Mberengwa Residents Unhappy With Kuvimba Mining House
23 November 2023
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Mberengwa residents voiced their discontent with Kuvimba Mining House’s failure to prioritise their needs and concerns. They expressed these concerns following an interview on ZiFM radio, hosted by Farai Mwakutuya, with Member of Parliament for Mberengwa West, Tafanana Zhou, on November 22nd, 2023. The interview centred around the lithium mining activities of Kuvimba Mining House at Sandawana Mine, situated along the Great Dyke.

The interview discussed various aspects related to the mining activities of Kuvimba House at Sandawana Mine and the development of the Mberengwa district. Key points included the relocation of Sandawana Primary School, road rehabilitation, engagement with the local community, employment opportunities, skill development, infrastructure improvements, environmental concerns, and the sponsorship of Chiefs’ courts and a hospital. Here are some of the important points discussed during the interview:

1. Sandawana Primary School will be relocated from its current location.

  1. A road stretching about 10 kilometres from Sandawana to Zverenje is being rehabilitated to connect Mberengwa and West Nicholson.
  2. Kuvimba House has engaged with the local community through their leaders, particularly the Chiefs, to ensure benefits reach the general population.
  3. Tafanana Zhou called for the rehabilitation of roads in Mberengwa district and wants Kuvimba House to pave the roads.
  4. Sandawana Mine has employed approximately 1,000 local people since its reopening, with around 20% of employees being women.
  5. Local businesses are benefiting from the mining activities by supplying goods and services to the mine.
  6. Kuvimba House plans to build 16 Chiefs’ courts and is sponsoring the construction of a hospital.
  7. Tafanana Zhou expressed confidence in Kuvimba House’s efforts to mitigate environmental degradation.
  8. Local residents are suggesting the establishment of a plant for beneficiation in Mberengwa.
  9. Ordinary people in the area desire improvements such as better road infrastructure, hospitals, on-the-job training, and the construction of the Jeka Bridge.
  10. Tafanana Zhou said they won’t pressure Kuvimba into reconstructing the Jeka (Tandavarai) Bridge._

Responding to the interview, residents expressed concern about the prioritisation of benefits for chiefs over community development projects. They argue that funds should be invested in initiatives like clinics, schools, infrastructure, and attracting further investment, rather than solely benefiting local chiefs. Said one resident:

There isn’t anything for people with high academic qualifications from the locals which means little trickles into the communities by way of salaries. Secondly, the idea of overdoing things for chiefs in my view isn’t of any benefit to the suffering people. Chiefs already have hefty perks for doing nothing to the extent of being awarded all-terrain vehicles when police stations and clinics have nothing. Focusing on chiefs in my view is populist and counterproductive. Kuvimba should embark on more meaningful CRS such as perhaps equipping our clinics, and schools, ensuring communities have clean running water, rehabilitation of bridges dip tanks, tarring of roads and constructing a dormitory mini town to serve as a nucleus to attract further investment into the area. District administrators’ offices should be funded to decentralise and have a satellite station there so that our people begin to see development.

The residents also raised concerns about the lack of accountability and transparency in agreements and plans between Kuvimba and the chiefs. They question the absence of concrete timelines and information regarding the mining company’s investment in the community. Dr Takavafira Zhou, the President of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), said:

There are certainly fundamental weaknesses in the submission by Mp Tafanana Zhou in the ZiFM radio interview.  There is virtually no timeframe for rebuilding and relocation of Sandawana Primary Schools by Kuvimba and the MP sees nothing wrong with that.

There is no timeframe for building a hospital and the MP sees nothing wrong with that.

Chiefs met Kuvimba representatives in Zvishavane but there was nothing concrete agreed upon except verbal promises, and the MP sees nothing wrong with that. Building 16 chiefs’ courts is certainly not a priority for the majority of the people of Mberengwa wallowing in poverty and misery, a consequence of natural resource plunder from Mberengwa during the colonial period and in independent Zimbabwe.

Assuming Kuvimba has employed 1000 locals which is doubtful, has the MP considered the number of workers the Co has? To date, Kuvimba has more than 5000 workers, and 1000 is insignificant. Kuvimba is also well known for its slave wages to general labourers.

Is the MP aware that the construction of a railway line from Mberengwa to Mozambique is at an advanced stage in order to enhance the looting of Lithium by Kuvimba?

Residents also expressed frustration with the lack of infrastructure development in Mberengwa. They complain about the poor state of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, and accuse the mining company of neglecting its responsibility to repair and maintain these facilities. Dr Takavafira Zhou added:

Kuvimba destroyed the Sandawana-Chegato-Mabika-Yorks Road; the Sandawana-Danga-Yorks Road; Sandawana-Mataga road and is now running away from the responsibility of repairing the low-lying bridges, and tarring the roads and now prefers to go through Zverenje and the MP sees nothing wrong with that.

Today Kuvimba has plundered more than 2.5 million tonnes of Lithium from Sandawana and there is virtually nothing to show for this to the people of Mberengwa.

Residents compare the lack of community development in Mberengwa to other mining areas where mines have invested in schools, clinics, and infrastructure projects. Said another resident:

Other communities where there are mines have benefited a lot. Check communities around Mimosa Mine, Zimplats, and Unki. Here in Mberengwa mines don’t even bother to construct proper roads for accessing their mines. We will definitely benefit from those roads as well. Mimosa has built a lot of schools, and clinics, and upgraded the Zvishavane District Hospital to a better standard. If the same can happen in Mberengwa we will be grateful. Just schools and hospitals would be a bare minimum. Or at least adding ma block pazvikoro (at schools) or textbooks, computers and stationery.

Another resident said:

Mberengwa is always open to looting. Where are Inyala Mine, Rhonda Mine even the Original Sandawana Mine?

Residents also called for better representation and understanding of their community’s needs from leaders. They criticised current leaders for prioritising their own interests and called for leaders who prioritise sustainable development and have a better understanding of the community’s needs. Said a resident named Martin:

It’s tragic. Our leaders, political and traditional, put themselves ahead of the people. There can be no better illustration. Chief should have identified more needy people from within their communities instead. But l guess that’s the African way. Mukuru ndiye anotanga kunhonga nyama.

There is also criticism of the Member of Parliament for not actively engaging with the local populace and adequately representing their interests. Fumed one resident:

The legislator needs a lot of help from Lithium Community Group. Let Public Relations or a spokesman/person talk for the mine. Kwete kuti Jeka Bridge rino divider attention ye Kuvimba House. The Legislator does not know the depth of the Mining House’s purse. Yes, the Mining Giant may have their own plans but there is nothing wrong in asking them to look Eastwards. As they have embarked on this huge mining venture they may receive big heavy mining equipment by railway via Ngungumbane who knows.

Jeka Bridge has stood unattended for far far too long. It’s now a nasty eye sore. Zvinotonyadzisa kuti (it’s embarrassing) how many MPs have come and gone vachisiya rakadaro (leaving the bridge in its poor state).

The Jeka/Tandavarai Bridge, located on the Mwenezi River, was swept away by floods in 2017 when the Chimwe Dam walls were breached. As a result, villagers from both sides were unable to cross the river for nearly two months due to the ongoing flooding. Although attempts were made to restore the bridge, it is now described as a makeshift structure. Additionally, there are allegations that the funds allocated for the bridge’s rehabilitation were misappropriated.

Jeka Bridge before the 2017 floods Jeka Bridge after it was swept away by Cyclone Dineo-induced floods in Mberengwa. – Pictures by Believe Nyakudjara Makeshift Jeka Bridge

Mberengwa residents made the following recommendations:

  1. Provide scholarships or sponsorships for individuals with high academic qualifications from the local community to pursue tertiary education in programs that will benefit the community.
  2. Introduce a book fund to provide reading materials at schools.
  3. Establish a vocational training centre for local artisans.
  4. Fast-track the upgrading of referral hospitals to benefit the entire district.
  5. Encourage other stakeholders to contribute to the development of the Mberengwa district.
  6. Pledge a certain percentage of revenue for community development projects through the chiefs.
  7. Conduct environmental impact assessments and promote local processing of lithium.
  8. Repair and maintain infrastructure in Mberengwa.
  9. Ensure fair representation and understanding of community needs by leaders.
  10. Improve accountability and transparency in agreements and plans between Kuvimba and the community.
  11. Create job opportunities and provide fair wages for local workers.
  12. Invest in community development projects like schools, clinics, and infrastructure.
  13. Engage with the community (not local leadership but the common man), represent their interests, and prioritize sustainable development.
  14. Share community dividends from the resources accruing in Mberengwa.
  15. Address the environmental impact and health concerns caused by mining activities.
  16. Prioritize community development over benefits for chiefs.
  17. Provide ambulances and upgrade hospitals for the general population.
  18. Ensure equal development and investment in Mberengwa as in other mining areas.