As part of the exchange visit hosted by Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) in partnership with Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), community members and councillors from Bikita, Hwange and Mutoko’s mining areas got the opportunity to tour Hwange.
The tour was aimed at exposing the human rights injustices that take place in mining towns and the poverty suffered by residents despite revenue generated by minerals.
Visiting a renowned city like Hwange one is bound to have very high expectations. The city is home to the famous Hwange Colliery Company and is en route to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Victoria Falls.
Taking a detour from the CBD and moving towards the quarrying areas the first thing that draws the attention of the visiting group is air pollution. Not many people see a problem with this, as there is no human life in sight. The idea is that since there are no residential areas nearby so assumedly the smoke is not causing any harm.
Unfortunately, this is not true. High-density suburbs and residential areas built for second-class Colliery employees are located in the direction where the wind blows. So over the years, not only are the residential areas unsightly but residents are prone to various diseases caused by smoke inhalation. A local councillor explained that the mining company makes no use of smoke extractors.
Now that the health hazards of living in this area are known to all, one would expect an efficient health facility for miners and their families. Much to the disappointment of mine workers, the local clinic does not have running water. A water tank delivers water to the clinic. Sometimes the tank runs dry for a number of days and when the mine has use for it in the quarrying areas no water is delivered. Some residents complained that mining is a priority over the health of people.
Hwange Colliery Company employees are said not to pay for consultation at the clinic; however, their family members are not exempted from paying despite the high unemployment rate and employees going for years without pay.
On some occasions the water tanks are used to transport water used to cool off open fires in open cast mining areas. Open fires, said to be caused by coal bed methane, have been killing people for decades. Research is still being carried out on how the coal beds and methane gas cause these fires and how the communities can eliminate the dangers.
After failing to get close to areas with open fires due to heat the touring guests decided to head off to a shrine in Kamandama Mine where 427 mineworkers were laid to rest. Over the years there have been numerous conspiracies explaining how the tragedy occurred (see http://www.southerneye.co.zw/2014/06/06/myths-around-kamandama-disaster/ ). Due to lack of extensive publicity of the deaths politicians, miners and other interested parties have been able to alter the narrative of the incident.
According to the commission of enquiry, the cause of the explosion was only a conjecture. The explosion of 1972 is said to have been a result of a blown out explosive shot whose flame ignited the fire dump and thus the coal dust also ignited.
A local councillor, Winnie Ncube, expressed grave disappointment over how the deaths that resulted from the collapse are taken for granted. She said that according to the families of the deceased this day could have been a holiday set aside to mourn the lives that were lost. Hwange Colliery Company hosts commemorations annually on 6 June. If the commemorations fall on a weekday the attendance is low and sometimes even family members of the victims fail to attend the event. Ncube added that community members have been shut out. Family members used to be given food hampers but of late the event seems only to be for a few executive mine workers.
After a long day’s work most employees look forward to going home, where they get to rest and forget for a while the pressures of work. This is not the case with those with blue-collar jobs at Hwange Colliery Company.
Gloomy and sooty does not begin to describe the look of houses, children and adults living in Madumabisa shacks. There are clustered houses right across huge mounds of coal. The looks and cleanliness of the houses is not the major concern but the chocking smell of coal. Air pollution is the order of the day.
Each structure has three rooms. Each room accommodates a family. From each of the rooms the company collects $65 rent every month from it’s employees that have gone for almost four years without salaries.
People living in Madumabisa shacks share communal toilets that also double as bathrooms. The toilets were constructed during the pre-independence era, needless to say, they are currently dysfunctional with no hope they will be fixed.
The breaches to human rights are mind-boggling. Not only do they border on health but socio-economic rights too. In an area where coal mining has gone on for decades mine workers should be enjoying their right to adequate standard of living, right to housing and benefiting richly from coal mining. On this backdrop, ZPP and CNRG are aiming at capacitating mining communities, educating them of their rights and encouraging them to bring responsible authorities to book.