Hwange villagers face possible eviction

Another potential showdown is looming between villagers in Change and Nekabandama wards in Hwange district following reports that about 300 villagers are likely to be evicted to pave way for a coal mining project.

It is understood that Mutagech Investments, a Chinese company which has a special mining grant covering Kashika, Luseche, Diki, Bhangale and Dinde areas will begin coal mining activities soon after being awarded Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate.

It intends to do a phased approach starting off with open-pit mining before embarking on underground mining in the second phase.

The villagers claim they were never consulted on the project and have vowed to resist evictions.

The proposed Nechenge Coal mine project is going to affect two wards of Change and Nekabandama.

Greater Whange Residents Trust (GWRT) Coordinator, Fidelis Chima said indications were that the number of those likely to be evicted could be higher.

“Yes, it’s true about 300 families are likely to be affected by the coal project from what we have gathered. The number might actually be more and as we only know that they will mine at Bhangale, Diki and Nekabandama villages. These are human settlements and obviously, they will have to relocate. The company was actually issued with an EIA certificate and will resume operations anytime soon,” said Chima.

He said there was a lack of transparency in the EIA process as efforts to get specific information was futile.

“As a residents organisation we actually requested for the project description and we were not given feedback and that shows that there is no transparency in the rolling out of the project. Villagers are bitter that they were not consulted and learnt through social media that traditional leadership approved the project.”

Dinde villagers also suffered the same fate when a consultant under the cover of observing Covid-19 regulations met only traditional leaders before claiming that they had approved the project.

What followed next was a protracted battle as villagers tried in vain to stop Beifer Investments from carrying out any work.

Change ward councillor, Ishmael Bakani Kwidini in a letter seen by CITE to the consultant, Opuc Vision Enterprise and copied to EMA and the company expressed serious reservations over the manner in which the company carried out the stakeholder consultations during the crafting of the ESIA.

“I write to you in response to a meeting held with the Proponents of the proposed mine, EMA representatives and Diki village traditional leadership held on 17 August 2021 in Diki village. From the above meeting, there are very strong indications that my prayers made to your team for an all-inclusive and exhaustive consultation was not heeded. There is a lack of transparency and accountability in the consultation process’ and this may prejudice the community of their rights as enshrined in our constitution. The spirit of stakeholder consultation as envisioned in the EMA Act is also defeated under the guise of adherence to Covid 19 restrictions,” read the letter in part dated 21 August 2021.

Clr Kwidini said no mechanisms were put in place to ensure the consultation were inclusive giving rise to suspicions that the move was deliberate and meant to disfranchise the concerned communities.

“The community consultation was only limited to the Headman and a section of the village heads with the understanding that the message would be cascaded. However, I believe none of those consulted were adequately equipped to articulate the social and environmental impacts of a venture of that magnitude to their subjects. No measures were put in place to ensure the input of the village heads and Ward Assembly is captured as stipulated in the Traditional Leaders Act 29:17. Thus the Leadership cannot make decisions without properly consulting these organs. The Ward Councillor as the WADCO chair was not involved by the section of the Traditional leadership despite the clear provisions of the Traditional Leaders Act 29:17 as read with the Rural District Councils Act 29:13 and the Communal Land Act 20:14.”

He said while economic development was welcomed, however, the rights of the communities living in these areas needed to be protected through transparency and accountability as opposed to inducement of leadership and to prevent future disputes.

Mutagech Investments project manager, Donald Nkosana denied reports that the project would lead to evictions arguing that it was going to take place in unsettled areas.

“The mine will target the unsettled areas, thus we are projecting not to affect anyone. In the event of affecting an individual, we shall compensate fully as guided by the law. The area for the open pit will be in the unsettled area on Nechenge in ward 20. Extensive consultations were done with positive attitude as feedback from the generic community. People even submitted their names to be considered for employment including phone numbers and ID numbers. The councillor was also consulted several times.”

He said the project would create 300 jobs for locals while pledging to meet its corporate social responsibility role.

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