Environment By Simiso Mlevu
Villagers in Mutoko in Mashonaland East province, live in poverty and yet scattered around their communities are superimposing machines slicing mountains for the precious granite stone.
For decades, MaBuja, as the people of Mutoko are identified because of their ethnicity, have been known for living off market gardening and subsistence farming.
A number of companies, which include Natural Stone, CRG, Zimbabwe International Quarry, Enterprises and Ilford Red are extracting granite in the district, but the poverty of the people of Mutoko towers above and beyond the abundant precious stone, which is in high demand in Europe and America.
The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) held a gender and extractives workshop with Mutoko women recently and there was emotional outpouring on the devastating legacy of granite extraction.
Mutoko women pray that the government of Zimbabwe could listen to their grievances with regard to granite mining and help fix waning relations between miners and locals.
Families have lost their loved ones who fell into gullies left open by granite mining companies in the district.
Women living in affected communities narrated heart-wrenching stories of the death of two primary school children.
“One child fell into a gully in the Nyamuzuwe area, ward 5 and died. The gully had been left open by a mining company.
“Another child from Makochera village, ward 10, met the same fate in 2016,” they said.
Sadly, said Mutoko women, the mining companies responsible for leaving open gullies never compensated the families.
Although not yet extensively documented, loss of life is not the only human right violation being suffered by Mutoko people. The violations range from socio-economic to cultural and environmental.
Sliced mountains, random cutting down of trees and water grabbing have left Mutoko district a living example of the ecological crisis bedevilling the earth.
Locals accuse the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) of working in cahoots with mining companies and levying them paltry fines, which can never compensate for the cost of environmental rehabilitation.
EMA is a statutory body established under the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) and is responsible for ensuring the sustainable utilisation of natural resources and the protection of the environment, according to the agency’s website.
Although the EMA Act (Chapter 20:27) compels mining companies to produce environmental management plans, which include environmental impact assessments and mitigation measures, the damage continues unabated in Mutoko.
There is also a feeling among the people of Mutoko that granite extraction has impacted their cultural beliefs and practices in ways that are detrimental to their well-being.
“Granite miners have no regard for our culture,” they said.
“We had sacred mountains in this area, but some have been desecrated by companies who are just after money,” said Evelyn Kutyauripo.
CRG mining company is said to have invaded Mutoko’s sacred mountain called Kakomo Kevasikana and locals believe this is an infringement of their cultural inheritance and rights.
Kakomo Kevasikana is a cultural and ritual site under Headman Kadiki. The mountain has been used by generations for sacraments like rain making, said ward 5 councillor, Kwanisai Dende.
Since CRG invaded the mountain for granite extraction, locals no longer perform the cultural rite and they believe this has contributed to drought since subsistence farming is rain-fed.
In the Nyamutsahuni area, another company desecrated graves in search of the stone.
“We have a place where we have been burying our Nyamutsahuni elders since time immemorial. We used the same place to appease our ancestors, but it has been desecrated by miners.
“We were forced to rebury some of our people and as Africans, we do not even know whether the spirits migrate when reburial is done. We feel greatly violated by mining activities,” said Rudo Madimutsa
Women say they have been forced to take care of mentally disturbed family members because the spirits of their ancestors are wandering and manifesting as premonitions on the living.
“As Africans, there are ailments that afflict us and we believe can be cured through engagements with ancestors,” Madimutsa said.
Since the early 1970s, granite mining has been going on unabated in Mutoko. Locals see huge trucks carrying granite stones negotiating their way in the rugged and dusty roads to destinations only known by the miners.
The local authority is not earning much from the extraction taking place in the district.
Mutoko Rural District Council CEO Peter Sigauke told a district mining indaba in September 2018 that they get one dollar for each tonne shipped out and with the inflation rate, the royalty is now less than 0,50 cents in American dollar terms.
According to the Global Press Journal, Mutoko granite was used in the construction of the $82 million Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, Denmark, which measures 21 500m2.
The stone was reportedly supplied by an Italian company at a cost of $9,12 million in 2009 but the local authority got less than $45 000 in tax royalties.
Zimbabwe produces an estimated 150 000 tonnes of granite annually with Mutoko district contributing about 75% of the total black granite output.
According to the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, 98% of the mined black granite is exported to Italy, South Africa, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Argentina, the United States and Canada.
The mining activities of close to 50 years have seen women being confined to the kitchen whilst able-bodied men are wasted through hard labour and exposure to dust at the mines.
Women generally feel they are relegated to the peripheries of the economic gains of granite mining in the district.
“Whenever these companies hire, they only hire men. Do they mean we are incapable of even recording the number of kilogrammes leaving the mine,” quizzed some women.
Even though men are hired, they sometimes go for months without salaries, forcing women to stress about fending for the family.
“The whole situation has driven some women and school-going children to resort to prostitution with truck drivers for survival,” women said.
Mutoko women complain of the negative effects of chemicals used for rock splitting, which they suspect has led to a number of miscarriages in the area. Although this allegation has not been scientifically proven, they say they wish there could be an independent laboratory, which can test water from open sources.
The community felt that universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, which is in line with United Nations Sustainable Development goal number six, is threatened by granite mining.
ZIQ took over community boreholes and mounted their engine, but when they close for holidays, they do not leave the water point operational for the community, they said.
As a result, women are forced to travel longer distance to the nearest village in search of clean water.
CNRG research coordinator Tapuwa O’bren Nhachi said granite extraction was shrouded in secrecy and company ownership could not be easily traced even though they dealt with international markets.
“Government needs to be sincere on this issue. We expect it to be pro-citizens because a government is supposed to serve and protect its people, not the other way round. Since the stant mining of black granite in the 1970s, nothing tangible in Mutoko can be linked to resource extraction.
“For the past 38 years, the beneficiaries of granite extraction are the companies and the elite,” he said.
Nhachi said there was need for improved transparency and accountability for the benefit of the greater society.
Simiso Mlevu is the CNRG communications officer. She writes here in her own capacity.