From ARIMANDO DOMINGOS in Maputo, Mozambique
MAPUTO, (CAJ News) – THE resource curse has returned to haunt Mozambique with deadly consequences, this time pitting international mining companies and villagers resisting their uprooting from their areas the firms see as ripe for mineral extraction.
The Moaze District in the western Tete Province is expected to become the region’s energy powerhouse, built on coal and hydroelectricity, but has become the epicentre of community protests against mining companies eager to cash in on the resources boom in the Southern African country.
A number of companies including Brazil’s Vale S.A, British firm Rio Tinto, the Australian Riversdale Resources as well as Indian giant Jindal Steel and Power Limited have invaded, according to locals, the area with investments worth billions of dollars.
Their extensive concession rights cover half the province.
More than 6 million ha they claims, including nearly all the grasslands that herdsmen from the region need access to, are primed for resources extraction.
Communities members feel cut off from access to food and water, despite promises of mining companies that access to grazing lands would be maintained.
Most of the self-sufficient communities ceded their fertile lands by the rivers.
They have been relocated to distant villages, at times even 40 km away from the markets in Moatize, with agricultural land of uneven quality and unreliable access to water.
Herdsmen are enraged.
“We cannot reach the grass- and bush lands, where their livestock can graze and where the herdsmen can gather firewood. For the third time we have been denied access to the land,” lamented Placido Nasebo, one of the disgruntled cattle rearers.
Authorities reacted aggressively to a sit-in by the herders.
A 36-year-old named Sebastian Malate, was killed when police opened fire on the otherwise peaceful crowd.
This has agitated the disgruntled communities with machinery belonging to the Brazilian company vandalized.
The local government decried the unrest.
However the community is prepared to fight on.
“Everyone needs to understand that mining in Moatize is permanent,” said Manuel Guimaraes, Moatize district administrator.
He expressed optimism the resources boom would be beneficial to local communities.
“At present, Moatize is progressing in leaps and bounds,” Guimaraes said.
Coal projects have already added 1 500 jobs while medical clinics and schools have been built.
However, locals remain defiant.
“We depend on the wood for survival. If the area is sealed and we are denied access how are we going to survive?” asked said Julia Latife.
“All grazing areas have been closed. The population has no place to pick up the wood because everything is closed. Also, there is so much coal dust that goes into our homes.”
Vale has appealed to the community to respect boundaries.
“Why are they building their houses next to the forbidden zone?” said Wilco Uys, Vale’s head of operations in Moatize.
Against the backdrop of the conflict in Moatize, there has been an upsurge of local pressure over the international companies’ alleged unwillingness to join forces with communities.
The Cassoca community in the western Tete Province recently stopped the Jindal’s coal trucks from entering its mining site for two days due to alleged lack of progress on their resettlement away from the mine.
Some 289 families are affected by the resumption of the Indian company’s extraction of resources.
They are also up in arms over air pollution and a water crisis after the breakdown of community’s only water pump.
The company has been negotiating with the community leaders and the district government to address the problems.
More than half the land in Tete Province has been licensed for prospecting. Tete has an area of over 98 000 km².
Resettled communities bemoan they have been moved to inaccessible areas.
Houses are reportedly disintegrating.
While the extent of the problem in unascertainable, new studies indicate that people exposed to open pit mining may suffer from higher rates of cancer, pulmonary diseases and birth defects.
Many people and livestock drink straight from the rivers, which could expose them to high levels of pollutants.
Tete is reported to host coal reserves of approximately 6,7 billion tonnes, more than half representing sub-economic or economic grades.
The province is now regarded geologically as the largest undiscovered coal province in the world.
It is estimated the province could be producing 25 percent of the world’s coking coal by 2025.
This is the latest in a series of the resource curse striking the endowed county.
Poised to take off as the world’s third-biggest natural gas producer, the country of 28 million people has in recent years been left lurching to a major sovereign debt default, which is threatening to jeopardise its eagerly anticipated boom.
– CAJ News
From ARIMANDO DOMINGOS in Maputo, Mozambique