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CSOs, Mutare Mayor Caught with Pants Down Over Contentious Chinese Miner Deal

MUTARE Mayor Blessing Tandi colluded with a Chinese company, Freestone Mines, and three local civic groups earlier this week to hold choreographed consultative meetings seeking to validate the establishment of a highly controversial quarry mine in the densely populated Dangamvura suburb.

The first of these ‘residents consultative meetings’ was held Monday, February 8, in Sakubva.

The residents were mobilized by a local rights group, Manica Youth assembly (MAYA), under the leadership of its director Jussah Kudherezera.

The second meeting was held the on Tuesday 9 at Queens Hall in the Mutare’s central business district.

Indications are that this meeting was mobilized by Mutare Informal Traders Association (MITA) president Itai Kariparire in cahoots with Edson Dube, director of United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust (UMRRT).

Kudherezera also attended the meeting with Freestone Mines director Ruoxin Qi and his manager, a Dr Njabulo Chipangura and mayor Tandi sitting at the high table.

Sources inside council, however confirmed the meetings held with Mayor Tandi’s blessings did not follow any unanimous council resolution as should be the case with such engagements.

The meetings have since left Tandi at loggerheads with the rest of the council. His deputy Farai Bhiza unequivocally telling that the collusion between the mayor and the civic society betrayed their ulterior motives.

Describing the meetings as dubious, Bhiza said if at all, they should have been held in the affected wards of Dangamvura and Sakubva.

“Personally, I was not aware of those meetings, yet I was supposed to be informed since I have a right to know including other councillors. We were neither informed nor did we attend these dubious meetings,” Bhiza said.

“It is the duty of the mayor to bring that issue on the agenda of Council for reconsideration. Councillors who represent those wards must have attended so that residents will be informed about the advantages and disadvantages of the project,” he said.

Dube, director of United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust, told the February 8 meeting that they had roped in the Chinese miner so that Mutare residents could be informed of benefits of the quarry project.

Chipangura also told the residents that Freestone Mine will donate quarry to Mutare City for road rehabilitation across the city, create employment for about 40 people and produce quarry for selling at very cheap prices.

He added that Freestone Mines would embark on a fish farming project for residents using the pits they will leave after mining operations.

Asked by some residents if the miner was going to sign a covenant with residents to ensure they would be compensated in case their nearby houses are affected by the blasting, Chipangura said the recordings from the consultation meetings will act as evidence in the courts of law.

He noted that a feasibility study had since been completed confirming that there were no other minerals on Dangamvura Mountain.

At the end of the meeting, Freestone Mines director Ruoxin Qi threatened reporter Felix Matasva with unspecified action when approached him for further comments, accusing him of writing “a series of unfavourable stories aimed at misleading the people”.

“Felix, I am very disappointed by your articles. I have since reported you to the Chinese Embassy and they will call you. You will face very painful consequences for your articles because you are not ethical. Sorry will not help me in any way, the Embassy will come and get you,” Qi said.

He threatened the reporter and revealed the WhatsApp chats he had with officials from the embassy discussing the media reports especially the one wrote based on a statement by CSO’s led by Center for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG)

Chipangura then interjected in placatory tones, asking the reporter to take a positive slant when reporting on the mining operation.

At this point the reporter has started recording sensing an underhand arrangement.

“You can get more information from MAYA. I need you to write something that sells. For instance, after these engagements, community members gave the greenlight and a go ahead to the quarry mining project. We want to see a very screaming headline like Freestone Mines get a nod from communities,” Chipangura said.

“You have to write positively about what I said and what we are going to do in terms of corporate social responsibility plan, assisting the city, nearby school, minimal damage to the property. Write glowing things about us and be warned not to write the negatives otherwise I will f*ck you up,” he fumed.

Chipangura indicated during the meeting at Queens Hall that they will join hands with MAYA with intentions to plant trees on Dangamvura Mountain.

However, is reliably informed that MAYA was even promised a grant to embark on a regreening project on the deforested mountain by the quarry miner.

Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Association (MURRA) programs coordinator confirmed Wednesday to that he was not aware or invited to the meetings.

“There was a big euphoria and campaign against the Chinese Quarry miner but suddenly there are people who have calmed down and this raises eyebrows,” Mutambirwa said.

“Freestone Mines has promised 40 jobs and we cannot sacrifice our heritage for such a small number of people to be employed. There is an ulterior agenda because there are so many mountains in Manicaland which are far away from residential areas.”

He added the two meetings were stage-managed in order to authenticate the handover of Dangamvura Mountain to the Chinese.

“What is so special about Dangamvura Mountain? They should have consulted Chief Zimunya and Mutasa so that rituals are done. The mayor is compromised and he must have not attended such meetings without a council resolution. They handpicked the residents who attended because I am told many people campaigned to be employed,” he said.

“Some of people have sold out and it’s a detriment to the future generations. They have robbed the future generations of their heritage. This will not go well with our ancestors especially our national heroes who were laid to rest on that mountain. They are not respecting the provincial Heroes acre situated on Dangamvura mountain,’’ said Mutambirwa.

Bhiza said if residents are serious they must petition council and push for the local authority to put that issue on the agenda.

He said section 89 of the Urban Councils Act allows council to rescind a resolution which is unfavourable to the residents especially considering that there were irregularities which needs to be ironed out so that everyone is satisfied by the project.

“We have many councillors who are silent because they are annoyed by what the Mayor is doing. I have never seen a petition. Those meetings are questionable since they were not held at the most impacted wards. With my level of position in council I must have been aware of such meetings. We can’t ruin allegations of bribes because there was so much secrecy about these belated consultations that are critical at assessing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA),” said Bhiza. – (New Zimbabwe)

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