming out. People are facing serious hunger because they do not have anywhere to do farming. Things are going to be disastrous if the situation continues like this,” the traditional leader explained.
A member from the affected families said:
“DISCO has captured and destroyed our traditional agricultural land without our consent and they are failing to provide suitable and alternative land for us. We do not have anywhere to go. We are facing acute shortages of food. DISCO has neglected us and very soon we are going to see villagers dying of hunger.”
The member said they are surviving from well-wishers and doing part-time jobs.
The affected families said their efforts to lodge complaints and air out their grievances to the Chinese company have fallen on deaf ears.
DISCO Corporate Affairs Manager, Joseph Shoko, denied the allegations.
“This is not true at all. The truth of the matter is that if they fail to farm their land this season, we are going to give them food. For your own information, as we are speaking right now, we are already negotiating for their food hampers for Christmas and we are already compiling the lists. They gave us a list of what they wanted and we did not reject it,” Shoko said.
He denied that the company forcibly took land from the affected families.
“If there is any development of a national interest in any area, you can be removed from that place and relocated somewhere. This is exactly what has happened here.
“There is no way we can force people on relocations. It is the responsibility of the government through the Ministry of Lands to find land to relocate people if there is a need to do so. When the government finds land we will then do the evaluation process valuing the developments done by the affected people,” said Shoko.
“Government, in the meantime, is busy to unlock land for these people. So when that is done we are going to sit down with the affected families one by one over the compensation report from the government,” he explained.
James Mupfumi, the Director of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), said the government of Zimbabwe should halt human rights abuses at DISCO.
“Government must stop the human rights abuses at DISCO. As CRD, we are calling the government to balance business and human rights in DISCO mining operations in Manhize as outlined in the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights,” he said.
“Government must protect mining communities from abusive practices of the mining companies and halt accelerated mining induced relocations by DISCO that are violating human rights,” said Mupfumi.
Mupfumi said the government must ensure that there is community consultation and approval through free, prior, and informed consent.