Victims of the ruby fields

2017-03-12 06:01
Independent prospectors on the road to the ruby mines near Montepuez, Mozambique, are being forcibly ­removed. Picture: Richard Hughes / Lotus Gemology

Independent prospectors on the road to the ruby mines near Montepuez, Mozambique, are being forcibly ­removed. Picture: Richard Hughes / Lotus Gemology

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Montepuez - The ruby fields of Montepuez in Mozambique, already a terrain of terror thanks to police squads, have become the stage of forced removals by government security forces.

These police squads are guarding the ruby fields that are majority-owned by UK-based gemstone giant Gemfields, which is a world leader in the sector and which has a 75% shareholding in a joint venture called MRM-Gemfields.

Mozambican company Mwiriti has the remaining 25% share. It is headed by a number of powerful individuals in Mozambique’s governing party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (also known as Frelimo).

Samora Machel Jr, the son of Mozambique’s first president, chairs MRM-Gemfields’ board.

Hundreds of Mozambicans, foreigners, artisanal mine workers and random villagers were told that their presence in the area was considered to be “illegal”, and have been forcibly removed in the past four weeks.

Policemen involved in the deportation process have been accused of rape, robbery and murder.

Scores of people, surrounded by their bags and mattresses, and without any form of shelter, are staying in the village of Muaja, 15km from Namanhumbir in Namucho, and in Montepuez City in the mining area.

Hundreds of others have been deported across provincial borders, ending up hundreds of kilometres away from their homes, or have been forced across the border into Tanzania.

Among the deported “foreigners” are reportedly also local Mozambicans, who now have problems proving their residential status because policemen and soldiers confiscated their Mozambican identity cards and residence permits, as well as their money, cellphones, clothes, motorbikes and other essential goods.

Initially, trucks were used to remove people from the area, but then buses were brought in.

“Passage” on the buses was officially free of charge, but several deportees reported that they had to pay between $3 (R40) and $4 to police for their “tickets” out of the area.

Shot when trying to escape

A man who said he was originally from Sofala province and who has lived in Namucho village in the mining area for the past few years, reported that three different security forces – Mozambican police, the Rapid Intervention Force and the ironically named Land, Environmental and Rural Development Protection Force – had arrived on February 7 at about 17:00.

“We heard that the president was visiting the [nearby] Balama mining area and we thought it had something to do with that. But the next morning, they started to arrest people and take their belongings.

"Then they started searching house after house, asking all the people where they were from,” the man said.

He added that those who could not prove that they belonged to the Namucho community were immediately taken away, and most of their belongings, including phones and identity documents, were confiscated.

They were told there was a “meeting” that everybody should attend. Upon arrival at the meeting, people’s documents were taken and they were held in classrooms at Nanhupo Primary School.

According to the migrant worker, two men who tried to escape from the school by jumping out of windows were shot by the security forces.

“The security men came back and said they had buried the two, and that the next person who tried to escape would suffer the same fate,” he said.

The recently painted Nanhupo Primary School features in brochures produced by MRM-Gemfields as an example of its corporate social responsibility programme.

According to the same man, a first group among them was sent to a prison in Montepuez. He was in the second group that was taken away.

“There were 90 people in one truck. We were taken to the prison like the first group, but there was no food there and the prison chief told the security forces that they should send us back to where we came from.”

The man was then taken with others to Metoro, 170km from Montepuez, and told to “walk home” from there.

“Others who were from Balama [to the west of Montepuez] were dropped 250km away, to the east, in the city of Pemba, with the same message.”

This migrant worker made his way back again, but others remain unaccounted for.

Female villagers in Muaja accused the Land, Environmental and Rural Development Protection Force of looting their homes and raping them.

It has been reported in the past week that one of the notorious commanders of the unit has been transferred to another district, at least 350km east of Montepuez.

Police sources said the transfer was due to his “notorious behaviour”, but they did not know if any investigations into his squad’s activities at Montepuez were under way.

When MRM-Gemfields was approached for comment, it vehemently denied any involvement in the removals.

It acknowledged that it was aware of police activity against illegal mine workers in the area, but maintained that this had nothing to do with it.

The departments of environment and the interior, which are accountable for all the mentioned police entities, were also approached numerous times for comment. However, neither responded.

This has been the government departments’ pattern during the two-year investigation into these human rights abuses.

Told to pack up and leave

The government departments made very different promises in 2015. Artisanal mine workers in the area were told that they should form associations and that they would get permits to mine in certain areas.

But this process was not instigated and, two weeks ago, all who were living and working in the area were told by Ancuabe district administrator Lucia Namachilua, a ruling Frelimo party member, to pack up and leave

A villager who was present at the meeting tried to argue, but Namachilua said “none of us had the right to speak to her. We must only pack up and leave.”

He added: “God knows what is happening to those who remained. Come election time, they will ask those very illiterates to vote for them again.”

Montepuez district administrator Etelvina Joaquim Fevereiro has come out in support of Namachilua, saying that illegal mining in the area was a problem and that the forced removals were justified.

She blamed the Tanzanian immigrants “for bringing instability”, and called on foreigners married to Mozambicans to get their documents in order.

“If you don’t have documents, you can be suspected of being a bandit or a smuggler, even if you have a Mozambican wife and children. We had meetings where we warned them that they could be deported,” she said.

Fevereiro recently also professed support for MRM- Gemfields’ operations in a rather uncritical report by the BBC on Mozambique’s ruby wealth. - ZAM Network

Read more on:    mozambique  |  housing

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