Mining communities living in resource rich areas are reeling under the impacts of Covid-19, which has exacerbated existing inequalities and vulnerabilities to unbearable levels, it has emerged.
This emerged at an annual Provincial Alternative Mining Indaba (PAMI) co-hosted by Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) where communities called for government to rein in increased illegal mining activities which have impacted negatively on their livelihoods.
Communities also called for devolution to counter lack of transparency in management of natural resources revenue, as such revenue could cushion local communities from the adverse economic and social impacts of the lockdown.
This year’s PAMI, ran under the theme ‘The impact of COVID-19 on the Extractive Sector: Amplifying community voices in fighting inequality and mining related injustices’, which resonated with community concerns over widening inequalities.
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) and Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) cohosted the annual meet which drew participants from Mutasa, Chimanimani, Chipinge and Mutare district municipalities, Traditional leaders, government departments and Community Based Organisations.
The stakeholders also convened District and Ward Alternative Mining Indabas, as a precursor to the provincial meet, where discussions focused on ways of tackling inequality through proper management of mineral revenue.
Nyaradzo Mutonhori, ZELA senior legal officer said existing and widening inequalities in access to social services should ideally be bridged by subsidies generated, in part, by mineral resources revenue.
Mutonhori said revenue from the vast mineral endowments, if managed prudently can finance socio economic rights, and curb widening inequality, so poignantly felt in mining communities.
“The inequality disparities are already widening and have become more apparent because of Covid-19. However when we have these minerals, resource they should come and cover up these gaps.
“If mining revenue was channeled towards social services it would lessen burdens on communities.
“We have diamonds and several other minerals in Zimbabwe, if properly managed their revenue would finance the social and economic rights, right to education, health and right to water to be realised.,” said Mutonhori.
Abbie Musiyazviriyo of Marange Development Trust, a community based organization said the Covid 19 pandemic has further widened inequality gaps and pushed locals to join the legion of illegal artisanal miners.
She said diamond companies have not engaged in community awareness despite that some workers which tested positive are mingling with locals, without testing and tracing, expose local community to transmission,.
“Due to this Covid 19 pandemic inequalities are widening further and we don’t know if we will close this gap. Illegal mining activities have surged due to high poverty levels for locals. Locals are now risking their lives to get into illegal syndicates.
“We recommend that diamond companies should step up its efforts in terms of community awareness it’s in their best interests, testing and tracing of cases should also be stepped up, the scope of the provincial taskforce be extended to Marange because it could be a hotspot,” said Musiyazviriyo.
Precious Mafuhunya a representative of Save Odzi Community Network Trust (SOCNET) which monitors impacts of diamond mining activities on communities linked to Odzi and Save Rivers, said girls are being forced into early marriages.
She said the gendered impacts of increased illegal diamond mining activities, rarely noticed by the public, include predatory behaviors by the panners who use the allure of money to prey on young girls.
Mafuhunya said this has also been compounded by closure of schools in compliance to lockdown regulations, which has left young girls idle and vulnerable to abuse, while others have turned to drug abuse.
“Illegal panners are taking advantage of young girl and preying on them because they will be having some money, some are abusing our young girls, like a peculiar case of a twelve year old who was raped and infected with HIV.
“We have also seen an increase in criminal activities due to lockdown imposed by Covid as there is no free movement of persons in the community, but police are failing to follow up on reports,” said Mafuhunya.
Lloyd Sesemani, of Zivai Community Empowerment Trust (ZICET) said illegal mining activities are also an emerging in Penhalonga, as they are now even threatening water sources, exposing the community health hazards.
He said despite purported closure of Redwing Mine, which is currently under care and maintenance, there has been ongoing haphazard mining activities which has triggered an influx of artisanal miners.
“Closure of Redwing mine which stopped operations indicating that they are under care and maintenance is an ongoing concern for us because while mining officially stopped, Redwing contracted other companies to carry out mining activities.
“Our concern is that we are seeing operations ongoing, and these have opened up doors for chancers and there are now haphazard operations under the name of the contractor, this situation is now getting worse.
“There has been an influx of person coming into Penhalonga to venture into artisanal mining activities but the local community has been bearing the brunt in terms of environmental impacts,” said Sesemani.
Fadzai Midzi of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association says the alternative indabas are a platform where communities can critically reflect on the impacts of mining and strategize ways to lessen negative impacts.
She said communities must unite to demand from government that mining revenue drive sustainable development and equitable development, that bridges inequality gaps.
“Our hope is in the minerals and all proceeds from minerals should rive sustainable development in the country, given the US$12 billion mining strategy mineral revenue should be utilized to deliver social services.
“COVID 19 has worsened inequalities and we need to probe how to leverage mining revenue to cover these gaps.
“We are giving capacities to the community to sit down and come up with strategies to ameliorate the variegated impacts of the pandemic,” said Midzi.