The victims have nowhere to turn to

June 20, 2022

Tawanda Majoni

The Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe and its usual hangers-on within the local elite are always quick to dismiss criticism of businesses run by companies from the Asian nation as fake news and smear campaigns.

It’s difficult to believe that they believe themselves when they say that. Because, you see, when they are sober enough, they admit that some Chinese projects are bringing harm to Zimbabwean people. But then, they are not sober most of the time.

Point number one, no sane person hates Chinese investments just for the kicks. Put differently, Zimbabweans have no problem with Chinese projects if they are going to be done properly. No problem if the Chinese investments are going to be licensed in accordance with the law and local regulations. And no problem, too, if the businesses are going to bring development to Zimbabwe.

Problem is, most of these Chinese investments are not ready to do that.  And their accomplices in government and other areas are cheering them on.

There is hardly anything new about this, of course. We keep talking about it because those that are benefiting from the Chinese investments would want us to believe their fireside yarns about how good the “Look East” policy is going.

You always come back with a long face whenever you go out there, talk to the affected communities and see what’s happening on the ground. Like, just recently, I was in Mutoko. The rural area called Nyamutsahuni, to be precise.

The people there are not happy. They are bitter with the management at Dingmao, a Chinese granite mining company. They are bitter, to start with, because Dingmao has grabbed the water from them. The company sealed off the local river and is using the water mostly for its own industrial purposes. This was the river from which they drank and watered their gardens for decades. This is the river where they swam in the merry old days. The river that provided water for their livestock and from which they fished.

The locals are now prohibited from using the water from the river. If they are found doing that, they are chased away like common criminals, if they are lucky enough not to be beaten. In the land of their ancestors!

You often hear this unhelpful argument that China is not colonising Africa. There is need to then go back to the definition of colonisation if taking rivers from the natives and barring them from using the water is not colonialism. Needless to say, there is nothing in Zimbabwean laws that permits doing that. In fact, it’s illegal to do that, yet nothing is happening to the Chinese company.

Forget that long list of promises when the company started operating in Nyamutsahuni, the area doesn’t have a single borehole. That means people are hustling to get water, travelling long distances to get some.

That’s not all. You see, when companies like Dingmao do their operations, the whole thing generates lots of rubble. What are they doing with it? They are dumping it on villagers’ farms and leaving it to the locals to find solutions to this new but heinous form of waste management. They are also digging up the graves and forcing you to do the reburials.

Never mind the cheek, this is causing big problems to the farming communities. Nyamutsahuni, like all the areas in Mutoko and Mashonaland East province, is largely dependent on farming. If you are going to dump rubble on the farms, you are killing the people’s livelihoods. They can no longer grow crops as they used to do in this area, which is already affected by frequent droughts. That means they have to depend on food aid. Being aid-dependent makes them economically and socially vulnerable.

It’s something that you don’t often think about, but this has a trickle-down effect on the villagers’ democratic rights. It affects how the affected people will make choices. Who doesn’t know how politics—particularly by the ruling party—is done in Zimbabwe? Come election time, they will be dangling bags of rotten rice at the hungry villagers. And they will threaten the poor souls with starvation if they don’t “vote wisely”. It’s easy to manipulate hungry people. They will vote with their stomachs.

Back to Dingmao. This will shock you, no doubt, but the workers don’t have a single toilet to use. We are talking here of a company that has been there since 2016, albeit under different names. The workers—nay, labourers—are forced to use the bush to relieve themselves.

And they don’t have to take too long while at it. If you do more than 10 minutes in the bush, you suffer for it. You are automatically sent on a 10-day unpaid sabbatical. You can’t quarrel with the managers. They move around with pistols on their hips and they are quick with their legs and hands.

 One poor dude got his arm broken recently, and he was fired for all the trouble of taking the pain from his Chinese boss. The police didn’t take his report. The police say they don’t enforce the law against foreign nationals. That’s crap, of course.

This 10-day unpaid “leave”, eish! It’s so common at the mine. If you get your wages, you can’t go to Mutoko Centre, to withdraw the money at any time outside your off-days. Yet off-days at the mine are as rare as the dodo. So, if you decide against wisdom and go to Mutoko Centre, you are slapped with the 10-day punishment. You work very long hours and get a third of the gazetted wages. That’s slavery, if you ask me.

Typically, the miners don’t care about the environment. They are digging up deep pits and leaving them like that for livestock and children to fall into. The roads are is such a sorry state because of the heavy trucks that carry the granite from within Mutoko and beyond. So much so that quite a number of women has either suffered premature deliveries or still births on the way to the nearest clinic.

The biggest problem is that the poor villagers have nowhere to take their woes to. The local councillor doesn’t care. The headmen don’t care. They don’t even know how their MP looks like. And the police are making it worse for them by protecting the Chinese. If a villager retaliates against a Chinese miner, the police come yesterday. But that’s not the same thing if the Chinese boss is the offender.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on majonitt@gmail.com

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