Zvishavane — Villagers living in communities near Zvishavane town have accused Chinese mining companies operating in their areas of destroying the environment and encroaching into their fields that they have been ploughing for several decades. The villagers are incensed that large swathes of land, which encompass their fields, have been given to Chinese companies reportedly by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development.
Councillor Norman Sibanda from Ward 5 under Chief Mapanzure in Mhondongori accused the Chinese nationals of starting mining operations without even consulting or engaging the villagers or the Rural District Council (RDC).
"The ministry's conduct is causing confusion in our communities," said Sibanda. "The Chinese companies are flocking to our communities and sampling for mineral wealth without even notifying us."
Sibanda, who represented the villagers, was speaking at the sidelines of a Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) meeting held in Harare last week.
He called on the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development to engage the RDCs before issuing out mining licences to Chinese nationals.
"China Zimbabwe, Jiang Chi and Jing Li are some of the mining companies that just walked into our communities, started taking samples and when they were done with their sampling, dumped the sand in our pastures," he said.
Sibanda said the communities mobilised themselves against Jing Li after the company allegedly took samples from people's fields and caused severe environmental degradation.
"The community chased these Chinese nationals in November last year after they dug and left deep pits in our fields, but they are back on the basis that they have been given mining rights by the Mines ministry," said Sibanda, adding that the RDC was now at loggerheads with the community over the operations of the Chinese companies.
"The community lays the blame on us yet our hands are tied," said Sibanda. "We cannot chase these people away because even if we try to speak, our voice is stifled by the Mines and Minerals Act."
Efforts to have the mining companies comment were fruitless last week.
Zela coordinator, Shamiso Mtisi said such challenges could be solved if there was consultation between the affected people and the mining companies.
"There is need for communities to be aware of their rights and the government should facilitate that by opening debates on the issue of transparency by mining companies," said Mtisi.