Luxurious black granite draws envy of poor Zimbabweans

Giant yellow loaders whine as they struggle to lift freshly cut blocks of black granite, their massive tyres sometimes rolling backwards as the vehicles grapple with the weighty stones.

The stone prized by European designers is found in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest districts, where residents look with envy on the granite that can fetch up to $600 for a square metre slice.

Black granite was used to create the Heroes’ Acre cemetery for liberation war leaders in Harare, and is used for facades of downtown buildings.

But 95% of the the 150 000 tonnes mined last year was sent overseas, making it a crucial foreign currency earner as designers snapped it up to make tables in posh hotels.

Meanwhile, in villages near the mine, families struggle to eke out an existence on small loamy plots, living in dilapidated houses and looking up to the quarry for help.

Employment opportunity
“The community is impoverished, but I would not say one of the most impoverished,” said Dave van Breda, chief executive of Natural Stones Export Company.

“It’s more well-off because of the quarrying industry which has created employment.”

He says his company provides seed and tractors for poor farmers, runs an ambulance service, builds classrooms and bathrooms, and offers scholarships to local students.

“When we had food shortages, we were feeding around 3 000 families,” he said. “The situation warranted us to contribute as much as we could even as we ourselves were not generating much money.”

The Mutoko miners declined to divulge their earnings. Local villagers believe the companies are earning a fortune and want a bigger piece of the cake.

“They have tried but it’s not enough,” said a teacher, who requested not to be named, at Kowo primary school where the miners built a classroom block and new toilets.

“They must do more than this.
Workers from the quarry have children who attend school here so the company must must do more. This school must be made attractive.”

The classrooms have no doors and are bare except for a few old desks and chairs.

“The classrooms were complete with doors but some people came to steal,” explained Vice Nyamanzi, a former councillor and now welfare officer for Natural Stones.

“We are trying to do our best to help,” he said.

‘Communities complain naturally’
Van Breda blames the situation on government rules requiring proceeds from the quarries to go to Harare instead of the local district council.

Last year, he says his company paid $400 000 in royalties to the government, but the money does not flow back to the communities.

“Communities complain naturally,” said van Breda. “They say part of their heritage is being mined out and not much in terms of improvements or other forms of benefits is being ploughed back.”

Nekati Kowo, a 25-year-old villager said granite quarries were causing more damage than they were benefitting their host communities.

“What is being destroyed is more than what we are benefiting from the mining,” Kowo said.

“The companies only employ a few people and their trucks and mining activities cause cracks to develop on our houses but we don’t get compensation.”

Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association agrees, saying gains for the community were negligible.

“Granite miners are mostly interested in black granite,” the association said in a statement, arguing that royalties from the mine should be returned to the local community.

Van Breda said he supports that effort.

“We and various councillors and traditional leaders and local politicians have been lobbying for years to get at least 50 percent of the royalties diverted back where the black granite is produced,” he said.

“We just wait and hope some will be done.” - AFP

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