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Mining ≠ Development: “We’re not going to eat minerals”

  • JASS

Mining is one of the most prominent extractive industries in Southern Africa. Put forward as a pathway to “development,” governments justify and cite its benefits to ordinary people as a self-evident linear chain reaction: to grow the economy, we need to attract foreign direct investment, which will create new jobs and in turn improve lives. However, women in places such as Marange in Zimbabwe will tell you that mining has come at a dire cost and with minimal benefit to them. They will tell you about how mining projects have displaced them, violated labor laws, exploited and polluted their land and water, and destroyed their sources of livelihood with nothing in return. Communities in places such as Xolobeni in South Africa will tell you that they have been fighting to protect their land, livelihood, and culture for years from an Australian mining company, its South African partners, and government and traditional leaders who enable extractive industries.

Communities located in these sought-after areas are not the primary beneficiaries of the profits from mining operations on their land. Oftentimes, governments either do not request consent or disregard the community’s rights in the use of their land and resources. In fact, when communities protest, police and private security firms attack, dehumanize, and threaten them. They are labeled “anti-development” and sometimes killed or disappeared at the hands of the government, local elites, and corporations who often work hand-in-hand to silence and delegitimize their demands and concerns. Despite these risks, communities most affected are resisting and saying, “NO” to mining.  They are challenging and redefining what development should be. As Nonhle Mbuthuma, leader of the Amadiba Crisis Committee said: “Development is supposed to come from the bottom-up – start with the people. [It is] not a top-down approach as governments and big companies define it.”

An Extractive Development Model

“Extractivism refers to the centering of economies around the extraction and export of raw natural resources; oil, gas, precious minerals, forest productsExtractivism was the hallmark of colonialism and has continued unabated over centuries in Southern Africa. In the last two decades, extractivism has increased in scope and intensity with the discovery of new minerals and the intensification of mono-cultivation across the continent, often on the back of large scale acquisitions,” wrote Everjoice Win, in JASS’ publication, Between Jesus, the Generals and the Invisibles.

In the early 2000s, a rich reserve of diamonds was discovered in Marange, Zimbabwe. Soon after, the government granted concessions to seven mining companies representing Chinese, South African, and Lebanese interests. The Zimbabwean government owned at least 50% of these companies.[1] After 10 years operating in Marange, the government did not renew the companies’ licenses and instead formed the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company in February 2016 to manage operations. Over the past decade, very little profit from the diamond trade has benefited the public and most of it cannot be accounted for. As Global Witness reports, “Since 2010, Zimbabwe has officially exported over 2.5 billion USD in diamonds according to official figures from Kimberly Process. According to the limited available government reporting, only around 300 million USD can be clearly identified in public accounts.[2] Most of that money can be traced to the accounts of individuals in the security forces, and local and political elites.[3]  In 2019, the government granted Anjin, a Chinese mining company, a new mining concession and is set to resume mining operations in Marange together with a Russian company that was also granted a concession. Anjin is currently exploring the land and there are fears that this may go on for years whilst minerals are being expropriated from Marange’s already dwindling diamond reserve. With the new government’s “open for business” mantra encouraging foreign investment, and the entrenched culture of corruption by economic and political elites, the future seems like a repeat of the past – one with very minimal benefit to the people who need it the most. As Tariro* said:” The government has deserted us as the people of Chiadzwa [a community in Marange]. We are in a diamond-infested community but we have nothing but poverty to show for it. “

In South Africa, Australian mining company – Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM) – has been seeking rights to mine titanium in Xolobeni’s sand dunes. Mbuthuma’s organization Amadiba Crisis Committee has been fighting the Xolobeni Mine Sands Project, which would affect five villages in the district: Sgidi, Mtentu, Sikombe, Kwayana, and Mdatya. In November 2018, the High Court ruled in the community’s favor stating that the Mineral Resources Minister had to acquire the community’s prior consent before granting mining rights to TEM. As Mbuthuma explained in a regional convening co-hosted and led by JASS Southern Africa recently[4]: “We are against the mining operation to the Australian mining company in our community. [Fighting] is not an easy task as mining companies always work together with the government. They don’t care about environmental degradation or destruction of our own livelihoods as the community. So, we decided to take our own government to court. Since we went to the High Court against the operations of the company, in November, 2018, we won the high court case.” Despite this win, the battle is far from over. “The judgement set a precedent for us. However, we did not know that our own government would appeal against the judgement and say that we, as the people who live there, do not know what is good for us. This is exactly a top-down profit-driven approach that disregards people. Right now, we are fighting back and forth for the right to our land. Even if this doesn’t go the way we want, we will keep on fighting,” added Mbuthuma.

Whose development?

“Extractivism…also encompasses the very negative impacts on the environment and ways of living of these often excluded populations; poisoning and sucking up all the water, cutting down trees and natural vegetation, displacement and decimation of animals and people” [5]

Tariro is a Chiadzwa resident, one of the areas in Marange that is experiencing first-hand the impacts of diamond mining. “The extraction of diamonds in Chiadzwa has come at a cost, particularly for us as women. [It] is more of a curse than a blessing to us. Before the discovery of diamonds, we were also benefiting from our trees that produced fruits and sometimes we used the trees to make wooden doors for sale. We could also farm in our gardens, but now we are no longer allowed. Our roads have also been destroyed. We have no clinics.” As women are often responsible for their families, this has made life even more challenging given Zimbabwe’s already crumbling economy. Extreme poverty is endemic. As many Zimbabwean women attest, sustaining activist work is even more challenging when meeting basic needs consumes daily survival in an unpredictable economy. Recently, the government introduced yet another new Zimbabwean currency and banned the use of other currencies (USD, Rand, and British Pound) in purchasing goods. As a result, prices of basic commodities and the cost of living is increasing daily, pushing them beyond the reach of many while some goods are unavailable altogether.

Tariro’s organization*, has been at the forefront fighting mining companies and demanding accountability from the government. However, these have come with great risks, given the heavy military presence in Marange. The Zimbabwe Defense Forces have been a major player in Marange since the discovery of diamonds. The security at Marange is tight – barbed fence wire and extensive body searches are a normal occurrence. “[The military]’s search for diamonds on women’s bodies includes inserting gloved fingers in women’s vaginas, and sometimes the same glove is used on many different women. Our health has also been greatly compromised by the mining activities and this has seen some women giving birth to children with deformities,” said Tariro.

As a WoMin study concluded[6], women’s bodies become battlegrounds in such situations, “Given the known association between the presence of extractive industries and conflict, women are particularly impacted as these conflicts assume gender-specific forms, such as sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape.” Tariro’s organization has been providing access to health services to those affected as well as taking mining companies to court to claim reparations. They have also created savings clubs called Mukando where each member contributes money each month that can be used for raising chickens and kitchen gardens. 

Similarly, Mbuthuma’s organization has faced steady backlash in their fight against TEM. “The chairperson of our committee was brutally assassinated for fighting for our rights and no one was taken to account. The police keep on saying they are still investigating. Police are the lapdogs of the state…,” explained Mbuthuma. Xolobeni communities are farmers who produce vegetables such as sweet potatoes that are sold in South Africa’s big grocery chains such as Checkers and Shoprite. As Mbuthuma exclaimed, “We are feeding the country That is why [we fight] the mining; because mining is a foreign thing; it’s not for us. We’re not going to eat minerals. Minerals are going to be extracted and go to Europe, and we’re left to starve and in poverty...”

Alternatives to Development

When we are trying to fight against developments like, mining, we’re labeled anti-development. This is a very effective delegitimizing strategy, which creates wedges among us as people…I’m not sure why we (justice and human rights people) dropped development from our language, but it is important to put this word back into our lexicon and redefine what real development means.” – Everjoice Win

“Development is about land, and land is about identity, and once people have lost identity, they’ve lost who they are. Without land, we have no identity. That is why land is so important, and that is why we’re pushing against this extractivism to happen in our land in the name of development,” says Mbuthuma.

Tariro and Mbuthuma’s stories offer a glimpse of the failed promise of mining as an economic development strategy for people, and underscore the need for local communities and justice activists to define and reclaim the meaning of “development.” As our colleague in Guatemala, Patricia Ardón emphasized, “This form of extractivism is not new, but is increasingly blatant in its privileging of consumption above life.” Mbuthuma explained this well: “People [in my community] are living a good life and they are self-employed, but the government doesn’t recognise that. They want us to be the slaves of somebody else – they don’t recognise that people can sustain themselves. When they push for extractivism, it’s just short-term, and after that, the land is gone – it’s irreversible, damaged. We aren’t anti-development, we are for development but we want the development that develops us, as people.”

Tariro added, “Anti-development labeling is used to dehumanize us. We are speaking the same language of development through the construction of roads and clinics as a collective effort…”

The heated question of how to define development with regard to minerals is debated in a recent published book, The Future of Mining in South Africa: Sunset or Sunrise?[7] While focused on South Africa, the issues presented are relevant for all of Southern Africa, and most mineral rich countries. Some of the questions explored are: How do mining affected communities struggle with land loss and environmental destruction? What should mining look like given the reality of climate change? How does mining over the last 100 years size up in feminist perspective?

*We have concealed name of interviwee and her organization for security reasons

Everjoice Win is a JASS co-founder and Board Member. She is currently ActionAid’s  Programmes and Global Engagement Director

[1] Global Witness, An Inside Job, “Zimbabwe: The State, the Security Forces, and A Decade of Disappearing Diamonds”, September 2017,

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Defending Rights in Hostile Contexts Regional Convening co-hosted by JASS Southern Africa, Amnesty International and Oxfam South Africa. Check highlights on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

[6] “Extractivism’s Impacts on Women’s Bodies, Sexuality and Autonomy”, The WoMin Collection of Papers on Women, Gender and Extractivism,

[7] Salimah Valiani, The Future of Mining in South Africa: Sunset or Sunrise, December 2018

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