THE PROTEST NO ONE TALKED ABOUT
Late last month, on the 22nd and 23rd of July, a protest took place in Chirodzi area, Tete province, in central inland Mozambique. The local communities had gathered there to protest in the concession area grated to Jindal, an Indian mining company. Jindal is extracting coal from an open pit mine in Tete province, without an environmental impact study and without ensuring the safety of the local communities. Till date the communities have not been resettled, but continue to live in the concession area.
The communities have been raising their voices, asking for their rights. On this day, the frustration and desperation of the communities mounted, and the protest turned violent. The communities attacked four Indian Jindal employees. Of the four Jindal people attacked, one was attacked in his office and the other three in their homes, all within the concession mining area. There was a security company, who usually secures the gates and the whole perimeter of the concession area, were also attacked, and with no place to hide from the public anger, they ran away. The police were also present, but were outnumbered by the irate people.
The protest involved four communities: Chirodzi / Cahora Bassa, Chirodzi / Changara, Cassoca and Nyantsanga. These last two communities are located within the concession area of the mine, while the first two are on the periphery. But it is very important to note all these communities have communal lands which have now been taken by the company.
According to community testimonies, the protest erupted because of Jindal’s failure to fulfil the promises they made to the communities when their settled here in 2008.
- They promised they would not extract coal before resettlement of the communities, yet they have been doing exactly that for over eight months;
- They promised not to occupy lands, specifically the fields of local communities, without first negotiating with their legitimate owners;
- They assured the communities that there would provide a water supply;
- They also promised jobs for community members.
The communities and Cassoca and Nyantsanga stated that in December Jindal usurped part of their farms with standing crops, without any warning, thereby seriously undermining their food sovereignty. As for resettlement, it is not happening but the coal is being mined. On 9th of May 2013, Macauhub news reported that a ship left from Beira port, heading for India, carrying 36,000 tons of coal mined by Jindal Mozambique Minerals.
The communities constantly face respiratory and other serious problems, from being so close to the open pit mining. Air pollution resulting from mining activity is visibly hanging in the air; the black dust settles on everything. How will the lungs of people cope with this? How much longer will children continue to have their classes in this atmosphere?
Their frustration is what led to this protest. The communities also promised that if their rights continue to be ignored and trampled, and if the company does not fulfil the promises made to them, there will be more protests. This protest revealed how bad the relationship is between Jindal and these four surrounding communities.
The relationship between employees and employers in Jindal is also bad. According to company officials who agreed to talk to us, there are many quarrels about alleged discrepancies in pay and subsidies to employees. Even the workers who operate the mine say they do not have the protective equipment that is required.
But Jindal reportedly seems to have a excellent relationship with the government. This is substantiated by the fact that some people even said that the government collects “taxes” from the company.
At the end of the day, according to the laws in force in the Republic of Mozambique and international conventions, Jindal is in the wrong, but the government is partly responsible for this, because of their passivity and permissiveness (or should we say say collusion).
Jindal declined to provide any information to us, but they summoned a meeting with community leaders and “informed” them not to provide any information to civil society organisations, and they threatened not to renew contracts with those who did communicate.
The silence of the media is also shocking. It is extremely sad that, even though we know that there were several teams of national media in the middle of all this circus in Chirodzi, but other than the Diário de Moçambique, nobody published this story.
Less than a month after this transpired in Chirodzi, the communities still continue to wait for their rights to be recognised. But meanwhile, the complicity of the government was proved. While the communities were protesting the way this company is operating and protesting against unfulfilled promises, the Mozambican President, Armando Guebuza, visited Chirodzi to officially inaugurate the project, and doing so, legitimized what Jindal is doing. Basically, he gave his approval to what was happening, to mining being carried out without an Environmental Impact Study, to mining being carried out while communities are still living there, with about 563 families still waiting to be resettled. Adults and children. All living in an environment extremely dangerous and harmful to their health, not to mention that their livelihoods and futures are being silently trampled on. They have been forgotten and made invisible by those who should protect them. A shameless government leading a hopeless people. This is our Mozambique.
Meanwhile, protests against Jindal are not new. In their home country of India too, Jindal has been exploiting local communities with impunity. In the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, which are states with large populations of tribal people, Jindal has been devastating farms, villages and lives for many years now. But, same as in Mozambique, the communities have not been silent. In Asanbani village in Jharkhand, the houses are marked with signs in Hindi such as “Naveen Jindal go back! We will give our lives but we will not give our lands” (see photo below). This is the Visthapan Virodhi Samiti (Committee against Displacement).
Photo credit: Panos South Asia, Alchemy of Iniquity: Resistance and Repression in India’s Mines. A Photographic enquiry.
We are moving towards building bridges between these communities fighting again a common enemy, Jindal, across India and Mozambique.
A recent book called ‘A New Scramble For Africa?: Imperialism, Investment And Development’, carried a great quote of Gandhi to help us contextualise why the presence of Indian company Jindal in Africa is so problematic.
Gandhi said, “The commerce between India and Africa will be the commerce of ideas, not manufactured goods against raw materials after the fashion of western exploiters.”