By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy will be going around the country conducting public hearings on the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill from 19 to 24 September 2016.

lenin t chisaira
Lenin Tinashe Chisaira

The history of such hearings in Zimbabwe has been characterised by very minimal participation and attendance from members of the public. Where the few numbers had participated, at best the submissions have been mired in box-ticking and lack of basic understanding about the parliamentary processes and at worst by partisan violence as was witnessed during similar hearings on the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill in June 2016. Regrettably, the only meaningful submissions are usually from civil society, consultant companies and private business, whose voices are normally suppressed.

It would be sad if such a norm is repeated during the upcoming parliamentary public hearings for the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill. The bill covers a sector which is not only economically strategic, but which has also been mired by scandals such as environmental, labour and human rights violations.

The extractive sector is potentially disastrous if it is not effectively regularised and managed. In Zimbabwe, the sector has made the gift of nature ugly, caused thousands of families to become paupers and created a few rich elites managing large mining companies which continue to play hide and seek games through tax avoidance, low wages, illicit financial flows and tampering with financial books. It is no wonder that one of the greatest books to come in recent times, dealing with the ill -governance in African natural resources, has a whole chapter dedicated to Zimbabwe. The book is “The Looting Machine:  Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth” (2015, Willian Collins, London.) by Financial Times journalist Tom Burgis.

Discussions with miners and people who are settled in the mining districts of Gwanda, Zvishavane, Shurugwi, Hwange, Penhalonga, Mutoko, Bindura and Marange, among others, indicates that much work needs to be done for the planned parliamentary public hearings to be effective.

For starters, the people need to be educated more on the bills and parliamentary processes, e.g., how bills come into being. There is lack of information on parliamentary processes. Though the information is available in the Constitution, it is apparent that even during the 2013 Constitutional Referendum, a vast majority of the people who voted ‘Yes’ participated in a blindfold.

The strategic grouping of artisanal and small scale miners seems to have been let down by the draft Bill so far. This sector will continue to have a token single seat in the Mining Affairs Board regardless of the growing importance of artisanal and small scale mines to mineral output and employment creation. The small scale gold mining sector employs about 500 000 and in 2015 produced 7,4 tonnes out of the 18 tonnes produced countrywide, hence by calculation that was 40% of total gold production according to the Zimbabwe Miners Federation.

Other stakeholders in the mining industry such as labour, community members, civil society and environmental rights campaigners have also been largely ignored during the drafting processes. If there was consultation, it does not show in the Amendment Bill. To be fair, however, a handful of non-governmental organisations such as the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) and the Centre for Natural Resources’ Governance (CNRG) have done a sterling job of conducting research, pre-parliamentary hearing meetings, bill analyses and mobilisation.

It is, however, acknowledged that the Bill has some good provisions, mainly the proposed introduction of the Safety, Health and Rehabilitation Fund. The fund is aimed at rehabilitating environmental degradation caused by mining activities and, if managed effectively, will complement a similar fund that already exists. The latter is called the Environmental Fund and is provided for in the Environmental Management Act and managed by the Environmental Management Agency.

The Mines and Minerals Act should have been wholly overhauled after nationwide consultations, not piecemeal parliamentary public hearings. The Act should also have taken the progressive position of including mine labour since these are the direct creators of mineral wealth as well as the class which is exposed to the major dangers in the mining process. It is also the class which has been unjustly exploited both in Zimbabwe (evidenced by family strikes at Vubachikwe Gold Mine in 2015 and outside (South Africa’s Marikana Massacre in August 2012). In coming up with a piecemeal bill, Zimbabwe will only move a few steps beyond the colonial-capitalist 1961 Mines and Minerals Act. That will be potentially very unfortunate in terms of wasted time, financial and human resources.

[Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an activist and lawyer based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He tweets at @LeninChisaira and is interested in Economic Justice, Human Rights, Leftist Politics and Environmental Justice. He blogs at cdetinashe.blogspot.com ]

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