Mining companies can usually act with impunity in southern Africa since local communities rarely know their rights or have the capacity to demand that their rights are respected.
But things are beginning to change – particularly around the massive new coal fields in Mozambique.
Early this year, the activities of two of the world’s largest mining companies – Brazil’s Vale and Anglo-Australian multinational Rio Tinto – hit the headlines in Mozambique for all the wrong reasons. Enraged at the way they have been resettled, hundreds of protestors blocked the railway line that transports coal from the mines in Tete Province to the coast – demanding that the companies fulfil their obligations to the thousands of people who had been moved from their lands in Moatize to make way for the mines.
A few weeks later, a hard-hitting report by the Southern Africa Resource Watch entitled Coal versus Communities: Exposing poor practices by VALE and Rio Tinto in Mozambique detailed just how badly Vale and Rio Tinto had behaved as they put profits before people.
And now activists from the affected communities have received training regarding their rights and how to create and sustain their own community monitoring forums to enable them to better engage with the government and the mining companies.
The activists were drawn from the communities of Cateme, Mwaladzi and 25 de Setembro villages, which have been involved in the mine relocation programme.
Conducted in Moatize from 9-13 July, the training was organized by the Youth Development and Environmental Advocacy organisation in partnership with SARW and in collaboration with a local partner, Associação para Sanidade Ambiental (ASA). The training also involved the Maputo-based Centro Terra Viva (CTV) and the Cape Town-based Legal Resource Centre (LRC).
“The aim of the training was to help to these communities to develop the tools to monitor what the mining companies are doing and how this is affecting their lives – and to strengthen their voice so that the truth gets out,” said Dr Claude Kabemba, Director of SARW.
The workshop concentrated on community monitoring, coordination and organisation with a particular emphasis on good, effective and transparent/accountable leadership.
However, the training also allowed the organisations involved to get a clearer picture of the current situation on the ground in relation to the on-going relocation programme and to discuss the possibility of communities taking legal action to defend their human rights in the face of alleged abuses and violations of their basic rights.
While the mining companies, which enjoy the full support of the state, still hold the upper hand, it is clear that the coal-affected communities in Tete will be much more active in monitoring their activities – and much more able now to defend their rights.