Photo acknowledgement: J. Pather
Down Under: Durban Mines Disrupting Communities in Zimbabwe
When people and civil society organisations speak about the impacts of mining activities on communities, they tend to generalise. Sometimes what they perceive to be the big issues may not necessarily revolve around the degradation of the livelihoods of rural women. This was evidenced in Chimpolompolo area in Bubi, Zimbabwe through a participatory action research (PAR) project, which showed, for instance, the numerous but mostly unreported negative impacts of deforestation (hardwood logging) in the area.
The women in Chimpolompolo area benefit from the hardwood found in the area. In addition to the wood, which is used for fuel, women also harvest and sell Mopani worms and medicinal herbs derived from the trees. The arrival of mining companies, in particular Durban Mine, dealt a devastating blow to the communities because large tracts of hardwood forest were cleared by the company for use in manufacturing staircases for the mines. The hardwood trees take more than 100 years to mature.
The PAR was conducted from 2013-2014 by Women and Land in Zimbabwe, the Centre for Development of Women and Children, and the Centre for Natural Resource Governance. The purpose of the PAR was to ascertain the extent of the impacts of Durban Mine’s mining activities on the lives of community members with a deliberate and special focus on women. The research enabled the community to gather data, analyse it and come up with solutions to impacts identified. It was a tool for mobilising and organising communities, to empower them to tackle perceived socio-economic injustices resulting from activities of Durban Mine. It provided insights into the problems the community is facing, including the following key concerns:
Women walk long distances in search of wood for fire, medicinal and other purposes.
Indiscriminate logging has taken a big toll on the community which looks like a desert, especially now that rainfall is no longer frequent. This is an added burden.
Women are no longer able to collect Mopani worms.
Durban Mine has been clearing hardwood forest to make staircases for its underground operations.
The women of the community are frustrated and concerned, as evidenced by the statement of one woman during the PAR:
"We, the women of Chimpolompolo, are demanding an end to this nonsense business of cutting down trees in this area. We used to get all what we want from the forests but now the forests have moved away and we are suffering. Even the rains are no longer falling down."
The PAR process created a platform for women in the area to come together with others in civil society to discuss issues affecting them. It enabled them to form advocacy committees to take up the identified issues with relevant institutions. One of the bold steps that the women took was saying no to the continuation of indiscriminate tree logging in the area. They lobbied the local authority to facilitate the formation of a community association for the protection of natural resources in their area. Women and men have equal representation in the leadership decision-making positions in the association.