RESIDENTS CRY FOUL,AS DANGOTE BLOCKS THE MWATISHI RIVER
In an area where there are huge mining investments, one could at least expect to see massive infrastructure development, especially in the road sector within their catchment areas alas, this is not the case with [Salimu, Mwaribu and Muluka Villages among others ] in Senior Chief Chiwala's Chiefdom in Masaiti District on the Copper belt province which hosts several companies among them Dangote, Neelkath lime Neelkath cables and Handyman's lime.
The state of the road leading to the area leaves much to be desired as dust is the order of the day.
|The road leading to Senior Chief Chiwala Chiefdom|
As we drove on a bumpy-potholed road for the first time, through Salimu village on our way to Muluka Village, one of the motorists upon seeing this journalist filming shouted, "this is the road which is damaging our vehicle, something must be done, tell them [government] to work on it before the onset of the rainy season."
However, this concern raised by the motorist was just a tip of an iceberg as the major problem or controversial issue that was brought to the attention of this journalist by the people during a visit to the area is the blocking of the water from the Mwatishi River by Dangote a company which is owned by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and generally the impact of quarrying being done by the firm on people's livelihoods.
The local people allege that "Dangote has failed to fulfil its promises of developing the area through Corporate Social Responsibility, further accusing the firm of destroying their livelihoods [Gardening business] thereby pushing them into shackles of poverty."
"Dangote runs a cement plant in Senior Chief Chiwala’s Chiefdom and has dug a quarry inside the stream, blocking the floor of water from the Mwatishi River a development which has resulted in crops withering or dying," according to Pinta Musonda, 77-year-old, a born and bread of the area.
According to Mr Musonda, Dangote Industries in 2020 commenced mining activities in the Mwatishi River which resulted in the River stopping flowing in its natural stream. The Mwatishi River provides water for irrigation and animals to the surrounding villages. The affected community members used to grow various crops including vegetables to sell to nearby cities such as Ndola, Kitwe and Luanshaya.
He explained that this has made life unbearable for more than 241 households as they can not do their gardening or grow winter maize which has been their source of income over the years.
Mr Musonda says they are also disappointed with Senior Chief Chiwala who is said to have been prioritising the interests of the investors at the expense of the locals.
"Before Dangote came to this area I was doing much better because I was generating income amounting to 3 thousand Kwacha per harvest from my Garden....I managed to educate my children and provide for my family .....But this time around things have changed because Dangote is tempering with our water sources and I can't manage to get that amount," Mr Musonda, lamented.
|A dried borehole-like structure|
Mr Musonda a father to 6 children recalls that "when Dangote arrived in the areas we were promised that our lives were going to change for better and we could be enjoying three times better than we were living before the company started operations. But to the contrary, our lives have changed from good to bad after the coming of the company because they have disturbed the water system while their promises remain unfulfilled."
He fears that a lot of people's livelihoods will be affected because the Traditional leader appears to be unconcerned about the welfare of his subjects as he has continued selling land to the investors.
"The government is aware of our issue [challenge] but it's doing nothing and we don't know why.... maybe the new dawn government will come to our aid but I dont know..... If these companies were doing something we could not have been complaining but they have failed to fulfil what they promised us no wonder we are always complaining."
Mr Musonda, however, feels comforted by FIAN Zambia which has come on board to help them fight the battle and hopes more organisations advocating for the promotion of human rights can jump on the bandwagon to fight the injustices that they are facing at the hands of the investors.
Another community member who is also affected says there is nothing they are doing now compared to the previous years when his father could supply cabbage to Chiwala Secondary School and Ndola Lime to raise income to feed them.
|A journalist filming a dried tomato field|
"But now ...the future of some of our children are uncertain because they dropped out of school as we were not managing to pay for them since our source of livelihood [Gardening] have been destroyed. What is the order of the day is blastings which are always damaging our house," David Murebu narrated.
"Our livelihoods are mainly dependant on farming and Gardening but currently it has been difficult for us to sustain our livelihood because we dont have a water source because Dangote has blocked the river leaving us with no water for our Gardens, "Grace Mwaya said.
|A house that recently developed cracks due to blasting|
She also complained that their animals do not have access to drinking water because most of the streams have dried up after the quarry.
Grace further complained that their houses have been developing cracks time and again due to the blasting done at the mining site ...which also produces an odour which usually forces them to leave their houses temporarily to avoid being choked by chemicals and also being hit by stones when they start blastings.
According to United Nations, Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People working in rural areas have the right to food and the fundamental right to be free from hunger. This includes the right to produce food and the right to nutrition, which guarantee the possibility of enjoying the highest degree of physical, emotional and intellectual development.
|One of the stones that landed in the area after blasting|
Vladimir Chilinya who has been working with the community for the past 4 years or so, feels the decision by the Dangote company to block the Mwatishi River is an infringement on the people's right who entirely depend on this water body to cultivate vegetables and engage in other farming activities for their livelihoods.
In an interview with this journalist Mr. Chilinya who is the Country Coordinator for FIAN Zambia, an International human rights organization which advocates for the realization of the right to food and nutrition says the action by Dangote also disturbs the ecosystem around the River.
|Vladimir Chilinya CC-FZI|
" This action by Dangote must be condemned and the company must be compelled to fully restore the Mwatishi River for all to benefit. If you look at the common principle, free fair and informed consent, the community should have been engaged and all players and all stakeholders using the waters in front of the river and make an agreement before blocking the water.
He bemoaned the weak actions by the government to deal with perpetrators of such human rights violations further calling on the authorities to strictly monitor investments so that their businesses do not infringe on people's rights.
"These things happen because the perpetrators can easily go away with them without being penalised.
He added that the traditional leadership as a custodian of land resources, from the onset, should have intervened in the matter and taken action to ensure that their people are protected and rights respected by the investors.
"..... look at 241 households who are depending on these resources and affected when the water is not flowing downstream it is a big issue....the people can not send their children to school, they can not buy food for their children this is a big inconvenience. Over and above it has affected their dietary needs."
The issue of Dangote blocking the river was recently brought to the attention of the country's Human Rights Commission because it borders on human rights violations.
"We have received the report containing issues relating to the operation of some companies in Masaiti and will study it and then make our recommendations and see what sort of action will be taken to redress the alleged violations that have occurred in the area," says Commission Chairperson Mudford Mwendenga.
Senior Chief Chiwala of the Lamba people who has been accused of prioritizing the interest of the investor at the expense of the locals has been engaged on the matter but denies the accusation saying Dangote has done a lot for the people through Corporate Social Responsibility by creating employment for the people and that it is currently constructing the skills training Centre for youth.
|Senior Chief Chiwala|
On the blocking of the Mwatishi River by Dangote, the Traditional Leader challenged those complaining to go to the Zambia Environmental Management Agency-ZEMA which he said has sanctioned the operations of Dangote.
"If anything it's not the blocking of the river because it still flows, except there, has been a diversion in terms of water going into the quarry ..."So the issue of the diversion of the River ask ZEMA. If mining activities are there and the government has embraced them, who is that person to complain that water has been diverted," he wondered.
Efforts to get a comment from Dangote failed as no response was given to the press query send via mail over the matter.
But according to the Zambian Analyst who engaged the company recently, Dangote Cement denied blocking the stream.
“We have not blocked the stream, what happened is that our pumps failed to work and we could not pump more water to the other side of the stream,” said Taata Kalokoni, a Project Geologist at Dangote Cement in an interview.
Asked why the company decided to build a quarry across the stream, Mr Kalokoni claimed all activities by the company are lawful, Zambian Analyst reported on its page.
The Water Resource Management Authority-WARMA Public Relations Units has been engaged by this reporter and is yet to give their official position on the matter.
However, in an apparent reference to the issue, WARMA issued a statement where it indicated that is currently reinforcing compliance to the water resources management act countrywide by responding to all the numerous matters of illegalities from the water users who fail to abide by the law.
WARMA Public Relations Officer Mubiana Nalwendo said it was with delight that this quick swing into action is slowly yielding positive results with numerous water users exhibiting a willingness to operate within the law in a view to protect their investment.
Mr Nalwendo said the Authority was scheduled to have a press briefing next week over the mushrooming illegal boreholes in compounds and overall the illegal abstraction of the water resource.
When reached for a comment Minister in charge of Water Development and Sanitation ,Mike Mphosha disclosed that he was still waiting for a comprehensive report from WARMA which is investigating the matter.
Mr. Mphosha however, warned that no one is allowed to block the flow of the River because doing so negatively affects various stakeholders who may be depending on the water sources for various purposes.
He says this is why WARMA exists to authorize those who want to put up a dam in a particular area.