By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
25 April 2014
Thousands of villagers who were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for diamond mining operations at Marange, now face an unfolding humanitarian crisis.
This is according to accountability group the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, which warned in a detailed report this week that the villagers “are sliding deeper into the abyss of abject poverty.”
In early 2009 the government announced that plans were underway to relocate almost 5,000 Marange families affected by the diamond mining operations there. The affected families were to be relocated to a farm formerly owned by the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) at Transau in Odzi, about 24 kilometres west of the city of Mutare.
But almost five years later the commitments made towards the humane resettlement of the families have not been honoured.
“Observed from afar the new Arda Transau settlement portrays an aura of sophistication and affluence as it looks like a small urban settlement in the middle of nowhere. But behind this façade of affluence lies a community weighed down by the bondage of poverty and hunger,” the Centre warns.
Only a fraction of the families have been moved to Arda Transau, where housing facilities and developments like clinics and schools have not been completed. The families have also never been compensated for the loss of their homes.
The population at Arda Transau is slightly above 5,200 people, and consists mainly of women and children. The relocated people have no source of livelihood, and they depend entirely on the diamond mining firms, who facilitated their forced removal, for food handouts. But these food handouts have not been consistent and hunger has been a serious concern for months. The Centre for Natural Resource Governance said all the diamond firms, except one, have completely stopped handing out food.
The villagers are also largely unable to grow their own crops, because of an absence of suitable land and no access to irrigation facilities or other necessities for successful agricultural production. The report this week states that malnutrition is widespread and some villagers go several days at a time without eating. One 92 year-old-man said his family survived on eating salt-spiced anthill soil and a cup of water. The old man’s wife was clearly undernourished and the children showed clinical signs of kwashiorkor.
“Without food hand-outs we are doomed, and as we are speaking now some people who were relocated here have not received any food handouts for the past 12 months,” another villager revealed.
The health situation in Arda Transau has been described by one community leader as a “time bomb”, and according to the report this week, the local clinics are so badly resourced that people are expected to supply their own candles if they stay overnight.
The Centre’s Director Farai Maguwu told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the situation is “appalling.”
“There is serious poverty stalking this area and there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding. There are a number of recommendations for the government, but in the short term, the villagers need humanitarian assistance,” Maguwu said.
He also said that a redistribution of arable farm land was necessary, saying there is enough land owned by government ministers to give to the desperate Marange families.
“The government should make available some farms. Most Cabinet ministers have multiple farms, and yet the government has created a squatter camp for these villagers. They have been reduced to squatters,” Maguwu said.
Meanwhile about 4,000 other Marange families are still to be relocated from the mining area. The Centre’s report said however that this is looking increasingly uncertain.
“There are indications that companies are now reluctant to continue with relocations in light of the reported dwindling alluvial diamonds in Marange in recent months,” the report said.