The battle for environmental justice in Mhondongori Village
Patrick Chitumba – [email protected]
“MHONDONGORI Village in Zvishavane is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Midlands province of Zimbabwe, home to a resilient community of 3 000 people,’ says village head Caroline Mavhu, her voice filled with determination.
For the past decade, these villagers have waged a relentless battle against illegal mining developments that threaten their homes and their cherished irrigation scheme. The impact of chrome mining operations in this serene village has become a cause for concern, overshadowing the potential benefits that mining can bring to the nation’s development.
As the sun sets over Mhondongori, the Saturday Chronicle sets foot into this community that has witnessed the devastating consequences of non-compliant chrome mining. It is the women who have felt the brunt of this ecological crisis as they are the ones who labouriously cultivate the land to sustain their families. Their efforts are now hampered by soil and water pollution, rendering their once-fertile fields barren.
Today, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in the Midlands province commemorates the Desertification and Drought Day, shedding light on the pressing issue of women’s land rights. Desertification, land degradation and drought disproportionately impact women and girls, who often lack access to and control over vital land resources. They face the harsh realities of reduced agricultural yields and increased water scarcity, disrupting their livelihoods and perpetuating gender inequalities.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) stands firmly committed to gender equality, underscoring the need to raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of desertification, land degradation, and drought on women and girls. Furthermore, it aims to recognise women’s significant contributions to sustainable land management and mobilise global support for the advancement of land rights worldwide.
Gazing across the landscape, one cannot ignore the scars left by irresponsible mining practices. The land, once teeming with natural resources — minerals, lush forests, pristine wetlands and majestic mountains — now bears witness to the degradation wrought by human hands. Deforestation, destruction of wildlife habitats, disappearance of wetlands and pollution of rivers are but a few of the damages caused by chrome mining. Deep open pits, left unsecured and unrehabilitated for nearly a decade, now serve as treacherous water pools, claiming lives of villagers and livestock alike.
“The pits have become a curse,” Caroline Mavhu laments, her voice heavy with sorrow.
“Villagers have fallen victim to these treacherous traps, losing their lives, cattle, and belongings. We implore the Government to intervene and hold the responsible mining companies accountable for reclaiming these pits.”
The reclaimed pit, encroaching upon the irrigation scheme, further exacerbates the villagers’ plight.
Kumbirayi Gwatipedza shares her distress, “Each time it rains, erosion caused by the pit eats away at our irrigation land. We have lost hectares of fertile soil, resulting in reduced harvests and threatening our food security.”
Amid this dire situation, Mhondongori Village community development co-ordinator, Kudakwashe Zireva, stresses that their fight is not against mining development itself but rather against the irresponsible actions of certain mining companies.
“We have witnessed the tragic consequences—rapes, abuses and loss of livestock. Mining must be done responsibly, considering the well-being of our community,” he says.
EMA echoes these concerns, highlighting the need for sustainable mining practices. Oswald Ndlovu, the agency’s public relations and communications officer, pleads with mining companies to rehabilitate and reclaim the pits once their operations are complete.
“Our call is for miners to embrace sustainable mining and fulfil their responsibility to restore the land. Failure to do so will not only perpetuate environmental degradation but also pose a threat to the safety and well-being of the villagers and their livestock,” Ndlovu says.
The issue at hand goes beyond the immediate dangers and environmental devastation. Women in the community bear the heaviest burden as climate change and land degradation exacerbate existing inequalities. Climate change communication expert consultant Peter Makwanya sheds light on the interconnected challenges faced by women. Prolonged and successive droughts, along with extreme weather events, have led to water scarcity, reduced precipitation and land degradation. Unsustainable land use practices and the overuse of forest resources have further strained women’s livelihoods, pushing them to bear the weight of household responsibilities.
“With finite natural resources depleting, more men leave their homes to seek opportunities elsewhere. This places an overwhelming burden on women who become household heads, providers and caretakers,” Makwanya explains.
The scarcity forces women to embark on arduous journeys in search of water and food, exposing themselves to various forms of abuse and exploitation. The solution lies in empowering women with the tools and knowledge to preserve the environment and build resilience. Makwanya stresses the importance of providing technical skills for reforestation programmes and woodlots, enabling women to cultivate and sell their harvests.
Education, awareness and training in environmental advocacy can transform women into vanguards of change, capable of creating a sustainable future for themselves and future generations.
Dr Ibrahim Thiaw, the executive secretary of the UNCCD, emphasises the inseparable link between gender equality and achieving land degradation neutrality.
“We cannot exclude half the population from land management decisions based on their gender. Women are not only on the frontlines of land degradation and climate change impacts but also key agents of change in restoring land and building drought resilience,” he asserts.
Gender-responsive land restoration becomes a pathway to reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition while fostering equality and environmental sustainability.