SHINENGENE, Zambia, Sept 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The women sat quietly in a village church in northwest Zambia, the sun slanting down on their colourful Sunday outfits as they told how life had changed since their chief agreed to handover a tract of land to a foreign firm for a new copper mine, leading to the resettlement of hundreds of families.
“We had a vast land and we could do anything,” Seke Mwansakombe, one of the displaced villagers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Here we are confined to 40 by 40 metre plots and our movements have been restricted because certain areas are now no-go areas.”
Kalumbila Minerals Ltd (KML), a subsidiary of Canada-based First Quantum Minerals Ltd, in 2011 received large scale mining licences from the Zambian government to develop the Trident project which comprises the Sentinel copper deposit and the Enterprise and Intrepid targets.
The project was expected to create up to 2,000 direct jobs and provide a catalyst for large-scale infrastructure development in the region.
First Quantum Minerals is the largest copper producer in Africa and production from the $2.1 billion Sentinel mine started in August this year with a new town, Kalumbila, being built with over 10,000 houses.
As a result almost 600 families, mostly subsistence farmers, were relocated to Shinengene, or Southern Settlement, and to Northern Township, some 18 kms (11 miles) from their original village, and equipped with techniques on conservation farming.
All of the villagers were given options and agreed to move but some of the families are now questioning the resettlement terms with a report by global charity ActionAid, published this week, saying the villagers’ displacement had marginalised women.
The company, however, provided data to defend its resettlement program as transparent and stressed great emphasis was put on the importance of women and their livelihoods.
Company data showed that the plots of land given to the affected villagers were larger than their original holdings and extra 64 houses were built for women and youth who were mistakenly identified to be living in relative’s households.
“KML undertook this resettlement with a specific focus on livelihoods and security of tenure to make it a success,” said spokesman Garth Lappeman for the Trident Project.
“Male and female representatives were elected for each displaced village … (and) women’s concerns were integrated into the planning process for resettlement through on-going dialogue with women.”
The community of Kalumbila, located in Chief Musele’s area in Solwezi, has had few economic opportunities with its inhabitants mainly small-scale farmers subsisting on slash-and-burn shifting cultivation producing cassava, fishing and collecting mushrooms.
ActionAid said the move prevented many women from growing their own food and limited access to natural resources such as forests and rivers but they had little say in the process.
The report, which aimed to highlight the negative impacts of mining on women in Zambia, said most of the relocated women did not know the compensation details or if the new parcels of land were registered in their names or jointly with husbands.
“Even when women attend meetings, they rarely speak and they don’t ask questions,” Pamela Chisanga, the head of ActionAid Zambia, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Lappeman denied that women were not involved.
He said all the men and women affected were consulted and treated as equals in the resettlement process. Conditions were explained to all spouses and they were jointly offered the resettlement and compensation packages with photographs from the company documenting the meetings involving men and women.
Figures from the company showed that 52 percent of farmers on livelihood support programmes were women.
Some of the resettled farmers have resorted to traditional leaders to air their grievances.
In Zambia traditional leaders have the authority to decide what happens to plots of land of up to 250 hectares beyond which the government is the authority. In the case of Kalumbila, the area of land requires authorization by the government.
According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, 94 percent of land in Zambia is held under a customary system regulated by traditional leaders.
“Because the customary land is not regulated by law, it essentially gives the local leaders full authority,” Peter Veit, director of Land and Resource Rights Initiative at the global research organization World Resources Institute (WRI), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
WRI associate Celine Salcedo-La Vina said land ownership by women protects their interests, especially in the event of divorce, inheritance and the transfer or sale of land.
“If women have their name in the title, at least they can be sure to receive some compensation from a large-scale acquisition,” she said.
The villagers, who used to live in traditional compounds with separate huts for each generation of a family, were given simple brick houses, one for each extended family, which were designed after the company surveyed traditional settlements.
But still Beth Lombanya, a 42-year-old mother of 10, said she found it hard to fit her family into the four-room house they were given, unused to the different structure of the home.
“It’s not fair that this community … got little matchboxes like this,” Chisanga said.
The women, traditionally responsible for fetching water and growing and cooking food, said they found it hard to feed their families in their new village.
Some of the women said they are unable to farm on the small plots around their houses so have to walk a kilometre to an area the mine set aside for farming.
But Lappeman produced documents showing the mining company offered conservation farming to all displaced households for three years and the women requested relocation to Shinengene.
Mining accounts for 10 percent of Zambia’s formal employment and 12 percent of its gross domestic product, but only a few of the villagers are working in the mine, the majority of them men, because of a lack of skills and education.
Lappeman said the company had introduced programmes to address this including investments in public school infrastructure development and a project to improve primary school education.
SIGNED WITH A THUMB
But the ActionAid report said the community had little room to negotiate the compensation package and received a “raw deal” – an allegation the mining company’s representatives dismissed by provided documents to show resettlement terms.
The women, some illiterate, said they didn’t realise they could not claim more compensation once they had signed the mine acquisition documents, some with a thumbprint.
“There was very small print on the bottom of the forms that these communities were signing, that this was all the company was liable to provide to them as compensation,” Chisanga said.
“The challenge has been that people didn’t get enough information and they were misled about the kind of benefits they would have.”
The company provided evidence to show the extent of information provided.
Lappeman said initial resettlement entitlements were developed in a forum chaired by the government and the entitlements agreed included crop and household compensation rates, a disturbance allowance, larger household sizes, two clinics, larger churches, and better school infrastructure.
The company said this was clearly explained at every stage and again when offers were made and accepted.
Chisanga said traditionally, widows or single women live in the compounds of their relatives, usually men, so their own huts or fields were not taken into account when they moved.
“I’ve no one to take care of me, so during the move I just followed everybody else,” said 66-year-old Rontina Alesi Muke.
Company documents showed that Rontina was a beneficiary of a vulnerable food support programme, given a cultivated farm and transitional food support.
Lappeman rejected the residents’ complaints, saying company officials had explained all points of the agreement carefully and taken trouble to ensure the villagers would not lose out materially as a result of their move.
“We’ve been very systematic to ensure that they haven’t gotten a raw deal and there are measurable improvements in key areas that make up their standard of living,” he said.
“We had a team of people who explained the agreements to the displaced households and farmers in the local language before they signed the agreements.” (Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)