Tag Archives: Clifford Mabhena

The political economy of small-scale mining in Zimbabwe

There was much discussion about small-scale and artisanal mining at the STEPS Centre’s Resource Politics conference last month. This is where resources and politics come together; perhaps especially so in Zimbabwe.

Ever since the enactment of  Zimbabwe’s Mines and Minerals Act, which gives the state rights over mineral resources wherever they are found, mining has been controversial. In the colonial period, the Act gave precedence to miners over other colonists making use of the land, including for farming, forestry and ranching. The colonists of Rhodesia failed to find a second Rand, but the mineral resources of Zimbabwe are nevertheless rich. And with recent discoveries – notably diamonds in Marange and platinum in various parts of the country – mining has been the source of hot politics and big bucks.

But beyond the international debates about ‘blood diamonds’, certification and scandals and speculation about corrupt deals between politicians, Chinese corporations and other mining firms, there is another set of contests over access to and control over resources going on. This is focused on small-scale or artisanal mining – sometimes through concessions (or at least leases within concessions), sometimes completely informal, as in much of the alluvial gold panning. Since the early 1990s, in large part as a response to drought and impending hunger, many people, especially in the drier parts of the country, have taken to mining/mineral extraction as a source of livelihoods.

Estimates vary, but several million people are regularly making at least part of their livelihood from mining. This is often a precarious, dangerous and risky endeavour, as Clifford Mabhena and others describe. Dealers in gold (this is the dominant mineral extracted in this way) often operate monopolies or cartels and panners and miners may not get the best deal. International gold prices have been on the decline recently, so returns are low. The police and corrupt officials are always on the look-out for making a cut, so mining is embroiled in a mesh of patronage relations. It is incredibly hard work, and dangerous, especially when mercury is used in the process. Although the data is limited, recent work shows that over 70% of small-scale miners have some level of mercury poisoning.

In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was at the forefront of supporting small-scale mining as a livelihood option. This was a response to the growth of illegal alluvial panning, with the idea that upgrading and formalising would create more viable and long-term sources of employment and livelihood. Various projects, including from the likes of ITDG/Practical Action and SNV, supported the development of small-scale operations. The investment in appropriate technology and business skills resulted in some significant successes. At the same time the government decentralised control over mining regulation and revenue collection to Rural District Councils. Although there were problems, it meant that councils were able to target local entrepreneurs, and support them.

All this changed in the mid-2000s. At the height of the economic crisis, the Reserve Bank, under Gideon Gono, decided to recentralise control over mining. The rationale was the ‘rampant’ environmental destruction caused as many more took to gold panning and illegal, informal small-scale mining to make ends meet. The Bank was also in desperate need of revenues, and tax collection and other fees were not being collected due to the collapse of the state machinery, and there was a massive leakage of potential government revenue, justifying, they argued, a more centralised approach. At face value, the response followed in the footsteps of many other global initiatives trying to ‘formalise’ a sector, and reduce its environmental damage.

The result was Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (no more illegal mining) starting at the end of 2006. This had many echoes of Operation Murambatsvina, applied to informal housing and markets, with a technocratic, modernist legitimation being applied to an essentially political act. For Operation Murambatsvina, it was related in part to regaining control over urban areas by ZANU-PF, while for Operation Chikorokoza Chapera it was more about capturing revenue streams at the centre, and redirecting patronage around mining. The result was disastrous for small-scale mining and people’s livelihoods, as explained in a series of papers by Sam Spiegel, based on work in Kadoma, Insiza and Umzingwani. The crack-down involved the full might of the state-military-security complex. Thousands were arrested (some 25,000 between 2006 and 2009, with 6000 still in prison in 2013), others were beaten, and people’s property was destroyed and confiscated.

And what came in its place? The formal, regulated mining operations that were allowed under the new regulations were run by a combination of elite business people, always with good political connections, sanctioned groups (such as the well-connected Zimbabwe Women in Mining), and outsider investors with good political links, including a range of Chinese companies. Operating at this scale requires capital and investment, and to get past the environmental regulations which were insisted on is pricey, with most EIAs tagged at over $4000. This excluded most informal sector miners, except as part of groups or mediated by ‘sponsors’, well-connected mining barons.

Because of the provisions of the Mining Act, mineral concessions supersede any other land use. While most large concessions are held by large mining conglomerates in established fields, the Ministry of Mines, under Obert Mpofu, has been handing out concessions in a large numbers of areas to new operators. While notionally controlled by environmental and other regulations, the central political backing of new mining operators is such that they often gain precedence – including over (relatively) newly allocated land reform farms. We visited an A2 farm on the outskirts of Gwanda that was completely devastated by surface mining. A concession had been granted to a well-connected group, and the farmer, despite being an A2 land holder and well connected himself at the local level, was at a loss. The cattle herd that he had built up on the farm over the past years since acquisition were grazing on a small portion, and mostly along the road. His farm had become worthless.

The consequence of the crackdown and the shift of focus to a ‘formal’ sector, ‘modern’, ‘regulated’ approach to mining was that informal mining went further underground, became more corrupt (more people to pay off) and became a more vulnerable source of livelihoods given its illegality. But informal mining has certainly not gone away. The bans and crackdowns cannot prevent livelihoods – as in the past under the draconian laws of the Natural Resource Board that implemented environmental legislation as a form of disciplining with ‘scientific’ rationale. The capacity to regulate and control is inevitably limited, so people find a way around. Technology has helped, with metal detecting equipment – notably the ubiquitous ‘Vuvuzela’ that arrived in the country around the time of the South Africa hosted World Cup – having made things cheaper and faster if you can get hold of the equipment (which is now cheap and easy). And the ‘makorokoza’ (informal miners) are increasingly organised and vocal, often reflecting young people’s dismay at the stance of the state, and associated elites, with threats to invade mines and challenge the mining barons and the patronage based economy.

In our study sites, particularly in the drier south of Masvingo and Matebeland South – small-scale mining and illegal panning is widespread and essential for livelihoods. Recourse to modernist and environmental rhetoric to justify elite grabbing of resources is a well-known move in Zimbabwe as elsewhere, but if the state was genuinely interested in inclusive development and environmental protection, it should return to some of the lessons learned in the 1990s, and develop a more integrated, decentralised and broad-based mining policy. And this has to come with a long overdue revision of the Mines and Minerals Act. With its colonial origins, it should no longer have such a purpose and a more balanced and equivalent perspective on land and resource use needs to be enshrined in law. All this will benefit people, the environment – and the exchequer. Unfortunately the current political economy of mining means this is unfortunately rather unlikely.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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The crop bias in resettlement: why pastoralists in Matabeleland are losing out

Discussion of livelihoods after land reform in Zimbabwe has been dominated by studies from Mashonaland, focusing particularly on crop production. Few studies have explored land reform in Matabeland, particularly in the pastoral livestock-keeping areas of Matabeland South. This is why the work of Clifford Mabhena is really important. His 2010 Fort Hare thesis, ‘Visible Hectares, Vanishing Livelihoods’ was based on extended fieldwork in Gwanda and Umzingwane districts. He argues that by focusing on settlement and crop production – the Mashonaland model – resettlement has availed more land, but not improved livelihoods, especially of pastoral livestock owners. A paper in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies came out last year which summarises the story.

Since the 1980s, resettlement has not seen huge success in the dry zones of Matabeleland (see Joss Alexander’s 1991 paper, The unsettled land). The sign-up for 1980s ‘Model A’ schemes was limited, and the attempt to design a livestock-oriented approach through the Model D scheme was largely a failure. Planners simply did not understand the nature of local livestock systems – the importance of seasonal transhumance (lagisa), loaning systems, and how livestock were managed across households, for example. The imposition of the ‘rectangular grid’ of standard settlement schemes – with the echoes of colonial planning – were widely resented and resisted, as Steve Robins described in the 1990s. Fences were cut and paddock grazing abandoned in favour of more flexible systems.

In the pastoral settings of southern Matabeleland there is perhaps an even greater, but rather different, pattern of livelihood differentiation, with (male) livestock keepers sometimes with huge herds, being the really ‘big men’ of local society, while others – younger men, women and poorer non-livestock owners – sought out other livelihoods, involving migration, mining and collection of wild products, as well as crop farming when the rains were good. In the past, the narrow ownership of livestock had benefits more broadly through kin and village connections, as well as offering employment through herding. But these benefits were mediated through complex social relations, involving sharing and loaning, that have declined and were never seen as being embedded in resettlement models. These were based instead on the notion of the individual plot holder and mixed farmer, settled permanently in villages, and without the need to move and access grazing in distant places.

As pastoral studies across the world have shown, in dry areas with variable rainfall, flexible movement is essential, as are ‘key resources’ that allow dry season grazing to sustain herds in times of dearth (see the book I edited in 1994 – Living with Uncertainty – for example) . Just as in the classic examples of transhumant and nomadic pastoralism of East and West Africa, in Matabeleland there had always been a locally adapted version based on the same principles of flexibility and mobility. Over time, as so many other places, this had been undermined, as land was removed and barriers to movement imposed. But nevertheless Matabeleland pastoralists made use of key resource grazing along the Shashe and Thuli rivers, and moved to gain relief grazing in ranches and wildlife areas. With the violence of the 1980s in the region, many large scale ranches were abandoned releasing grazing for those with large herds in the communal areas. As many pointed out, the problem in the communal areas was not too many people, but too many livestock, so the demand was for more grazing, that many were able to gain through various forms of leasing and poaching – all allowing some form of grazing flexibility to be maintained.

The post 2000 resettlements changed this. The ranches were carved up into A1 and A2 plots and handed out to beneficiaries. In the A2 plots, well connected people often benefited but the areas were too small for really effective livestock farming in such a harsh climate. In A1 areas, land was handed to often poorer people from the communal areas, with the intention that they become crop farmers. The farms however have often not flourished due to drought, and compared to the increasingly crowded communal areas, there are few livestock.

As Mabhena argues, there has been a mismatch between local needs and the design of resettlement models. The one-size-fits-all model from Mashonaland has not worked. He argues “the obsession of the Mugabe government with the redistribution of land as an end in itself rather than with the creation of viable rural livelihood options for rural people has led to a collapse of policymaking in the rural sector, especially in relation to the pastoral economy”. As Mr Nkomo, one of Mabhena’s informants from the communal areas explained:

“We used to lease graze or even grazed our livestock freely during the dissidentsera in some of these farms… but the state has settled people there. Where do they expect us to graze our livestock? Furthermore most of those resettled are strangers and own very few livestock”.

 The JCAS paper concludes:

 “Land redistribution is a programme capable of enhancing rural livelihoods if the state identifies the interests of beneficiaries before deciding on the peoplesinterests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable. People of southern Matabeleland are pastoralists and therefore could enhance their livelihoods if more land is made available for grazing than for village settlement distribution model. Misreading the landscape and misrepresenting peoplesinterests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable….There is a real desire at the local level to make agrarian livelihoods work better but the states one size fits allland reform programme focusing on agrarian reform through crop production has impacted negatively on livestock production and other livestock related livelihoods”.

 The crop bias in agricultural extension and land use planning in Zimbabwe has existed for decades. It has marginalised a vitally important element of the production system, and resulted in the imposition of measures that rarely work in the context of complex livestock production systems – whether attempts at ‘improved breeding’ or ‘paddocked grazing schemes’. This huge blindspot has major consequences in the drier parts of the country, and particularly Matabeleland where livelihoods are based on pastoral production. There clearly is a need for a major rethink of resettlement models for Matabeleland: a lesson that really should have been learned years ago through past failures resulting from inappropriate impositions.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared first on Zimbabweland

 

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Zimbabwe’s gold rush: livelihoods for the poor or a patronage economy, or both?

One of the features of the post 2000 economy in Zimbabwe has been the growth in small-scale artisanal gold mining. This is sometimes registered with the ministry, but very often not, and remains informal and illegal. The small-scale panners, makorokoza, can be found in very large numbers in the dry season along the main rivers of Zimbabwe. They are mostly men under 35, and so represent a particular, often disenfranchised, demographic.  Many were too young to benefit from the land reform in 2000, and although some are resident on the new resettlements, combining farming with off-season panning has become an important livelihood mix.

While much international attention has been focused on diamond mining, and the human rights abuses that have taken place in the Marange fields in the east of the country (see papers by Nyamunda and and Mukwambo  and Bond and Sharife), there has been less commentary on gold mining. While the diamond fields have been taken over by a strong-arm alliance of government, the military and foreign investors, removing all small-scale diamond miners, the mining of gold is different.

Small-scale mining peaked in 2008 with the collapse of the formal economy. As formal mining receipts declined, the small-scale operations boomed, with much of the product being traded illegally and smuggled out of the country. The official statistics, like for agriculture, show massive declines, but in fact around 2 million people were involved in small-scale mining in this period. Clifford Mabhena has shown how artisanal mining has complemented land reform, as new farmers seek off-farm opportunities, particularly in times of drought

Another recent paper by Showers Mawowa explores the gold rush phenomenon based on research near KweKwe. He argues that the gold rush in his area should not be seen just as a form of local ‘survivalist’ strategies of the poor, but as a site of political control and accumulation by elites, part of a ‘patronage economy’.  In Mawowa’s study area in KweKwe, former farm and mine workers rather than resettlement farmers were the new miners. Many gold panners collect tiny quantities, but are reliant on mills owned by registered small-scale mines for processing.  There is a mix of alluvial panning in the open near rivers or the exploitation of disused shafts where mining takes place underground. Both types of operation may involve hundreds of individuals often working in highly dangerous conditions. The environmental damage of such intense gold rushes can be immense.

This new form of production creates new social and political relationships. Mawowa characterises this as a process of primitive accumulation by elites who control the processing and marketing operations. They are also able to subvert the regulations, and are often involved in shady, illegal activities. While there are a plethora of laws governing mining, with recent stringent regulations from the Environmental Management Authority for example, they are implemented only sporadically, and often arbitrarily. Raids by the police may happen around election times, when local big-wigs want to assert control, while at other times operations go untouched, with accusations of kick-backs and bribes.

In his fascinating account, Mawowa shows how alliances between miners are formed to control particular areas. They may form ‘syndicates’ that may be controlled by locally-powerful individuals, including chiefs or party officials. Access to gold resources may result in sometimes violent struggles between such groups, with clashes between ‘locals’ and ‘outsiders’ and between different political factions within ZANU-PF.

The story Mawowa and others tell for Zimbabwe is familiar in other areas where artisanal mining has taken off in a big way, whether in Latin America (as in the work of Tony Bebbington and others) or elsewhere in Africa (as in the work of Deborah Bryceson and colleagues). Mawowa interprets this in terms of elite accumulation characterised by corruption, but as he notes new livelihoods have been created too. He does not make the contrast though with what went before. Once controlled by a few companies – in the Kwekwe case a Canadian mining company that owned Empress and Venice mines, closed in the 1980s and 90s – mining activity – and so livelihood opportunities and employment – is now spread among a far wider group.

This reconfiguration of the economy attracts patronage from those in power – and this most certainly includes ZANU-PF officials – but in this case these include village headmen, councillors, bureaucrats in district offices and local politicians. These characters may be connected to others higher up for sure, but the new economy oils many wheels on the way. As Mawowa concedes there are many ‘rags to riches’ stories in the villages.

Certainly in the period before the Marange diamond field clampdown this is what we found in Masvingo, as youth returned to their villages with fancy consumer goods, but also with cash to invest in farming. He also notes that many of the local beneficiaries of patronage are often ‘low ranking’ officials and people like headmasters and councillors. Even if there are shadowy figures behind them, further up the chain, it may be difficult to define such people as elites, even if their outward political affiliation is towards ZANU-PF; whether out of belief or very often out of strategic pragmatism (what Grasian Mkodzongi calls ‘performing ZANU-PF’).

There are perhaps two ways then of thinking about these mining-based ‘patronage economies’. One is to condemn the rent-seeking, accumulation and elite control, and seek rational bureaucratic order and the implementation of controls, presumably allowing larger-scale formal operations to take the place of the informal sector. This would presage a return to the past, and a form or regulated and probably even more elite (probably foreign-controlled) capitalism. Alternatively, following the arguments of David Booth, Tim Kelsall and others, an argument could be made that there are developmental advantages of ‘working with the grain’, accepting that elite capture is somehow inevitable in the operation of capitalism, but that gains may well be shared through such patron-client networks, and there are actually not only survivalist but also developmental benefits of broad-based, distributed, informal economic activity.

These alternatives are of course not either/or, and there are many shades of grey between. However, the focus of so much writing on the corrupt practices of the ZANU-PF connected elite, including many of the contributions to the JSAS special issue that includes Mawowa’s paper, often fails to delve further into the practical, distributional consequences of new forms of economic organisation. While I would be the first to condemn much of the practice that Mawowa documents, I think there is probably another side to the story that is also worthy of telling.

Some interviews with some of the successful miners, traders and associated business people would be definitely interesting. It would be fascinating to learn for example how artisanal mining has changed their livelihoods and future prospects, and how such investment has been channelled into the local economy. This could in turn be contrasted with the experience of former mine workers in large-scale mines (perhaps even the same people), and how such enterprises had an impact on local livelihoods and economies. Rather like the contrast between the assumed successful, ordered and regulated commercial farming sector of the past and the assumed disorderly, chaotic and informal land reform farming areas, there may be some surprising, and challenging, findings.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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