Moz: Foreign mining companies criticized

2012-02-02 09:36
Johannesburg - Australian and Brazilian mining giants are moving villagers to land insufficient for farming and far from jobs to make way for coal projects in central Mozambique, and then sidelining local entrepreneurs as they exploit the region's natural resources, according to a new report.

The independent Southern Africa Resource Watch, which monitors the impact of mining across the region, sent researchers to study resettlement efforts by Rio Tinto of Australia and Vale of Brazil, which recently began mining in Mozambique's Tete province.

In a statement sent to AP late on Wednesday, Vale said it spent three years working with villagers to plan the resettlements of about 1 200 families. Vale said it was helping farmers in the new villages, and has built schools, a police station and a clinic in the mining area.

Rio Tinto did not respond to requests for comment.

Villagers protested over the resettlement earlier this month. The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, which supports the work of the mining watchdog, said in a statement on Tuesday that the protests brought to light that "Vale and Rio Tinto have treated the people they resettled without care — indeed with contempt".

Many African countries have been struck by what has become known as the "resource curse", with oil or mineral wealth fuelling conflict instead of funding development.

While mining can be an important source of revenue for the impoverished east African country, Southern Africa Resource Watch said in Tuesday's report, "the impact of both companies' investment on local communities remains problematic and there is no guarantee that these massive coal extraction projects are going to genuinely benefit the people of Mozambique".

Land for farming

The watchdog's researchers spoke to Mozambicans who complained of being moved before promised classrooms and clinics were built in their new villages, and of having to rely on water delivered by truck because no other water is available. The new communities are far from the nearest town, and connected to it by poor roads, the researchers found.

"Local communities are always excited when they see mining starting ... because they expect to be employed by the mining company," Tuesday's report said. "But the two companies have moved people far away — up to 40km — from the mine, depriving them of opportunities."

And so far, the report said, Rio Tinto and Vale are buying goods and services to develop their projects from foreign companies, leaving local entrepreneurs on the sidelines.

Vale disputed that, saying in its statement that between 2008 and 2011, it had signed contracts with 439 companies registered in Mozambique and aimed to increase contracts with local suppliers. It said 84% of the workers are Mozambican at its Moatize Coal Mine in Tete, though it did not say how many were from the immediate area.

The researchers added that while the new communities had enough land for houses, they lacked land for farming, the main way most of the villagers earn their subsistence living. The researchers also said there were competing claims to the land where the villagers had been settled.

- AP
Read more on:    brazil  |  mozambique  |  australia  |  mining  |  southern africa
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