Improve communities through mining: Mutonhori

Nyaradzo Mutonhori (NM) has been elected the Alternative Mining Indaba Chairperson at a time the contribution of the capital intensive sector is under the spotlight.

In this interview Chengetai Murimwa of the Business Times (BT) speaks to Mutonhori on topical issues confronting the multi-billion dollar sector.

BT: What is Alternative Mining Indaba?

NM: The Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) is the largest annual global platform dedicated to promoting multi-stakeholder dialogue on the rights of mining-affected communities.

The space has evolved to also serve as an legal empowerment platform for communities through training of community representatives by on use of various tools by different organisations.

The AMI convenes in Cape Town every February and has been held concurrently with the Mining Indaba, a platform dedicated to capitalisation and mining development that is ironically largely inaccesible to communities as they are most affected by mining and are the ones meant to supposedly benefit from it.

The AMI is a culmination of decentralised national processes that take place in more than 12 African countries predominantly in South and East Africa, including Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In all these 12 countries, country-specific dialogue on promotion of the rights of citizens’ in general, and of miningaffected communities in particular are driven by community activists, community based environmental and social justice movements, civil society organisations, women’s rights groups and local leaders.

BT: How has the Alternatives Mining Indaba benefitted communities?

NM: To date the platform has successfully grown into a space for honest engagement with policy makers including in African Union (AU) structures, SADC and soon East African Community (EAC), as well as National Governments, in relation to the importance of harmonisation of mining and minerals development policies in the regions.

The platform has slowly began to engage corporates and although the response has been mixed, the process is promising with Anglo American being pioneers.

The Alternative Mining Indaba has, since its inception eleven years ago, advocated for accountable and transparent governance of mining sectors so that there is equity and justice in distribution of the benefits.

Over the years, the AMI strengthened advocacy work and solidarity on community land rights, Right of communities to say no to mining, environmental rehabilitation, economic justice (including tax justice), community participation in decision-making and progressive legal and policy reforms. This year the focus was on radical transformation that is needed for sustainable African economies in this era of the climate change catastrophe.

BT: What can mining communities do to protect their rights from being violated by mining companies?

NM: Communities must build their agency and solidarity in rightsbased advocacy initiatives being cognisant of the need to amplify the voices of marginalised communiy groups like children, people living with disabilities, women and the youth.

It is only by building their power together that communities can balance the power assymetries that exist between them and policymakers and/or corporates.

Once the communities are able to organise themselves and mobilise in an inclusive manner, then only can they stand better chances of their needs being addressed as they engage with relevant stakeholders.

When all the processes fail, redress mechanisms can be sought through pursuing the litigation route. We at the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association offer litigation services to those communities who would have had their environmental rights violated.

In October 2019, we won a case against Imani Mine which was operating without an Environmental Impact Assessment.

BT: Mining companies reap huge profits while communities continue to wallow in poverty, as the incoming chairperson of AMI how do you expect to address this?

NM: Zimbabwe, like most African countries has vast mineral deposits. If sufficient revenue is collected through a just and transformative mining tax regime and the revenue is distributed in a manner that promotes sustainable development outcomes for citizens through education, health, water and sanitation service delivery, among others, then only can we see improvement of people’s lives from mining.

As long as parliamentary oversight is weak, citizen participation is low and harmful tax incentives and holidays are given to mining corporates, this continues to maintain the increasing inequality and poverty in communities.

It is not up to me to adress this situation, but up to African citizens and mining affected communities to become actively engaged in demanding accountability from our leaders and a seat at the table during decision-making process about mineral resource extraction.

BT: Do you think it is a good idea to relocate communities from areas where minerals are discovered and mining is expected to take place?

NM: Our governments have a duty to protect our rights from actions of other parties including mining corporations.

On the one hand, the government must have clear relocation and resettlement policies that outlines the compensation that corporations must avail to communities and acceptable standards of housing and other amenities upon relocation.

The government must hold corporations accountable to meet these standards.

On the other hand, the minign companies must prioritise community consultation and ensure the community’s rights are respected and their concerns taken into consideration during the process.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) establishes bottom up participation and consultation of an indigenous population prior to any development.

Both the government and mining companies must provide adequate remedies where communities experience negative human rights impacts during relocation and resettlement processes. A case in point being the communities relocated from Chiadzwa to Arda Transau to make way for diamond mining. Till today they are still bemoaning the lack of basic amenities like clinics, housing roads, schools and clean water in direct violation of their Constitutional rights.

BT: How can safe spaces be created for dialogue between mining communities and mining companies so that community concerns are addressed and solutions reached?

NM: The AMIs are safe spaces for dialogue and remain a relevant platform because what brings us together is that we agree on the need to promote human rights of miningaffected communities.

This is where clear strategies and action plans on how to tackle the impacts of environmental degradation and miningenabled climate catastrophes in mining areas are discussed.

However, we still need more industry players and goverments to attend such platforms and respond to the communities’ concerns instead of shunning the space.

They have to understand that these spaces go a long way in helping to incorporate host communities in strategic engagements on safeguarding vulnerable ecosystems and conservation sensitive areas.

BT: How can Climate Change in the extractives be dealt with and what role can the community play in reducing Climate Change?

NM: The 2020 AMI focused on discussing and better understanding the link between climate change and the extractive industries and how to deal with the rising challenges.

While the AMI has achieved progress with regards to the primary goal of amplifying the voices of mining affected communities including advocacy on policy and legislative reforms, still, more advocacy work is required to address environmental issues and to combat climate change and its impacts. Sustainable Development Goals 13, 14 and 15 emphasise the importance of a “global response to climate change that ensures conservative and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” including “protection of terrestrial ecosystems”.

This is particularly important in light of the emergence of gas and oil exploration in some parts of Africa such as Kenya and South Africa. On a different but related note, host communities suffer from deleterious impacts of mining and this is exacerbated by lack of adherence to environmental and rehabilitation laws.

Irresponsible disposal of chemicals, water pollution including air pollution have resulted in loss of human and animal lives. Justice for mining affected communities and the planet, is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable economy. We are continuing with our campaign to put the intersection of mining and climate change at the centre of Natural Resource Governance discourse.

BT: What are some of the things you want addressed by mining companies and African governments?

NM: In any mining sector we demand that social, health and environmental impact assessments be inclusive of the poor and working people and not only the corporate officials.

These assessments must include the health risks and prevention plans for those living around mines, for displaced communities, for communities down transport routes and for post closure duties. The health impact assessment reports and plans should be made publicly available and these plans implemented and monitored; While exercising caution and safeguarding the rights of mining communities and workers, to promote the harmonisation of standard guidelines for enhancing responsible mining through independent, objective institutions such as the IRMA.

This must be complemented by developing civic actors’ capacities and competencies to participate beyond the development of such tools and standards, to ensuring they are able to participate in the assessment processes, to demand that assessment reports are made public, and advocate for the standards to be accompanied by sufficient mechanisms for corrective measures and compensation.

We denounce endemic violence which is at times enforced by the military in the extractive sector and further, call for the mining companies to eliminate violence and deaths related to the corporate capitalist business model; The need to reduce our consumption of extractive resources and also to stop use of fossil fuels as the carbon levels continue to increase. Companies and governments should shift subsidies from fossil fuels and invest in ‘clean energy’ which have a huge potential to create jobs.

Children are victims of the abuses of mining and extractive sectors and we call on government to establish specialised agencies that deal exclusively with these violations of their fundamental rights. Social safety nets must provide support for vulnerable children particularly those from the rural areas. BT: Illegal mining activities continue to spread across Africa, how can African governments deal with such issues?

By de-criminalising and formalising the artisanal mining sector ….more captured in the following paragraphs

BT: During the Alternative Mining Indaba CSOs were calling for the legalisation of artisanal mining, how will this help?

NM: Artisanal small-scale mining contributes to the livelihoods of millions of Africans. As such, we affirm that this source of livelihoods must be recognised in laws and policies of countries and must not be criminalised.

This includes strengthening ASM rights to: access and ownership of mining rights, a decent work framework aimed at ensuring fair beneficiation along the value chain, access to social protection and safety nets and decent working conditions.

BT: What are some of the challenges being faced by women in mining and how can they be addressed?

NM: Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) has become the lead growth sector in Zimbabwe’s economy, not only in earning the country the much-needed foreign currency but also in creating employment for many people. What is perhaps disheartening is the minimal participation of women in the mining sector.

Cultural and historical aspects have relegated women to the periphery, and this has seen them being primarily involved in the crashing, sluicing, panning, mercury gold amalgamation and in rare occasions, actual mining.

Gender justice, equity and equality must shape policies and legislation protecting women in the mines and the women in the greater miner communities.

There must be an acknowledgment and response to the “double burden” placed on women, who are especially left vulnerable as a result of social and environmental effects of mining.

As primary food producers, women must be included in the discussions and decision-making processes between mining companies and communities with regards to access, ownership and use of land and water.


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