02 November 2016
Yesterday, 1 November 2016, more than 500 people gathered together in Marange, a vast diamond field stretching over 66,000 hectares in the east of Zimbabwe, near to the Mozambican border, to remember all those who lost their lives, lands and livelihoods in one among the saddest page of post-independence Zimbabwean history.
Operation Hakudzokwi (in English: You Shall Not Return!) was a security crackdown conducted by the Zimbabwean army in late 2008, right after the discovery of rich diamond deposits in Chiadzwa, Marange, which led to the killing of over 400 artisanal miners, unleashed brutal violence against their women and children, forced families to be evicted from their ancestors lands and relocated away from their homes, disrupting their sense of belonging and depriving them of their traditional sources of livelihoods. In this way, the government seized Marange diamond field, and secure the control of its rich soil in the hands of the military which, since then, has conducted secretive and opaque deals with Chinese mining firms, looting local communities of their richness and ensuring little or no revenues to the State coffers. 8 years later, people are still suffering, they have been left with nothing and their demands for justice and compensation are still unaddressed. Impunity remains unrestrained and almost no one has been held accountable for the appalling human rights abuses which took place in Marange so far; misbehaviours and negligence from companies still continue today and are likely to continue for the rest of the mining lifecycle.
Operation Hakudzokwi Commemoration, organised by Centre for Natural Resource Governance and Chiadzwa Community Development Trust, was primarily meant to be a platform of solidarity, offering survivors and their families a space to narrate their stories, to express their grievances and demand that recognition which is, necessarily, the first step for any reconciliatory process to take place. It created a bridge between victims and supporters, placing human rights NGOs and CSOs at the service of all those who suffered and still suffer, in order to overcome fear and speak out loudly to say “enough is enough!”. It raised communities’ awareness of their fundamental, inalienable, inviolable human rights and pushed them to demand their respect once and for all, because NO ONE should be left behind, because NO DEVELOPMENT whatsoever can take place if even a single human being is considered a second class citizens who can, at any time, been taken away his land and livelihoods for the profit of a handful elites which are the same supposed to ensure the well-being of their people.
On a wider ground, furthermore, the Commemoration also offered an occasion for all of us to reflect over the unbridled trend of corporate greed and violence in contexts of weak institutions and poor governance, and the worrisome compliance between governments, national armies and transnational corporations which, through secretive deals, domestic impunity and complex international jurisdictions, keep plundering millions of people worldwide, condemning them to live in poverty, marginalisation and oppression. As the representative of Solidarity Center, a Washington-based NGO gathering together workers and CSOs to advocate for the dignity and respect of workers rights, rightly said, people of Marange are not alone in this fight. Indigenous communities worldwide are forced to cope with the unfair practices of companies systematically looting their lands and their resources, disregarding environmental impact of their activities, shifting profits to tax heavens, using military and security forces to curb protests and resistance with violence and intimidation. Workers in DRC, where coltan is extract to produce the cell phones we all use everyday without any awareness of what happens at the bottom of the global supply chain, in Liberia where rubber, palm oil and timber are extracted, in the oil-rich yet poorly developed economies of Angola and Nigeria, they are all facing the same challenges. EVERYWHERE extractivism is reinforcing enclave economies, where the poor get poorer whilst a niche of political, military elites intertwined with international businessmen get richer and richer.
However, this is not the end. People of Marange are not alone: their voices are not unheard and their claims will not fall in the abyss of oblivion. And I truly hope that my presence at the Operation Hakudzokwi Commemoration might have carried a message of faith: that elsewhere in the world people are increasingly aware of the inequalities and injustices taking place in the shadow of the world economy, of the resource curse trapping millions in poverty, of the enormous impact that corporate capital and manipulative governments have on the life of people in which extractive activities take place. And that they want to take their part in the fight to end corporate and government impunity.
To me, a young European student of Human Rights eager to find myself at the heart of the matter, attending this Commemoration was a true privilege and an honour, together whilst having a deep symbolic significance: it was not more than an year ago when I first came across the sad story of Marange diamonds during some research on business and human rights I was conducting for a university paper. At that time in my life, Marange was only a small dot in a geographical chart of a southern African country, Zimbabwe, which was spatially and emotionally far away from my life and, to be honest, my expertise. Paper after paper, article after article, however, awareness over what happened in Marange surfaced in my mind, the injustices and the abuses suffered by its people became a noise in my head, a constant rumour disturbing my thoughts, a strange physical pain I could not get rid of. I was so far to Zimbabwe and its mining deposits, so distant from these people I have never had anything to do with; yet, I was feeling close to their pain and their situation and I wanted to go more in depth in this mayhem and do something to change the situation.
At some point, I could imagine the face of Chiadzwa victims in all the shop windows of fancy jewellery shops in Paris where I was mirroring my face, I could not stop thinking how much we – unaware and privileged consumers in the rich side of the world – unknowingly contribute to the systematic theft of this country when we buy high tech goods and luxury products, when we import coal from Hwange whilst pledging ourselves to renewables, when our leaders facilitate tax avoidance practices through questionable rules which contribute to illicit financial flows going out of African countries and worth billions of dollars every year, exacerbating the burden of odious debt on the shoulders of millions of African vulnerable citizens. Hence, I eventually decided that I would have come here to see with my eyes, to be able to understand the reality on the ground and then come back to Europe bringing with me your testimonies and your stories, becoming – as much as my skills and possibilities would allow me – the loudspeaker of your voices, the storyteller of your strenuous fighting, of your daily sacrifice and courage, of your quest for socio-economic justice. And this is the reason why I am here with you today. To tell you that you are not alone, not only in the suffering which connects you with mining communities and workers around the world, but also in your battle for justice and equality. I am here to tell you that what I discovered coming to Zimbabwe is that your people is not only rich in minerals and base metals: your richness resides in your generous souls, in your warm and kind hearts, in your tireless resilience which allowed you to navigate unspeakable economic hardships and ruthless oppression for decades. I am here to please and admire the work of your vibrant and brave NGOs and CSOs which strenuously work to lift up local communities and empower them to defend themselves against continuous abuses, demanding respect for their rights and their dignity.
In this regard, my true and sincere gratefulness goes particularly to CNRG Director, Farai Maguwu: I am honest in saying that he was the main reason why I came to work in Zimbabwe, as I was fascinated by his courage and firmness in denouncing the abuses which took place in Marange. Today, after having the privilege to know him and work with him for the past 5 months, all I can say is that his intellectual honesty, his strenuous activism the passion and enthusiasm he put in working with communities, in denouncing the abuses committed against Zimbabweans, in calling for an end of unscrupulous mining and looking for truly sustainable alternatives, render him an example to look at and a source of inspiration and commitment for all those who have the opportunity to work with him.
To conclude, hence, these few words were primarily meant to tell to the people of Marange, but also to those of Penhalonga, Hwange, Mutoko, and the other mining district of Zimbabwe, that I am honoured to be together with you in this fight, and that you are not alone. That we need to continue cooperate and create powerful and strong synergies to export your voices and your stories outside Zimbabwe, establish links among civil society in the developing and advanced economies, gather all our forces and resources together as we are all fighting for the same purpose and heading to the same direction. There shall be justice at the end, we ought to believe that together we can and we will win!
Tisu Anhu Acho!