A Chinese company prospecting for coal in Dinde, Hwange rural district, has been accused of defiling a local burial site as it pushes ahead with its controversial drilling operations despite growing pushback.
Beifa Investments (Pvt) Limited was granted a permit by government in 2019 but has been meeting strong resistance from villagers who fear the inevitable establishment of a coal mine will displace some 600 families and disrupt their lives.
They are also concerned about the environmental impact and losing their heritage sites.
Dinde is home to a mixture of the Nambya and the Tonga people, both sidelined minorities, who were settled by the Rhodesian government in the 1930s after being forcibly uprooted from their ancestral lands in areas including Chinamatila, Bumbusi, and Mandavu to make way for the Hwange National Park.
While the Chinese appeared to have retreated last year, they returned aggressively recently with the help of Zanu PF and government officials and set up operations in the village where they’re now accused of desecrating the burial grounds, including the tomb of a Chief.
Pictures have emerged of deep holes drilled right next to graves, sparking outrage with many people blaming the government for allowing the Asian coal miner to disrespect local heritages in the name of profits and investment.
“Their position is very clear, they are strongly opposed to the setting up of the exploration process by this Chinese company,” said Daniel Molokele, MP for Hwange Central whose territory covers the affected community.
“They were never properly consulted, so as local communities at Dinde they are all insisting that proper consultations should be done before everything else goes. As the office of the MP, we fully support their position and we are in strong solidarity not only with Never Tshuma but everyone,” Molokele added after attending Tshuma’s court hearing and meeting with the affected villagers Wednesday.
Tshuma, a Zanu PF official who has been at the forefront of the resistance, was arrested after Beifa Investments wrote a letter of complaint to his party accusing him and another member Reeds Dube of inciting “people to beat up the investors and burn the tent,” adding, “We are surprised that while the government granted us the special grant to carry out the project, the same party sends its officials to resist its implementation.”
He is out on bail.
A distraught woman who attended the meeting with Molokele at the drilling site said villagers “don’t want the Chinese here, they have messed up everything here. Right now they are busy drilling near our Chief’s grave. I’m very pained.”
Legal pundit Alex Magaisa, a law lecturer at Kent University in England criticized the Chinese operations and took issue with their grievance approach calling it a “conflation between party and state.”
“How does a foreign investor deal with a political party on matters of investment and law enforcement? This conflation between party and state is dangerous. From reports in Dinde, this is not simply a Zanu PF issue. This is a community issue regardless of party affiliation,” Magaisa tweeted.
He blasted both government and Beifa Investments saying, “So-called ‘development’ that fails to respect the interests, rights, and expectations of local communities is not worth it. They have also seen how the extractive state and its local and foreign elites have plundered resources elsewhere leaving local communities with nothing.”
Outrage… Hwange Central MP Daniel Molokele (in a Barcelona mask) meeting with Dinde villagers at the Chinese drilling site. (Picture Credit: @Wamagaisa)
The law expert called on President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government to respect the people of Dinde “just like it must respect the Chilonga community and others around the country.”
Magaisa added: “It is notable that in both cases, vulnerable and often neglected and forgotten ethnic minorities are at the rough end of this mistreatment. In Chilonga it was the Shangaan. In Dinde it’s the Nambya and Tonga.”
His outrage was shared by human rights lawyer Doug Coltart who called the desecration of the Dinde burial site “in pursuit of profit” “utterly appalling. We must fight for the dignity of our people.”
“Our fellow citizens’ burial sites are being desecrated by a Chinese company in pursuit of profit without concern for the community’s wishes. We stood with the people of Chilonga and stopped their eviction (for now). Now we must stand with Dinde,” Coltart added.
Government was in March forced to back down from its controversial efforts to evict more than 12,000 villagers from their ancestral lands in Chilonga, Chiredzi, to pave way for a dairy company owned by a white farmer with links to President Emmerson Mnangagwa after public outcry.
While lawyers representing Dinde villagers were said to be working on a court challenge, the law firm of MDC Alliance vice president Tendai Biti on Thursday offered to join the battle and volunteer its services.
It tweeted: “The Chinese takeover of ancestral land in Dinde, Hwange, is no different from the takeover of Shangaan land in Chilonga. Our court application challenging Section 4 of the Communal Land Act vesting rural land in State is progressing quickly. We offer to help the people of Dinde.”
Beifa Investments (Pvt) Limited argues the Dinde project “is of national importance as it will feed into our proposed 270 Mega Watts Power Plant which is one-third of the Hwange installed capacity. The project will go a long way in alleviating the power crisis obtaining in the country.”