Mozambique: The cruel curse of coal | Amandla! Correspondent

by Sep 13, 2012Magazine

mozambique-the-cruel-curseMozambique is emerging as the latest African frontier for extraction and the country has thrown open its rich resources: coal, gas, gold and even oil. Elite formation in the extractive industry between Frelimo (the ruling party) and multinationals is not new – the sugar cane industry is a case in point. But the mineral scramble has entrenched the violence such unholy alliances foster. With the country’s infrastructure poorly developed and damaged by years of civil war, it is isolated communities in mineral-rich areas who bear the weight of the extractive onslaught, often far from public view. Brazil- based Vale is the biggest private company in Latin America. Our correspondent tells how Vale’s open-cast mining in Tete province is laying waste to communities, the environment, workers and human rights.

Vale has established itself as a global leader in its devastating disregard for human rights, people’s well-being and environmental protection. In a sector already tarnished by a history of social and environmental abuse, Vale still manages to stand out, winning the 2012 Public Eye People’s Award for the worst company in the world. There is even a global movement of communities, individuals and groups that have been the victims of Vale’s greed, called ‘International Network of People Affected by Vale’. At present, Vale is the subject of more than 100 legal trials and 150 inquiries, most of them concerning violations of the rights of workers and affected communities.

It seems that every time Vale enters a new country or region, the Affected by Vale movement’s membership grows, as do cases of abuse. Mozambique is unfortunately no exception. At the small relocation community of Cateme, just a few kilometers from Vale’s Moatize open-cast coal mine, the reason for Vale’s title as the worst company in the world is crystal clear. The area is dry, hot and desolate. One couldn’t have chosen a worse place to relocate a community to even if one tried. The land now produces dust instead of crops and temperatures of over 40˚C turn the small, zinc-roofed houses into large ovens, with inside temperatures exceeding 50˚C! When it does rain, the roofs leak and even though most houses are only a few years old, they are already cracking.

Life has always been hard in Tete province in inland Mozambique, but people developed survival mechanisms. The community that has now been relocated to Cateme used to have productive fields and lived within walking distance of one of the largest markets in the province, where they could sell their crops. They were close to health posts, schools, churches, friends and family. Now they are over 40km away, linked to their former home only by unreliable mini-buses, whose monthly charges rival the country’s minimum wage – more than most of this community ever came close to making.

The hope of earning a minimum wage – or more specifically, the belief in the promises of work, education and development– was what misled people around Moatize into accepting Vale’s open-cast coal-mining project. As the years went by, communities started seeing their livelihoods worsen rather than getting better, and it was only then that the true nature of the project became painfully clear. After numerous failed attempts, verbal and written, formal and indirect, to discuss the issues affecting them, they stood up and demanded to be heard. Earlier this year they occupied the road and railway in a peaceful protest in the hope that Vale would finally take their concerns seriously.

Under Vale’s influence, the government’s reaction was one of unmitigated violence. Rapid intervention police used live ammunition and rubber bullets on unarmed protestors, sending six to hospital and 14 to jail. Among those attacked were a blind person and a physically disabled person. At least two people are known to have been tortured in jail. Unfortunately the majority of the protestors were too scared to speak out or to lay formal complaints about the violence. Police tactics included focusing their abuse on both men and women’s private parts, probably in the hope that these injuries would be less likely to be made public, especially to the media, for fear of embarrassment and disrespect.

To date, Vale has evicted 760 families from their houses and lands in order to open new coal mines in Mozambique.

The ‘atmosFear’ around Moatize is heavy, with ever-increasing militarisation. Peoples’ freedoms are being curtailed: government authorisation is now needed even to visit the relocated community in Cateme and community members fearfully explain how the government prohibits them from speaking out. There is a constant police presence and a control point monitoring movement into and out of Cateme. People’s livelihoods, rights, respect and hope have fallen victim to Vale. Coal mining has unleashed a crisis of dashed expectations and abused communities.

Leave the coal in the hole and let rights become reality!

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