When the community is excluded from mining
When Cement Products Limited (CPL) stopped people of Njereza and John Sawadi villages in Mangochi from using heavy-duty company trucks carrying limestone and staff buses as matola, the community saw red and a ‘small war’ erupted.
The area is, strictly speaking, inaccessible and bearing in mind that hitch-hiking on CPL vehicles was the only means of transport to either Mangochi Central Business District or Monkey Bay through Makawa Trading Centre, the community started stoning ‘Ndata’, a location where CPL’s staff houses are situated in protest against the decision.
Councillor for Katema-Mtimabii Ward in Mangochi South West, Mackson Dickson, said CPL sources its limestone and sand for cement production from Njereza Factory in Maela area. He said this is why community members felt that it was only natural that they benefit from the area’s natural resources.
“So, when people from this area were barred from using CPL vehicles, they felt short-changed and protested against the decision. This culminated in the police intervening and arresting some people. After holding a round table discussion, all stakeholders agreed for a cease fire,” Dickson said.
It is for this reason that the Quadria Muslim Association of Malawi (Qmam) started implementing a two-year Tonse Tipindule project funded by Tilitonse aimed at promoting increased inclusion, accountability and responsiveness in Malawi’s mining sector.
Qman programmes officer, Simeon Labana, said mining should primarily aim at changing lives of people living within the mining area who have great expectations of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes.
Speaking during a Tilitonse Tipindule indaba Qmam held at Chiendausiku in Balaka and Njereza in Mangochi, Labana said there has never been any meaningful development initiated by the mining sector.
“There can never be effective relationship between the community and the mining company if the company does not sit down with the community to appreciate problems haunting it and help in developing the area they are conducting their mining activities in,” Labana said.
He said the proposed revised Mines and Minerals Act of 1981 that the government is consulting on should seriously consider expectations of people living within mining areas so that they profit from minerals in their areas by regulating the development of the mineral resources of the country through adherence to sustainable development principles in order to benefit the economy and promote the economic growth of the country.
Group Village Headman Soliati of Mangochi said holding local mining indabas where communities discuss common issues and develop joint action plans is the best way to go because people should have a say on how minerals being exploited in their areas are being utilised.
“People rioted at Ndata because they felt there was no accountability on how CPL was doing its work and it was taking long to fulfill some of its CSR pledges to the community,” GVH Soliati said.
Soliati said CPL came into the area without first informing him but later on told him that they had found a lot of clinker to enable it stay in business for 100 years.
CPL promised to build a clinic in the area as the nearest one is located 40 kilometres away, provide potable water to the communities, construct school blocks and bore holes as well as rehabilitating roads.
“It has been three years now since they commenced their operations but nothing has been done so far except in John Sawadi area where they constructed a school block, mosque and prospects of electrifying the neighborhood are high,” he said.
Soliati said he was invited by CPL management where it was agreed that the community should stop asking lifts from company vehicles and later on Zagaf, the owner of CPL, called to say he would be buying a bus for the community to be using to and from Makawa.
However, during a mining indaba held on May 6, CPL refused to show up saying they are currently not in the business of mining but, rather, they were importing all their clinker from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.
CPL general manager, a Mr Nkalo, said he was tied up with other assignments and could not delegate somebody to the indaba before cutting off the line.
A letter signed by Akbar Gaffar, CPL managing director CPL, reads in part; “For whatever few stones we use either as fillers/additives or building purposes, we purchase them from the local communities until such a time when we will have saved enough to purchase our own clinker kilns and build the appropriate infrastructure that will enable us commence any mining processes.”
However, Gaffar said although they haven’t yet started mining, CPL has engaged in CSR activities such as construction of a school block, a maize mill, two cooking oil-making machines for the community, donation of five sewing machines and construction of a mosque, among others.
Indeed, most of the things mentioned by CPL have been fulfilled after the community rioted prompting the company to essentially be reactive rather than proactive in responding to the community’s needs.
Biswas Ishmael, Qmam projects officer, said people have a genuine right to claim development from companies doing mining in their areas as they had a cultural entitlement to the site being exploited although in reality it is government that owns all land.
“Much as some mining companies such as those in quarry mining and lime making don’t make much profit, it would be too unrealistic not to engage in small CSR projects such as provision of potable water, construction of classroom blocks or donating maize seed for winter cropping to mitigate looming hunger so that communities also benefit from the minerals in their area,” Biswas said.
He said Qmam serves as an interface between the community and mining companies who explore and exploit resources and of course, the mining authorities.
Anderson Machaka, of John Sawadi Village, said there are social as well as economic problems associated with mining in his area that need mutual collaboration to deal with.
“Mining is not a benign activity and it’s impossible to extract minerals from the earth and process them without impacting, in various degrees, on the air, land and water, as well as the social cost of disruption of marriages by truck drivers and increased promiscuity,” said Machaka.
Qmam executive director, Saiti Jambo, said the country’s mining sector needs comprehensive legislation that meets international standards and makes mining profitable for both investors and locals.
“We need mining legislation that will address inadequate empowerment of the local people and badly spelt-out social responsibilities for mining companies, deter disruption of families and social structures due to HIV and Aids and other diseases, among others,” Jambo said.
He said issues of compensation and re-settlement of land owners and communities affected by mining should be considered as that would be appreciative of the needs of local communities surrounding mining activities.
Tonse Tipindule is a project funded by Tilitonse to the tune of K38 million for two years which Qmam is implementing in Balaka and Mangochi districts by, among other things, facilitating local mining indabas where communities discuss common issues and develop joint action plans.
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