Zimbabwe: How litigation could spur economic development for mining affected communities

Author: Josephine Chiname and Bridget Mafusire, Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association, Published on: 22 April 2019

‘How can litigation contribute to Sustainable Economic Development for Diamond Mining Communities in Zimbabwe?"

The law as a conduit for economic development, creates an environment for steady and fundamental growth to occur. Thus, the interplay between legal principles and local economic development concerns is important. For community members from natural resource-rich areas, the law can be the protection they need against abuse of basic human rights on the one hand, and a tool for holding local investors and government to account on the other. In the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland region, surrounding community members have come to realise some benefit from taking legal action to enforce their environmental rights, and have used the same tool to try and hold investors and government accountable for local economic development obligations.

…Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has proven to be of paramount importance in ensuring that community rights are upheld. Unlike regular litigation, PIL focuses on achieving socio-economic change that positively impacts the lives of the communities as opposed to an individual. It is true, however, that a positive court outcome may ultimately be ineffective if it is not combined with other activities to further the cause of the communities. Enforcement of and monitoring compliance with favourable court decisions should not be taken lightly, PIL works best as part of an innovative campaign on the basis of a broader underlying theory of change. In order to become effective for societal change therefore, the court process must be conducted in conjunction with other complementing activities such as community capacity building, research, and advocacy campaigns among others.

…Litigation for socio-economic change has in the past been beneficial to communities in the diamond mining sector, however there is room for more actions holding mining companies accountable on human rights and local economic development issues. More cases should be filed to ensure lasting success and build precedent that communities can use. In order to do this however, communities must be educated to build their capacities to identify potential rights violations. This work is part of ZELA’s strategy to reach out to communities through training of paralegals who are identified community champions trained in legal issues and skilled to record and report rights violations in their communities.

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