By Leopold Munhende in Muzarabani
A TRADITIONAL leader in Mashonaland Central province has, in a rare show of bravery, stood up and accused Chinese nationals in Zimbabwe of being behind the massive looting of the country’s mineral resources.
Chief Chiweshe, born Matthew Chitemamuswe, also accused the Chinese nationals of abusing the role China played in the liberation struggle for an independent Zimbabwe, to take Zimbabwe for granted and loot its vast mineral resources including chrome and gold.
He was speaking to journalists Saturday after a media tour of Mavuradonha Wilderness.
The traditional leader questioned how a Chinese mining company, Afrochine, had been allowed by the government to mine chrome ore in the belly of the iconic heritage site.
The world-renowned Mavuradonha is a World Heritage Site “nominee” and the local community view it as a sacred place where their ancestors and spirits reside.
A visit to the site by the media showed Afrochine had damaged the main padlock at Mavuradonha Wilderness to gain entrance and had moved in excavators and other heavy machinery and equipment.
However, Chief Chiweshe blamed the Chinese nationals for operating like the notorious gold panners infamously referred to as MaShurugwi and known for not respecting the country’s laws and traditions.
“The Chinese are just behaving like MaShurugwi, look at where these MaShurugwi are. All the local councils where the MaShurugwi operate from are poor as they do not pay any taxes,” Chief Chiweshe told journalists.
“We are in defence of our mountain range, we will eventually see if and how the resources underground will be protected. These people (Chinese) do not talk to anyone. These people take what they want and go. They do not even recognise local communities or chiefs in the areas they operate. The law is not doing anything. We do not know if this is how they behave in their country.
“We implore those inviting these Chinese to invite genuine Chinese people not these crooks. They are now taking advantage of the role they played in liberating Zimbabwe. They must follow the law, not this behaviour based on what they did for us.”
China played a central role in Zimbabwe’s liberation from British colonial rule through training of freedom fighters and supplying arms of war and other necessary logistics.
It has remained Zimbabwe’s “all-weather friend” according to the ruling Zanu PF government.
Sources said a Zimbabwean man only identified as Mashumba was managing the Afrochine chrome mine in Muzarambani and about 15 men and four women were camped at the site. They had dug a 20-metre hole to extract the mineral.
The media tour was organised by BirdLife Zimbabwe, Harare Wetlands Trust and Mavuradonha Wilderness.
Harare Wetlands said the wilderness was a popular breeding area for animals such as zebras, wildebeests, impalas and kudus. It said the wildlife species there were under threat as the Chinese had indicated the area is under their jurisdiction and the animals would be killed.
Added Chiweshe: “The challenge is corruption where everyone is now aiming to get a 5% kickback from every investor. Here we call it hukopokopo.”
George Seremwe who runs Mavuradonha Wilderness said water supplies for animals in the conservancy had already been affected by the chrome mining and it was no longer flowing in the rivers.
“Due to some disturbances in the mountain, the water is no longer flowing in rivers. Fortunately for villagers, they can still survive on underground water but if mining continues then that will be the beginning of serious water challenges,” said Seremwe.
The almost 600 square kilometre wildlife resort has been maintained in its natural state since 1988 when the government legislated it was a protected area under the Communal Lands Act.
This ensured its protection from mining, agriculture and any other activities that might be targeted.
However, the Muzarabani Rural District Council (RDC) has been accused of receiving orders from “people in Harare” to ensure the Chinese have their way in the district.
Efforts to get a comment from senior Muzarabani officials were fruitless.