Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Bikita and Zimbabwe's Curse of Elitist Diamond Extraction

 Bikita and Zimbabwe's Curse of Elitist Diamond Extraction

By Takura Zhangazha.

The Masvingo Mirror newspaper of 3-4 February 2012 recently carried a story, ‘Diamonds Discovered in Bikita’ on its front page and  its website. For those in government, this was news that they probably already knew even though the story says that some relevant officials refused to comment on the matter. In any event those in political leadership either at local and national government levels had probably already celebrated given the prospect of more revenue for them to distribute initially among themselves and perhaps allow small trickles of the same to reach the people of Bikita and of Zimbabwe. 

On the contrary for the everyday Bikita resident,this may not be immediate cause for celebration if any at all.  This is because they saw and experienced the tragic and socially calamitous events that visited Chiadzwa in Marange.  The concerns that arise for the common man then become whether they will be  forcibly relocated, whether there will be the introduction of the military and police into the community and the attendant culture of fear and violence that was witnessed in Chiadzwa.  

The long and short of it is that the residents of Bikita are now faced with an even more uncertain and potentially unsecure future. And I make this assertion based on a number of factors that are now no longer just a challenge in Bikita, but across the entirety of Zimbabwe. 

These factors are those that initially relate to the fact that our government, before and after Chiadzwa has been extremely secretive about our country’s national mineral wealth. In the aftermath of Chiadzwa, there has never been a comprehensive follow up plan to the issues of a national mineral wealth assessment plan that are in the public domain. 

While the state has recently established a mineral’s assessment authority, its role has not been made adequately public and it is yet to issue information relevant to a planned strategic utilization of whatever mineral deposits we have in the national interest.  In the wake of the Bikita discovery (and whatever other minerals that are being kept secret from us), it is reported that there is a company called Bayrich that is the licensed operator. Whether the Bikita public were aware of such a company and its primary intentions vis-√†-vis compensation for the damage  to the environment, change in livelihoods and culture as a result of the influx of miners and related businesses, is a question that the Ministry of Mines, the local member of parliament and councilors must answer. It is however apparent  that if anyone knew of the awarding of this license to Bayrich, they can only be people with political and financial influence.  

A further factor to consider is that the government is betraying a characteristic that is potentially undemocratic in relation to how there seems to be silent collusion between prospective miners and the licensing authorities.  Given the fact that there are laws the determine how a license is awarded, the fact that there is limited obligation on the part of the state to interact with an affected community such as that of Bikita, makes everything appear murkier and leaves an unpleasant aroma of elitist collusion at the expense of the public good. 

Obviously the government will be the first to claim that everything was above ‘board’ and that anyone who is complaining about the manner in which Bikita was prospected and a mining licence awarded is bitter. Such posturing will be indicative of a government that is being dishonest with the people . No one is disputing the national significance of the discovery of a precious mineral in profitable quantities. What is however in dispute is the secretive methodology of prospecting and awarding of mineral licenses without the participation of members of a directly affected community and without public hearings to the same.  It is patently undemocratic to explain the awarding of a mining licence after the event and as the mining company is already moving equipment into the heart of a resettlement village as is now the case in Bikita.

The mantra of promoting development and foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe via this route does not hold water, no matter how the inclusive government would want us to believe that they are functioning in our best interests.  In fact the inclusive government is to all intents and purposes now functioning in the interests of its members, those closely associated to them and international or local companies whose primary interest is extraction and departure. Even if these mining companies sponsor a local football tournament or coverage of international football tournaments, it remains a flawed private-public partnership by any stretch of the imagination. 

As it is, Bikita is now in the birth pangs of a development that will change its landscape significantly for the foreseeable future. Whereas in democratic societies this would be cause for celebration, in this instance it is news that makes one wonder how such a decision was arrived at and who stands to benefit.  Sure, there will be explanations from government, but these will only be to paper over the cracks, extract the mineral and limit further public scrutiny without adequate compensation to the affected community. And once again, in another part of the country, another community will be a sitting target.