Claske DIJKEMA, Grenoble, August 2009
Interview with Teresa CHEWE
Privatisation, mining and displacement challenged by a Zambian NGO. An interview with Teresa Chewe of the Southern Africa Center for the constructive resolution of disputes SACCORD, Lusaka, Zambia.
Keywords: | | | | | Zambia
Teresa Chewe’s work exists of advocacy and engaging with both government and multinational corporations in the extractive industry like mining and sometimes also manufacturing. Together with other Civil Society Organisations, SACCORD has been engaging with different companies who, when they set up their mines, were given permission by the government to start their activity. According to Teresa, “during that process, the indigenous villagers were displaced without compensation because they said that they had not set up permanent structures. The only thing they could show that people had lived in the area was the fruit plantations, the trees had grown so big that you could see that they had been there for a long time.”
Claske Dijkema : So they had established their contracts with government and so then they went into the mining areas. How did they process go, how did they people get of the land and was there any initial resistance?
Teresa Chewe : When you are given a mining licence, you are also being designated an area. Mining is about extracting underground so you cannot have dwellings, or homes and people on the surface. You have to protect the area by a wire fence. People have to move out because it is a danger to themselves if they continue to live there.
There is a very big copper mine, an underground mine with very rich ore reserves. As the licence was given, first they do prospecting to find out the extent of the area. They go with their documentation. They are granted that but in granting, the mining and then the local government through the chiefs, they have not checked whether this place is inhabited or not. So in the mining areas there are already villages of people who have lived there for as long as human civilisation exists. When they are made to move, they do not know where to go. That has been their home. There is resistance but resistance without the means to hold back is virtually non existent because firstly they do not have anything to protect them. Secondly, in terms of the Land Act, it says that if you have that place, it should not be inhabited. Because of corruption, even if people are there, people say: « there are only two or three villages, we can move them away » which is not correct. There have people been living in the areas for many years. Unfortunately as a result of the nature of how local communities build their dwelling places, you will not have visible evidence of that long existence apart from the fruit fields. To show that a tree that has reached this size, has lived so many years.
Claske Dijkema : How many people have been affected?
Teresa Chewe : If I were to take not just the mining areas but also the areas where we are creating tourist reserves. Mining that is copper and uranium in the rocks in the mountains. With the uranium mines you are talking of 50.000 people in one area. Copper mines also concern big areas, the size of Paris. Imagine that people live on that land. They get their subsistence from farming and then they are told to move so it is not easy.
Claske Dijkema: You were mentioning that people received little or no compensation for their lost land?
Teresa Chewe : In some places where people resisted and said: « I will not move as long as long as you do not compensate me ». They [mining corporations] said: « this is just a mud and poor house with thatched grass so the value is nothing » so they pay them a 100 dollars for something that they have owned for three generations and over hundred years.
Claske Dijkema : What can they do with 100 dollars?
Teresa Chewe : Nothing, you might buy ten iron sheets which is nothing. It is not even enough for a small room.
Claske Dijkema : How did they displace people, did they use the military?
Teresa Chewe : In some places they have had to use force. In others, where blasting is affecting your life, then they move away. Saccord has campaigned to address this situation. What has been the outcome?
Campaign for raising taxes. So together we started a campaign where we were talking specifically to our governmentt. First and foremost that they got a compensation and secondly urging the government to renegotiate whatever the agreements that they had entered into so that MNC that had set up mines were contributing to the economy of the country by paying taxes because when they came, government had said that they had to enjoy some tax holiday. We thought it was very unfair because they come in, displace people, destroy the environment and above that not even pay any tax to the country.
Claiming power, the renegotiation of mining contracts. [as a result of the campaign] Now the government is going to renegotiate with these corporations. In terms of what civil society is doing, it is a success because government now has realised that it is an injustice first to the country and to the citizens, to come into an area and destroy the environment and displace people and still not even contribute anything to that community So I do believe that in the renegotiations, which are taking place very soon with support of the Worldbank and the IMF to assist the government in the negociations, we believe that something good will come out of it.
Claske Dijkema : How did you get the Worldbank involved?
Teresa Chewe : The Worldbank was involved because they were the ones who in the first place recommended to the government to privatise and to sell the mines. So they played a pivotal rôle in terms of convincing the state to let go of mines and make them private companies. So we said that : « You had this upper hand in convincing the State, so you also need to play the same role in convincing the State and corporations that they need to re-engage and come up with something that is good for both parties ». So we recognised their rôle as they made sure that the private sector involvement was very high and that government was only playing the facilitatory role.
Corruption. It’s not like that they just came in secretly. They came in with the full knowledge of government. The sad part is that the ones that were given responsibility to negotiate did a shitty job, knowingly or unknowingly
Claske Dijkema : Was there any personal interest in it for the negotiators for the Zambian government.
Teresa Chewe : This is what we think has happened, there could have been personal interest, and cases of corruption. What they saw is not what the end result would be, but what they would get at that moment in time, in terms of pay-up and in terms of personal gains; you are given money which benefits you as an individual but that disadvantages the entire economy.
Claske Dijkema : Do you have any information about whether corruption and personal payments had been taken place?
Teresa Chewe : Right now there is a big crusade going on against corruption. The unfortunate part is that the chief negotiation at the time of this transition from para-statal to private sector, is now dead. He was a minister, Ronald Penza. He is murdered in his own home. We don’t know who murdered him, whether it was people whom he had promised some deals or whether they were criminals but if it was criminals they never took something from his home We suspect that it has to do with some corrupt activities but we are not very sure because he is not there to tell the story.
There is a very big campaign about ending corruption which our head of state is supposed to be championing but, you find that this corruption crusade thit is being mounted by the president is not yielding the desired results. Firstly, because nothing is done to the people that are found to be corrupt and that are part of government. Those that are outside government are being prosecuted and maybe are having their assets frozen. We think it is a very selective campaign, where you only punish those who are outside government Those that are within the system are allowed to continue. Some are even promoted. So we wonder whether indeed this corruption crusade is really genuine, or whether it is rather meant to show that the state is intolerant to corruption, for example to win the favour from other countries to continue to enjoy a certain amount of trust.
Organising a civil society campaign. It was not an easy thing, first you need to have your facts on paper, so you do research. You have evidence if you are going to engage with government [about] for instance how many people have been displaced, what area are you talking about and how long they have been there. You have all those facts. And then….a lot of negotiations. First giving position papers, doing advocacy, The people involved, the ones affected also [need to be] voicing from their own end and from their level engaging with government. We also had to empower the people affected to say it in their own words so it was not seen as these elites who maybe want to travel but that
It was not easy, it was not just overnight. It was a long protracted debate and struggles. You really have to show. You have documentaries, you have interviews, you know, so that advocacy messages come through by the local people in their own language, targeting the companies, targeting the municipalities, targeting the members of parliament and ultimately to government in power
Mobilising the opinion of those in power. As Saccord alone we would have been able to give the necessary impetus for this campaign. We joined forces with Women for Change, the Land Alliance and many others like lawyers, some traditional rulers because even for the chiefdoms if all the people moved away, you remain a chief without people it’s not on. Even the chiefs got involved and sometimes even members of parliament. First, we had to convince them that it is not a good thing that people just had to move away with nothing. Second that you really needed some kind of compensation for the people and third that you had to renegotiate because the mining companies were not there of their own making. They had negotiated something. They were entitled to do what they were doing because of the legal documents that had been had signed. We had to convince that they had to negotiate in terms of justice, even just in terms of just being responsible for what you are doing. You cannot go into an area, first degrade it, displace people and not contribute to the economy.