Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Tribal queen faces off against mining giant in Mozambique

By Agnieszka Flak and Marina Lopes  /  Reuters, CAPANGA, Mozambique

The complaints of Macajo and others echo the frustration of ordinary Mozambicans who feel the boom, instead of benefiting them, is worsening their living conditions by pushing up the prices of food, fuel and housing, and threatening their land.

The families at Vale’s Cateme resettlement have complained about leaks, cracks and floods in homes, which they say the firm has been unable to fix despite several attempts.

Cateme’s location, about 10km from the main road and another 40km from Tete, also makes it difficult for people — many reliant on jobs like brick making or selling vegetables — to get work.

Vale said it was still rehabilitating some of the houses, but residents like Domingo Foguete Domingos said they prefer to be paid so they can build sturdier houses elsewhere.

“These are ruins, not houses,” the 46-year-old said while pointing to the cracks in the wall of his house.

Proper management of resettlements is a steep learning curve for the government, communities and civil society in Mozambique, who are often unaware of what to ask for until it is too late.

“We have to teach people that this is not a favor, it is their right,” said Julio Calengo, an activist with the Mozambican Human Rights League.

The government called the Vale fiasco a “learning exercise” and later passed a law promising to fine firms or withdraw their operating licenses if they do not relocate communities in a way that protects their social and economic interests.

Companies now need to prove that their resettlement areas provide the necessary infrastructure to support sustainable economic activities, such as farming, and while the tighter policies were welcomed, critics wonder if the inadequately staffed government will manage to enforce the rules.

Rio Tinto said it had consulted widely with communities and the government, and insists the process was transparent. However, queen Zoria said she had yet to be officially consulted even as workers began drilling holes around her land.

The company said that more than 80 of Capanga’s households had already been moved, while nearly 600 await relocation. Most of the families will be moved to the rural area at Mwaladzi, while a quarter were classified for urban resettlement.

Macajo said Mwaladzi has asphalted roads, street lights and more durable houses than those built by Vale, but the lack of fertile farming land would still make it difficult for residents, mostly subsistence farmers, to feed their families.

The community said it was hoping to use the money promised from the resettlement to buy fertile plots elsewhere, while the company said it was investigating the possibility of creating a water catchment dam in the area to help irrigate the land.

Rio Tinto plans to continue the resettlement in April, but Macajo vows no more families will budge until they are paid.

“I will not leave. They can kill me, but I will not leave this land,” she said.

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