Dreams turn to dust for Mozambicans moved for Vale pit

tete-province

Under a lone baobab tree, a group of Mozambican men tell of their struggles in a new settlement where they were relocated from their village to make way for the country’s biggest coal mine.

The small community of former subsistence farmers feel robbed of their livelihood since being resettled by Brazilian giant Vale six years ago.

Their new neighborhood, named 25 de Setembro, is a cluster of shoddy houses in a dusty and arid corner of the western coal mining town of Moatize (Tete Province).

It falls far short of their expectations of “urban living” promised by the firm.

“Nobody is happy here”, said Arnaldo Chirimba, who heads a committee representing the relocated families.

The community claim their dream of a new urban life has turned into an ordeal, with leaking water pipes and street lights that never come on.

“We don’t have jobs, the houses were poorly constructed, water doesn’t come

out of the pipes”, said Chirimba, who used to earn a living as a farmer.

The community of 1,300 families were relocated 40 kilometres in 2010 from a village near the mine to allow work on one of the country’s biggest investments to begin.

According to the law, relocated people had to be given better living standards or at least conditions similar to their previous homes.

But the people in 25 de Setembro – named after the date when the country’s independence war started in 1964 – believe they have been short-changed by Vale and the government.

Chirimba walks around the settlement pointing at crumbling houses without proper foundations that have cracks on the walls, water leaks, lamps that never light and faulty water pumps.

“On top of everything, there is nothing here that we can do to survive”, said Fernando Elias, an ex-weaver in a tattered T-shirt bearing the name of Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

“Before we had fields, we could fish, we had sheep, coal, money”, he said. “This whole resettlement is a fiasco”.

The plight of the residents of 25 de Setembro is also a legislative challenge for the government.

“We only had proper resettlement legislation in 2012”, says Arnaldo Dgedge, the local director of territorial planning.

“This weakness could not stop development from happening, so companies had to carry on without it”, he stated, admitting that the government also shared responsibility in the matter. “We will sit down this year with the companies, put everything in compliance with the law”, he promises.

In the wake of 25 de Setembro and other resettlement problems, the government has since 2015 been working to monitor 51 other development projects that involve the relocation of people.

“Later this year we will sit down with the companies and address the issues that have to be resolved so the law is respected”, said Dgedge.

In the years after 2010, Mozambique experienced a resources boom that attracted an influx of international investors.

The flood of money ramped up infrastructure development in the country, which is one of the poorest in southern Africa and is still recovering from a long civil war that ended in 1992.

But a decline in prices of commodities, including coal, since 2014 has dampened the rush, with large-scale job cuts and shrinking margins.

In Tete alone, a region believed to hold approximately 23-billion tons of coal, 4,000 jobs were cut in 2016.

In 2014 and 2015, Vale recorded more than US$1-billion in cumulative losses.

Vale’s competitor Rio Tinto withdrew from the country two and a half years ago, selling off for US$50-million the mines that it had bought for US$4-billion only three years earlier.

Commodity prices may be turning around since last year but dismal living condition at 25 de Setembro show no sign of changing.

By 2015, the British think tank Chatham House stated that the mining sector in Tete contributes less than 1% towards employment in the province.

“The upturn in the price of coal is good news, we expect the government to take advantage of it to solve the many problems that have arisen”, said Fatima Mimbire, a researcher at CIP.

“But the local administrator of Moatize never has time to sit down and talk to people”, she accuses.

The Mozambican Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural Development, for its part, is “aware” of the situation.

Vale did not respond to several requests for comment by AFP.

Source: AFP/VOA Português

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