Hwange Colliery Company pulls down ‘offensive’ #HowFar billboard

By Tinashe Mungazi

Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) has come under fire from residents and civil society organisations after it pulled down a billboard calling for accountability on the implementation of the Matebeleland Zambezi Water Project.

The billboard was erected at the No.1 main bus terminus by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) as part of its #HowFar campaign.

ZIMCODD executive director, Janet Zhou confirmed the development arguing that the company advised them that the message offended the government.

“Yes, we had a billboard pulled down by HCCL.  They said it goes against their stance with the President. It is not the company’s business to close political spaces or silence citizens voices.  Every Zimbabwean citizen has the right of access to any information held by state or by any institution or agency of government at every level,  in so far the information is required in the interest of public accountability” as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe Chapter 4 Part 2 Section 62,” said Zhou.

She said though the campaign was non-partisan the polarisation had given rise to binary views and accusations.

“The campaign is not a partisan political campaign. Although partisan politics in Zimbabwe have caused polarization that has often resulted in binary views,  accusations,  and counter-accusations on public finance management,  the #HowFar Campaign is not a partisan political persuasion nor is it in any way part of an electoral campaign for any political party.”

According to the organization, the #HowFar Campaign is an organized effort launched on 3 September 2021  to facilitate citizens right to ask and fulfill their desire to know how public resources are being managed.

“The campaign seeks to provide every citizen with the platform to ask how far to government (both national and local), private sector, civil society and any other player with an obligation to the public on their mandate on public resources management. Simply put the #HowFar Campaign is creating an opportunity for citizens to ask and a chance for duty bearers to respond and provide disaggregated and citizen-friendly information on how public resources are utilized. It uses various multimedia platforms to reach citizens, policymakers, and other solution-holders for public conversations on public finance policy,” she added.

The campaign was dismissed by some sections of society as seeking to discredit government efforts in addressing the country’s financial problems.

In Hwange, the campaign is zeroing in on dual administration service delivery done by  Hwange Colliery Company and Hwange Local Board and following up on the issue of the incorporation of the concession area to fall under local authority. It also probes employment creation at stage 7 and 8 expansion project under the government’s mega deals and questions why workers are being paid peanuts.

The campaign queries if Zimbabwe is open for business mantra is designed to benefit foreigners at the expense of locals in Matebeleland North.

The need for sustainable mining to counter environmental degradation and pollution due to mining activities is also brought under the lens.

Residents who spoke to CITE on the development said they were surprised to see workers from the company pulling down the billboard arguing that it was not proper.

“This is sad and strange to see a whole company pulling down a message asking for accountability. What message is being portrayed by that action let alone from a private entity that has nothing to do with the message. Here Colliery misfired by this unnecessary action,” said one resident.

Another resident said it was suspicious that the company would decide to speak on behalf of the government.

“Colliery is known as a mining company but to see it now speaking on behalf of the state raises eyebrows. What’s their interest in the matter where genuine questions are being asked concerning a national project, not a private one. Such actions are tantamount to restricting citizens participation in the national discourse. I believe that as citizens we have a right to ask for accountability,” said one resident who refused to be named for fear of reprisals.

A comment from HCCL corporate affairs manager, Dr Beauty Mutombe could not be obtained at the time of publishing as her phone went unanswered.

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