BY OSCAR NKALA
DINDE, HWANGE — Chinese coal mining upstart Beifa Investments Private Limited has stepped up coal exploration around Dinde in Hwange despite sustained community objections as the acrimonious relationship between the unwanted investor and the supposed project beneficiaries persists.
The ructions relating to the Beifa project in Dinde are bringing ruling Zanu PF factionalism in the area to the fore.
Since December 2019, the
10 000 Tonga and Nambya villagers of Dinde, about 40km east of Hwange, have been fighting against the establishment of a coal mine and coal-fired power generation station amid fears that they will be evicted to make way for the coal mine.
The villagers have expressed fears of water, air, noise and environmental degradation and pollution among other potential impacts of the coal mine. In meetings with several government delegations sent to talk them into submission, they have stated that they do not even want Beifa Investments to begin exploration in their area.
However, traditional leader Chief Nekatambe — who stays outside the affected area — has turned against his own people and teamed up with government officials to threaten them with forced eviction if they continue resisting the project.
Community members allege that in several meetings held to discuss the coal mine, Chief Nekatambe was adamant that they should let the Chinese company explore for coal and discuss issues around eviction and compensation later.
He allegedly threatened to haul those opposed to the project before his traditional court for disrespecting his authority. However, community members believe Chief Nekatambe is compromised because he has previously bragged that the Chinese company promised to build him a palace and a traditional court if the project went ahead.
The exploration phase
On April 14, Beifa Investments began core drilling for coal halfway between the Dinde Community Hall and the community cattle sales pen. The drilling inflamed community anger, leading to clashes that culminated in the arrest and detention of Dinde Residents’ Association chairman Never Tshuma.
He made his second appearance at the Hwange Magistrates Court last week charged with inciting the community to commit crimes of violence and arson against the Chinese investor. He was not asked to plead and remanded out of custody on Z$10 000 bail to June 17.
When Information for Development Trust — a non-profit organisation supporting the media to probe corruption and bad governance — visited Dinde this week, the Chinese exploration team was not on the site, which was guarded by three locals.
Across the site, there are at least four piles of pipe-sized material intersected during the drilling. These include un-mineralised top-soils while further drilling appears to have intersected some layers of coal.
‘Poor quality coal’
“From what they said, there is coal in a radius which covers the community hall, the dip-tank and cattle sales pen. They believe the belt runs under several homesteads nearby and further into the mountains to the north. However, they complained that it is of poor quality and unsuitable for power generation.
“On April 26, they vacated the site for fear of community retribution in case Chuma, who was due to go on trial, was imprisoned. They know that the community blames them for his persecution. They have been treading carefully since his arrest,” said a worker who declined to be named for personal security reasons.
Dinde Residents’ Association secretary Christopher Dube said the exploration team returned to Dinde a week ago and had since shifted to a second peg with drilling underway along a tributary of the Nyantue River. The river is the only perennial source of water for livestock and the people of Dinde.
“Initial drilling took place within 200 metres of critical community-owned infrastructure and assets that include the hall, some churches and a dip-tank. All the material they have now was drilled from a hole less that 50 metres away from the cattle sales pen loading bay. We are more concerned now that the drilling is moving towards our only reliable water source, Nyantue River,” Dube said.
He said they have started preparing a consolidated petition that will give the exact number of households, people, livestock and community infrastructure and assets that will be affected by the proposed coal mine.
“We reject the coal mine and we reject the government order to allow this to go on because by doing so, we will be signing our own eviction notice. We wish to stay on the legal side, but are prepared to fight if this come to evictions. Our message to the outside world is that for the second time in less than a century, we, the indigenous people of Dinde, who were evicted from Sinamatela to make way for Hwange National Park 84 years ago, are once again facing forced eviction to make way for a Chinese coal mine,” Dube said.
Zanu PF versus Zanu PF
Unlike most typical Zimbabwean land-use and ownership disputes in which ruling Zanu PF activists often acted as enforcers of unpopular government policies, the war in Dinde is a factional contest.
In this battle, the Zanu PF Hwange Central constituency chapter is up against its boss, Richard Moyo, who is the Matabeleland North provincial chairman and minister.
The resistance is led by the ruling party’s Dinde chairman, Never Chuma, and Reeds Dube, a member of the Zanu PF provincial executive who contested the Hwange Central parliamentary seat and lost to the MDC Alliance in 2018.
Sources said Dube wants the community to kick out the Chinese in order to fail the project and exact revenge on Moyo, whom he blames for engineering his failed bid for the constituency in 2018.
Moyo remains at the forefront of government efforts to coerce the people of Dinde to make way for the coal mine. In one such attempt on April 1, Moyo said Beifa Investments was one of the companies invited personally by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to come and invest in Zimbabwe. He said the president wants the mine and expected the people of Dinde to support it.
Insiders said apart from using the row over the mining project to win support ahead of the elections, Dube fears the evictions could cost him a critical support base ahead of parliamentary elections due in 2023.
“He fears that any relocation will decimate his power base. He believes that with only two years to the elections, evictions will stoke public anger and that Zanu PF candidates like him will be punished for government policy blunders when the elections come,” said a Zanu PF insider.
Bad blood between Moyo and Dube was evident during the acrimonious meeting held between the minister and the community on April 1.
After Moyo’s speech which glorified the mining project as Mnangagwa’s quick-fix solution to perennial poverty and unemployment in Hwange, Dube said while the people welcome investments, they were concerned that Beifa Investments had not engaged them, but instead resorted to threats and coercion to cover up its failure to hold proper consultations.
“In implementing such projects, we must ensure that investors have the consent of the local people, which must be obtained legally. In this case, the company is not on talking terms with the people. Its EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) was obtained through fraudulent means. I fully support President Mnangagwa’s drive for investment, but I also know that he does not want to lose votes to officials bulldozing his projects into unwilling communities,” Dube said to public applause.
Since then, Dube and Tshuma have led various community protests against the drilling project clad in Zanu PF regalia using party resources. Their actions have left Beifa Investments fuming at Zanu PF’s failure to rein in its officials.
In a letter dated April 15, 2021, Beifa Investments project manager Zhang Zhou Qiao appealed to the Zanu PF Hwange district coordinating committee (DCC) and Richard Moyo to reprimand the Zanu PF Hwange Central constituency for sending Dube and Tshuma to unlawfully disrupt its coal exploration programme in Dinde.
“The shadow MP introduced himself as Reeds Dube and he was in the company of Never Chuma who introduced himself as Zanu PF Dinde chairman. They came driving the Zanu PF Hwange Central constituency vehicle (registration number AEN-7737). Dube said he was sent by the speaker of Parliament (Jacob Mudenda), who is sending the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mining to Dinde in the near future.
“The two Zanu PF officials incited the community to resist our site mobilisation. Dube told the people to beat up the investor and burn the tent. We are surprised that while government granted us a Special Grant to carry out the project, the same ruling party sends its officials to resist its implementation,” Zheng Qiao said.
On April 22, Zanu PF responded with a scathing reprimand of Dube and Tshuma, painting them as corrupt officials who abused the party name to disrupt investments in order to “earn kickbacks and line their own pockets”.
In a statement, Moyo said the party would not allow any officials to abuse its name and their positions to frustrate investors.
“Party members who deviate from the party constitution will face disciplinary action and the vehicles used for criminal activities will be impounded. As government, we support the company (Beifa Investments). They are bringing development and creating employment. We cannot have a lawless society,” Moyo fumed.
Within days of Zhou’s complaint, Tshuma was arrested in what community members believe was a move orchestrated to scare them into submission. Since then, relations between the investor and host community have soured to a point where the two parties are no longer talking
The plight of Dinde has since attracted widespread condemnation of the government’s disregard of local people and concerns when implementing investment and development projects.
In a statement, human rights advocacy group Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) said the handling of the coal mine project in Dinde demonstrated government’s insensitive approach and lack of proper consultation with local communities when it comes to investment and development.
“By imposing decisions on communities, government creates unnecessary conflict and the investors find themselves caught up in the melee, a situation which could have been avoided if government had done the right thing in the first place.
“We call on the government to stop the eviction of the Dinde community and to allow for proper consultations where a win-win situation is realised, unnecessary suffering averted and conflict abated,” said ZPP director Jestina Mukoko.