A POTHOLED 1,5km road leads to the China Africa Sunlight Energy (CASE) coal and gas-mining company offices in the Gwayi conservancy in Matabeleland North.
CASE is a joint mining venture between the local Defence ministry’s Oldstone Investments and a Chinese company Sha Don Sunlight Energy Investments.
Patches of tar show that the road was once tarred, but has been battered by years of general neglect, leaving it more of a gravel road.
It passes by an abandoned Shell fuel filling station as it leads to the Chinese operations.
There has been an increasing loss of vegetation since the Chinese moved into the area to explore gas.
Villagers said it would take ages to replace the trees that had been destroyed to pave way for the gas and coal-mining project.
President Robert Mugabe said the $2 billion project would ease the country’s power shortages and was a blessing to Matabeleland North when the mining venture was launched in 2012.
However, to the villagers — most of whom were resettled in the area in 2000 — the project is a curse to those employed by the Chinese, who are allegedly abused and forced to work long hours for very little pay.
Christopher Ncube, a headman in Kana’s Ward 24 — a few kilometres from the CASE gas and coal mining company — told Southern Eye that the local leadership had been forced to intervene in numerous harassment and abuse complaints from villagers working for the Chinese.
“We all thought the coming of the Chinese would improve our standard of living because they employed most of our youths, but we always receive complaints of poor pay, harassment and abuse,” Ncube said.
“We are not happy with the Chinese treatment of workers.
“They are being forced to work long hours and this is the reason why we intervene as the local leadership to say please treat workers with respect as they are human beings,” he added.
Ncube said workers were paid between $80 and $120 per month for the long shifts they were forced to work.
CASE is one of the many Chinese mining companies littered around Matabeleland North. The project occupies 100 000 hectares of land in the Gwayi Conservancy.
Villagers say there is little or no development to show for the Chinese’s presence in their locality. The set-up of aluminium-built offices and houses all but suggests that the company is not keen on bringing any form of permanent development to the Gwayi area.
“CASE has been around for nearly two years, but the road leading to their premises tells you the whole story,” Abel Moyo, a villager, said.
“If they cannot fix or tar the road that leads to their offices, then to expect them to build schools, clinics or initiate any development would be asking for too much” Moyo said.
Michael Ncube, a villager from Ward 5, also weighed in saying he quit his job as a general hand because of the ill-treatment and slave wages.
He said he had no regrets seeing that most people working for the Chinese continued to suffer what he walked away from.
“They were stingy with money and yet they overworked us,” said Ncube.
“I now survive on fishing. It’s better than being forced to work like a slave and then get paid very little.
“Most of the guys employed by the Chinese companies are there just because there are no other jobs in this area.
“I would like to believe that these companies are taking advantage of that and using us the poor locals to loot our natural resources,” Ncube said.
While villagers complained of abuse and low wages, players in the tourism industry as well as environmentalists said the advent of the Chinese mining operations in the wildlife-rich Gwayi Conservancy marked the beginning of the end for wildlife tourism in Matabeleland.
Langton Masunda, chairperson of the Hwange, Gwayi, Dete Tourism Association, said they were angered by the ongoing Chinese mining operations as they showed no concern whatsoever for the environment.
Masunda said the younger generation was only likely to see wildlife on television and in magazines as the noisy mining operations were causing a mass migration of wild animals from Gwayi.
“We won’t have any wildlife to talk about if these mining operations continue chasing away animals,” he said.
“Future generations will see elephants in magazines and on television.
“There is also no economic benefit to the communities as coal-mining also destroys the environment and causes siltation of rivers in addition to poisoning water sources.
“Those monies being poured into these mining operations could have been channelled towards the Gwayi-Shangani Dam project.
“Water is a renewable resource and where there is water, everyone benefits, but with these mining operations, it’s only the executives that benefit at the expense of the communities and the environment.”
However, CASE deputy general manager Retired Colonel Charles Mugari said the company was not worried about views from “unprofessional” people as their operations were above board.
“Those making noise are worried over nothing. EMA (Environmental Management Authority)certified our operations and everything that we do is above board.
“As CASE, we will not listen to unprofessional views judging our operations,” he said on Tuesday.
Mugari said the nation would benefit from CASE’s gas and coal-mining project.
“We hope to create close to 4 000 jobs. We are bringing $2 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) and a lot of industries will benefit from our operations.”