Malawi chiefs gear up to maximise mining community benefits

Chiefs in the Central region district of Dowa, which is one of Malawi’s poorest districts, have said they will do all they can to ensure government puts in place means to maximise mining community benefits out of the attractive industry.

The six chiefs from the district meeting at Mponela trading centre, have vowed to engage both government and multi-international corporations in ways on how they can also benefit from mines that are being extracted from their villages and land.

“We have been surprised to see strangers in our areas coming to displace us and our farming and grazing lands, saying capital hill has given them a go-ahead to look for and get precious stones. We used to think that since they say the District Commissioner (DC) is aware, there is nothing we could do, but now we realize that this is our land, our God-given Eden, and we shall fight for our rightful benefits from such processes,” said T/A Mponela at a meeting organised by the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC).

 T/A Dzoole, 2nd from left, discussing with his subjects at the meeting.

T/A Dzoole, 2nd from left, discussing with his subjects at the meeting.

The other T/A’s, Nsakambewa, Kayembe, Dzoole, Chiwere, and Chakhanza all agreed that there was need for them to get involved with the process way before licences to explore and worse start mining are issued.

“Challenges that come with such prospects and processes include denying the people farm land, schools, clinics, clean water and other basic needs. These mining ventures also lead to cases of HIV and AIDS due to prostitution among workers and village females, malaria due to abandoned earth craters created by mining activities, pollution and also marriage breakages. We want to discuss these things we prospective miners and government before anything can be done in our areas,” said T/A Chakhanza.

T/A Chiwere said his area experienced extraction of minerals without their prior knowledge in the areas of Katengeza, Phanje and Mzawawa.

“There is no cooperation between government and the people and this leads to us living in fear of losing our land and homes. Relocation of villagers, poor compensation and our lack of awareness on the minerals in our areas is all affecting us negatively,” he highlighted.

However, Centre for Social Concern officer, Mathias Kafunda, told the chiefs that the laws of Malawi did not provide for a chance for communities to engage meaningfully in the attractive industry and therefore work to protect their interests including land.

“Malawi’s attractive sector currently attracts a global attention since the period of mid 2000s. While the Mining sector still remains reasonably new but it is fast expanding, there is little attention paid to significant needs to reform the laws and institutions which would govern the mineral sector and it is unlikely Malawi’s mineral governance structures would keep pace with the rapid modernization for mining codes that are occurring throughout Africa,” he explained.

The Mines and Minerals Act of Malawi which was passed during the single party era of late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda on 1st July 1981 and states: ‘The entire property in, and control over, minerals in land in Malawi are vested in the President on behalf of the people of Malawi; but without prejudice to the exercise of any right under or pursuant to this Act’ is still in force.

“This means that the President and the Minister responsible which the high office chooses to deal on its behalf has the solo say on mining contracts and all dealings. Since interest in such people may be to make their own benefits, they often overlook the wider need of their people in the areas concerned,” he said, highlighting the song ‘Zonse zimene za Kamuzu Banda’ helped enforce such a mentality.

Kafunda added that there was also a serious abnormally in the laws that govern resources in Malawi, such that for instance the Mines policy sometimes comes into conflict with the Forestry policy and even the Land policy.

“Lack of harmonization of legislation that affect mining activities; inadequate and outdated legal provisions still in place; and the fact that existing legislative arrangements for mining rely excessively on the discretionary exercise of ministerial powers add to making management of resources a nightmare. For instance, such laws have come in conflict in Mulanje around the mountain where cedar tree is threatened by mining activities and yet the tree is a protected asset and in a protected area by law,” he added.

However, the chiefs have vowed to take to task anyone who comes to their area to explore or undertake extraction of any mine or rare stones. They have since, with the help of the MCC, formulated Tonse Tipindule Community Committees that will engage the District Commissioner on behalf of government, and the companies that seek to work in their areas.

“We are tired of people getting samples for many years and also moving us away from our land. Time has come when we should also benefit from such modern developmental exercises. We demand that there be offices dealing with mining at the DC level and that Capital Hill should not allow companies to come and displace and abuse us just for the benefit of a few individuals at any level including the presidency,” asserted a representative of T/A Dzoole, who said there were companies already carrying out some form of extraction in their areas on gypsum and quarry.

“As Dowa chiefs, we also demand that government revisits the law that governs mining. All this cannot belong to one person. We want to have a say on our resources. Ndife macharo (we are the land owners). Without our land what will we be?.”

Program Manager at the Council, Godfrey Mkamdawire said the Tonse Tipindule project which is funded by the Tilitonse Fund through the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), aims to empower the local communities with a voice to demand for fair and equitable treatment and share of the proceeds from the attractive industry.

“We are not stopping mining in any community. What we are saying is that people in those areas should have a say and a reasonable stake in their resources. God gave land to His people, this is their Eden and the best government and multinational cooperation can do is to honor rightfully the owners of the land. There should be legislative reforms that also benefit the common man, unlike what Malawi is experiencing in Karonga with the Kayerekera Limited,” he said.

 

General Secretary Rev. Dr. Osborne Joda-Mbewe added that in Genesis 2, 8-25 God creates man and ordains him to be stewards of God’s creation.

“In this regard, we are charged with ensuring that God’s creation is not only well taken care of, but that humans and land are ted together and cannot be separated as land serves human needs. I am surprised that people get their land and give it to government and other influential people. Whatever I do, I know that my Eden is Malawi. Why should other people leave their Eden’s elsewhere and come and grab our Eden and deny us the benefits as well?

“This meeting is for us to realise that we have been given wealth by God and we own it because He gave us this Eden by birth. Together we should strategise on how we can protect our given wealth and ensure we also benefit. We should find tangible ways in how we can ensure this wealth helps to uplift our livelihoods. If a parent is moved to pave way for mining, will the child have land to give over to the future generations? Let us consider this and see that even when we are moved to other places, we benefit fully from our Eden,” he advised.

Joda-Mbewe advised the traditional leaders to learn from the experiences of Karonga people around Kayerekera mining.

“We do not want a repeat of this anywhere in the country. Government is losing out. Communities are losing out. We are all losing out. Only a handful people are benefiting. This is against God’s will,” he concluded.

Mineral activities are covered by the Mines and Minerals Act, 1981, the Mines and Minerals (Mineral Rights) Regulations, 1981; and the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act of 1983.

 A group photograph of chiefs and Tonse Tipindule community committees from the six traditional areas

A group photograph of chiefs and Tonse Tipindule community committees from the six traditional areas

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