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April 28th, 2020

The mineral resource curse in Zimbabwe: Extractives, environmental justice and sustainable development

topic:Sustainable Development
by:Nqobizitha Ndlovu
org:Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)

The extractives sector is one of the major pillars of the Zimbabwean economy. It is thus not surprising that President ED Mnangagwa, in his address to the nation on the extension of the national lockdown in the fight against COVID-19 on 19 April, 2020, allowed the mining sector to “resume or scale up operations.”

Furthermore, the Government of Zimbabwe recently launched a road map to achieve a $12 billion mining sector by 2023. This underlines the critical role of the mining sector in spearheading economic revival and growth in Zimbabwe towards the achievement of vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals. This has brought the role of business in achieving sustainable development without violating environmental rights of host rural communities into scrutiny. Zimbabwe has a progressive environmental justice constitutional clause which links environmental rights, sustainable development and human rights. 

Despite the protection of environmental rights in terms of section 73 of the Constitution, there is no clear road-map on how the extractives sector should contribute towards environmental protection, sustainable development, and the full realisation of human rights. On the contrary, the extractives sector has been the major driver of human rights violations and environmental degradation in Zimbabwe. 

Notwithstanding the state’s narrative on the mega deals in the extractive sector, mining has failed to contribute towards sustainable development in the form of improved service delivery at the national and local levels and the realisation of human rights. There is evidence of state complicity in human rights violations in the mining sector, either directly or indirectly, through systemic oversight failures. The pariah state tag has left the state exposed to predatory investors targeting the extractives sector resulting in the mortgaging of the country’s natural resources.

Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) has documented the evidence of Zimbabwe’s mineral resource curse. ZELA has argued that the extractives sector in Zimbabwe has violated five main pillars of sustainable development.  Firstly, despite touting the mining sector as significant in the economic revival of the country and the drive to attain the middle-income country status by 2030, there is no structural equity as poverty levels in the general population is increasing. 

Secondly, while the environmental justice clause protects the environmental rights for future generations, the operating mantra of the extractive sector seems skewed towards maximum exploitation of natural resources with little or no reinvestment in the sector or host communities. 

Thirdly, the principle of mitigating and rehabilitating negative environmental impacts is not respected in the extractive sector at the expense of the socio-economic rights of host communities. 

Fourthly, negative social impacts on host communities, such as forced displacements without or inadequate compensation, unfair labour practices, and lack of basic amenities like housing and safe water, are widespread. 

Lastly, the issues of transparency and accountability in the extractives sector remain a major challenge. The nondisclosure of mining contracts and mining revenue have a huge consequence on corporate accountability and social responsibility to the host communities.

In its findings in the Zimbabwe National Report on the State of Business and Human Rights in Zimbabwe, ZELA noted that if mining must propel this country from a low income to a middle-income country, then it is critical to adopt policies which promote sustainable development.

In this regard, the government is called upon to meet the standards set out in the 2009 Africa Mining Vision (AMV). The AMV calls for transparency, equity, and the optimal development of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socioeconomic development in Africa. Zimbabwe is yet to domesticate the AMV among other progressive frameworks and the government is called upon to domesticate such progressive regional and international instruments. 

These instruments, particularly the AMV, recognise artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) as key in promoting sustainable livelihoods and reducing poverty. Due to non-recognition of the ASM sector, artisanal miners face a plethora of human rights violations and exposure to health hazards like the use of mercury in the gold sector. Furthermore, the absence of a policy framework recognising their work, results in poor mining methods leading to environmental degradation and inadequate capital to boost production.

In her 2018 narrative report on mining State Owned Companies (SOCs), the Auditor-General unearthed further evidence of the resource curse. The evidence includes malpractices that range from unethical practices to outright constitutional and legal violations. SOCs in the mining sector have a poor public disclosure of financial information, and overdue annual reports. It was further indicated that Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) lacks the capacity to report on all its operations including its subsidiaries, irregular disposal of mineral rights, and performance on joint venture agreements by ZMDC, non-valuation of mineral rights, persistent losses coupled to failure to meet statutory obligations, mismanagement of company assets and flouting of procurement regulations. 

ZELA has argued that the adoption and implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Zimbabwe is one of the solutions in addressing the human rights issues within the extractive sector. The organisation’s position is that a mineral resources governance that respects environmental justice is critical for sustainable development.

Nqobizitha Ndlovu is a constitutional and human rights lawyer and academic. Currently, he is the National Policy and Legal Advisor at Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA).

Image credit: © Alex Masi

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