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Hwange villagers fight to keep Chinese miner off their land

By Tinashe Mungazi 

Villagers in Dinde, Hwange district are up in arms with their local chief whom they accuse of colluding with a Chinese mining company to start exploration for a coal project which would result in the forced relocation of close to 600 households.

The villagers are locked in stand off with Beifer Investment,  a Chinese investor whom they have been trying to block from carrying out any mining activities in the area accusing the company of invading their ancestral land.

They are accusing Chief Nekatambe of working to further the interest of the investors ahead of theirs by refusing to entertain his subjects’ pleas for a meeting with him. 

“All indications now show that the reason Chief Nekatambe has not been attending to our cries for audience with him over the matter is that he is working with them. He is one of the locals who has foregone his duty of representing his community. We have tried several times to request a meeting with him so we can share our pleas for intervention but he has repeatedly snubbed us arguing that he only speaks to his head men.

We are now convinced he is a part of the project being pushed by the Chinese. He does not care about what happens to his subjects because he does not live here but in Dete. He didn’t even come to today’s meeting which goes further to assert perceptions about his involvement with the company. We demand that he explain to us what is going on,” said one infuriated villager who identified himself only as Ncube. 

Another villager who refused to be named said the traditional leader was neglecting his duty as a custodian of the Nambya culture as the planned coal mining project was going to desecrate heritage sites such as the Nekatambe chieftaincy graveyard and ritual sites. 

“We are in a state of shock if ever what has been circulating about the chief’s role in this whole saga. He is supposed to be jealously guarding our heritage, his grandfather and father’s graves are in the area which is being earmarked for exploration and eventual mining. He is supposed to be standing for his people who face an uncertain future because of the project. What we want is for the chief to meet his people and explain what’s happening. This dodging or ignoring people will only seek to cement the anger and further resistance among the people “

The sentiments by disgruntled villagers came in the backdrop of the cancellation of a crisis meeting on Saturday that had been called by the District Development Coordinator Simon Muleya to enable the two warring parties to find common ground.

However, the meeting was aborted after it fell short of meeting the Covid-19 regulations after over 80 villagers pitched up for the meeting way above the stipulated 30 people.

After villagers shot down proposals by the delegation  of having the meeting in batches or choosing representives in consultation with the senior security officers that were present resolved to cancel the meeting.

“Our numbers here have exceed the 30 stipulated under the regulations and from the look of things more people are still making their way here. Since the suggestions that were made are not acceptable to you we will have to cancel the meeting. I have been advised by the enforcing authority that we can’t bend the law. I take full blame for not specifying on the issue of who should attend during my communication with the person on the ground. We were meant to meet a small group made up of your representatives.

I apologize for that oversight. So since you have indicated that you all want to participate in this burning issue communicate further on when we can convene the meeting. We will probably have to wait on the announcement by the President regarding the review of the lockdown so that you can all be present,” said Muleya. 

Since last year when the Chinese investor moved into the area claiming to have been granted a Special Grant giving them permission to explore and mine coal, villagers have been locked in a protracted stand off.

There are also fears of environmental impacts of the project such as air and water pollution of the Nyatue River a source livelihood for both human and livestock as well as lead to loss of grazing land. 

The meeting was meant to bring the warring parties together in an effort to resolve the stand off with villagers vowing to resist an development that did not benefit them. 

Reports indicate that Beifer investors are working with local businessmen who have been serving as gate keepers. 

Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) who following distress calls by the Dinde community through their residents’ association engaged Zimbabwe Human Rights lawyers for litigation arguing that the move was in violation of the country’s constitutional laws. 

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