Dreams turn to dust for Mozambicans moved for Vale pit

Under a lone baobab tree, a group of Mozambican men tell of their struggles in a new settlement, having been moved from their village to make way for the country’s biggest coal mine.

The community of former subsistence farmers feel robbed of their livelihood since being resettled by Brazilian giant Vale six years ago.

Their new neighbourhood, named 25 de Setembro, is a cluster of shoddy houses in a dusty and arid corner of the coal-mining town of Moatize in Tete province.

It falls far short of their expectations of “urban living” promised by the firm.

“Nobody is happy here,” said Arnaldo Chirimba, who heads a committee of the relocated families.

The community claim their dream of a new urban life has turned into an ordeal, with leaking water pipes and street lights that never come on.

“We don’t have jobs, the houses were poorly finished, water doesn’t come out of the pipes,” said Chirimba, who used to earn a living as a farmer.

In 2010 the 1 300 families were moved 40km from their village near the mine to make way for work to begin on one of the country’s biggest investments.

According to the law, relocated people have to be given better living standards or at least conditions similar to their previous homes.

But the people in 25 de Setembro, named after the date when the independence war started in 1964, say they have been short-changed by Vale and the government.

Chirimba walks around the settlement pointing at crumbling houses without proper foundations that have cracks in the walls, water leaks, the street lamps that never light and faulty water pumps.

“On top of everything, there is nothing here that we can do to survive,” said Fernando Elias, a former weaver. He’s wearing a tattered T-shirt bearing the name of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

“Before, we had fields, we could fish, we had sheep, coal, money,” he said. “This whole resettlement is a fiasco.”

The plight of the residents of 25 de Setembro is also a legislative problem for the government.

“We only had proper resettlement legislation in 2012,” said Arnaldo Dgedge, the national director for the ministry of territorial planning.

“This weakness could not stop development from happening, so companies had to carry on without it,” he stated, admitting that the government also shared responsibility in the matter.

In the wake of 25 de Setembro, the government has since 2015 been working to monitor 51 other development projects that involve the relocation of people.

“Later this year we will sit down with the companies and address the issues that have to be resolved so the law is respected,” said Dgedge.

In the years after 2010, Mozambique experienced a resources boom that attracted an influx of international investors.

The flood of money boosted infrastructure development in the country, which is one of the poorest in Southern Africa and is still recovering from a long civil war that ended in 1992.

But a decline in the prices of commodities, including coal, since 2014 has dampened the rush, with large-scale job cuts and shrinking margins.

In Tete alone, a region believed to hold about 23-billion tonnes of coal, 4 000 jobs were cut in 2016.

In 2014 and 2015, Vale recorded more than $1-billion in cumulative losses.

Vale’s competitor — Rio Tinto — withdrew from the country two and a half years ago, selling off for $50-million the mines it had bought for $4-billion only three years earlier.

Commodity prices may be turning around but living condition at 25 de Setembro show no sign of changing.

Vale did not respond to several requests for comment. — AFP 

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