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9 Aug 2022

Deogracias Kalima, China Dialogue

Zimbabwe: Chinese company Freestone Mines’ withdrawal from controversial quarry project highlights need for community consultation

"In Zimbabwe, an aborted quarry shows need for community consultation" 2 August 2022

[...] In the course of those four months, Freestone went from prospective miner of the mountain to the focus of criticism and a potential legal case, before finally abandoning the project. A statement from the company said it had pulled out in the face of “resistance from different people and stakeholders who are totally against the project.”

The story reveals much about the consequences of companies and governments failing to engage with local communities, and provides lessons for other Chinese companies doing business in Zimbabwe. [...]

“There was no [EMA] assessment authorising the project to go ahead. We wrote to the Ministry of Mines and Mutare City Council who both confirmed an environmental impact assessment had not been conducted,” Farai Maguwu, director of the Centre for Natural Resources Governance Zimbabwe (CNRG), a civil society group, told China Dialogue.

But Amkela Sidange, the EMA spokesperson, disputed this. “Freestone Mines applied for an EIA [environmental impact assessment] licence from EMA before any activity was commenced on Dangamvura Mountain and an EIA licence was granted,” she told China Dialogue. [...]

But Qi Ruoxin, director of Freestone Mines, rejects the charges. “We legally had all the permits and documents,” he tells China Dialogue. “We are a law-abiding company.”

Maguwu counters, however, that what permits Freestone Mines did possess were suspiciously backdated. [...]

In February 2022, the CNRG took both Freestone Mines and the EMA to court over the alleged infringement.

In the face of public opposition and the threat of litigation, Freestone Mines announced that they were abandoning the project on 25 February 2022. [...]

For Manson Gwanyanya, a regional researcher for the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre based in Johannesburg, it makes business sense for mining companies to meaningfully consult impacted communities, beyond licences. If disputes arise, communities can actually vouch for mining companies.

“When communities stand with you, you sometimes avoid unnecessary costs,” he says. He points to the example of Kenya, where many big investments made in 2018 have stalled because communities are litigating against corporations that have not consulted them.

But it is “not only the Chinese”, Gwanyana adds. “Every mining corporation must understand that it goes beyond getting a licence from the minister of mines. The communities have to be told adequately what’s going on because it’s their roads you’re using, their water you’re drawing. We lawyers call it prior informed consent.” [...]