Fighting diamonds in Zimbabwe, an interview with Melanie Chiponda
A few years back, I had the pleasure to interview Melanie Chiponda who has been working with rural communities in Zimbabwe for 11 years, 5 of which with the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust. Here’s what she told me about her work and experience.
What is your personal experience with regards to the relation between extractivism and the violation of human rights?
I work with a community in Marange, Zimbabwe. Marange is the diamond-rich area of Zimbabwe. It was once estimated that 25% of diamonds in the world is in Zimbabwe. In 2006 it was announced that diamonds had been found in Marange. That’s when human rights violations started because the government opened the diamond fields to everyone. Lots of people came into the area and this had a very negative impact on the communities that were still living there.
What about women?
Extractivism had a very hard impact on women, because the diamonds were found in the same fields in which women used to work. The community in Marange did not know anything about diamonds before 2006. Because of the government’s decision to open the fields to international investors, Marange lived a period of anarchy. In order to restore the order, in 2007 the government militarised the area. People had to face high levels of security while they lost access to their lands. Each family in Marange had between 7 and 10 hectares of land. The agricultural activities are often done by women. When the land was taken, women lost their means of support and were pushed into poverty.
In 2009, the government told the community that they had to move. In the new area, people were given one hectare of land per family. Women had to learn new skills in order to survive. What mostly affected women, however, was the lack of health care. They cannot even access ante and postnatal care. Even now they don’t have access to health facilities in the relocation area. A small clinic was built by the Chinese investors but it was shut by the Ministry of Health. Mining deprived women of their right to health care, their right to land, right to access water, their right to an education. It destroyed schools. Children have to walk very long distances to go to school. And because of the gender roles that children are supposed to perform, girls have to walk for miles in order to fetch water before going to school.
What have been the most significant consequences of the relocation?
The relocation process did not really look at kinship ties. It disrupted the social ties which are very crucial for the people in the area. The major issue is that women were not consulted because it was assumed that men were the head of the household and so they could negotiate on behalf of the whole family. But the women are the ones working the land and dealing with the house. Women’s voices are not heard. It’s not taken into consideration what they would like to be compensated for the land that was taken from them. Some of the biggest challenges are faced by women in polygamous unions. A man can marry up to 40 women but they will still get onen hectare of land, the same piece of land given to a family with 6/7 people.
How does extractivism affect men?
The way in which mining impacts men is very different from how it impacts women. Men can look for work in the mines, for instance. The mines are very gendered and companies prefer male employees. Women, on the other hand, prefer to work within the household because they can take care of the children. When the mines were opened women lost everything.
Is it possible to create a constructive dialogue between the mining companies and the community in Marange?
We have tried, but there are a lot of changes taking place. The investors with whom the community in Zimbabwe has dealt so far are very different from the ones that are coming to the country now. They have a different culture and a different way of doing things. Rio Tinto was also mining in Zimbabwe. But the way in which they displaced people was different from the way in which the Chinese did it. Most of the diamond fields have now been taken over by Chinese investors. Sometimes it feels like that the concept of human rights is new to them. I think the only way to open a dialogue with them is to study the Chinese business culture. When we approach them and tell them “this is a violation of human rights” there is a communication breakdown. We are not understanding each other. They think about economic development and they think that people would automatically be happy about it.
Do you think that the extraction of national resources can be used to sustain human development?
Not in the way it has been done so far. We need policies and laws in order to protect both the communities and the interests of the government, otherwise there cannot be any kind of development. At present we don’t even know where the money is going. We don’t see it and we don’t see any development. Development can only happen if there is transparency and laws that protect communities. Development is multifaceted: economic development and community development are two different things.