VILLAGERS in areas surrounding the diamond-rich Marange area say mining companies destroyed their livelihoods and left them in poverty that has been worsened by the El Niño-induced drought ravaging the country.
Marange and its surroundings areas are in natural region five, which is characterised by low rainfall and only a few drought resistant crops can survive the extreme weather conditions.
The plight of the communities has been worsened by unsustainable mining operations by diamond companies, which have largely contributed to serious water pollution in Save and other small rivers.
Pollution has severely affected supplementary projects for villagers like gardening, fishing and livestock production.
Last week Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa ordered all the nine mining companies to cease their operations and prepare to leave the area in three months following disagreements on how they will constitute the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company.
As a result, hundreds of people have since started trooping to Marange and the locals said they would rather mine the diamonds themselves than continue in a situation where investors extract the precious stones without ploughing back to the community.
This paper visited different communities where the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) was handing over boreholes to avert the worsening water problems.
Although happy with the initiative, several people complained that diamonds have worsened their situation in a proverbial “from riches to rags” scenario.
In Gunura village in Buhera South, one of the areas close to Save River where pollution has hit hard, a group of about 20 women of different ages have resorted to repairing roads and making passing motorists pay a fee.
“We really feel sad with all that is happening in our area,” one Munodaani Chiundundu said.
“Back then, we would be occupied in our gardens along Save River.
“We would raise quite some money from that to buy food and send our children to school.
“All that is gone, we are just left with polluted water which is also giving us a lot of problems.”
She added: “Therefore, we have resorted to spending time repairing the road for a fee like what they do in towns, but the problem is that there is low traffic and the money we get is close to nothing.”
Some villagers said they could not afford to walk long distances like going to Birchenough Bridge to sell firewood like other women were doing, or to wait for donor aid so they have to start income generating projects.
Headman Nelson Mangwadza said water problems had caused so much trouble, including loss of livestock.
“Save River is now heavily contaminated. We have lost so many cattle and goats since the mining venture started. We appreciate the boreholes that have been given to us,” he said.
“There is really nothing we benefitted from the diamonds in terms of infrastructure development. Only a few individuals were employed from my area and we were not even included in the Zimunya Marange Community Share Ownership Trust here besides being close to the diamonds.”
Mangwadza added: “Now there is so much hunger here and people and livestock are so much affected.
“We hear that many children are dropping out of school. They would rather stay at home than to go and faint due to starvation at school. This community really feels betrayed.”
He said many people will be going into panning in order to make money to sustain themselves, claiming they were shut out by the structured mining.
Other villagers in Mangwadza area concurred, saying nothing will stop them from going into the diamond fields.
“Look, we rely on makeshift wells dug after the light rains we received,” said one Titus Muwewe.
“We are living in a sea of poverty yet a few kilometres away there are diamonds.
“It’s not by choice that we go and pan but we are forced into that by the situation we find ourselves in.
“The advantage we have is that we work overnight and in the morning we come back home.”
James Zingwe added: “The government did well to stop mining because nothing was coming from there.
“Now we should be allowed to get there so that we get money for food and school fees.
“If there is no alternative to the challenges we are facing, then we are forced to go there.”
On stopping mining operations, some in Chako village wanted to know who would rehabilitate the mine shafts and ensure several water sources were rehabilitated.
In Maunganidze village people said all their sources of income had been damaged by mining operations and they wanted the government to force the mining companies to pay a certain amount towards services like medication.
They said a lot of people were affected, especially people who drink the contaminated water.
“It’s clear that the water we drink causes diseases,” said Ndione Mwa-ambira in ward 1 Chipinge district.
“All we want now is for the government to ensure that there is a specific fee left aside for people who will fall sick even in the next 10 years.
“People should be allowed to access free medication because as it stands, we will not afford the medical bills.
“There is a strange thing happening to women here in Maunganidze and we are worried that they will have complications in giving birth.”
Hot Springs area is now a hive of activity following the ban on mining, with illegal panners from different parts of the country flocking there.
However, villagers said although they abhorred what mining companies were doing, they were worried about the lawlessness that will be created by illegal panners.
“We are happy about the boreholes we are getting because water was so much polluted by diamond mining companies.
“That caused the death of many of our livestock and it is causing stillbirths too,” Headman Chibuwe said.
“We didn’t have our children employed, we are breathing dust and mine workers are taking our wives here.
“However, the illegal panners we are seeing here will create lawlessness. Their primary target is our children and wives.
“They will steal the little we have but what can they do when the majority of people are surviving on wild fruits.
“I am 72 years old but I have never seen this. There is no more fish in Save River and no infrastructure development like new clinics and schools.”
Mavis Karenyi said she lost almost 60 cattle because of the water pollution.
She said the government should ensure that they were compensated before the three months notice given to companies to move out lapses.
In all the villages, people share the same sentiment — that diamonds have done very little to help them.
The villagers expressed anger over the manner in which the government was folding hands when things were getting out of hand in Marange.
However, some women said they were saddened by the closure of the diamond mines because they had been supplying workers with relish and other commodities.
They said the money they raised from the trade was enough to take care of their families.