Large-scale projects

Chinese funded steel mill displaces locals in Zimbabwe

Chinese investment in large-scale projects in Africa has had massive impact on communities and the environment. One example is a new steel mill in Zimbabwe, valued at over $ 1 billion.

The Dinson steel mill is being constructed by China’s Dinson Iron and Steel Company close to the community of Mvuma south of the capital Harare. It is touted by Zimbabwe’s authorities as Africa’s biggest steel plant that will create a mini-city and be a gamechanger for the country’s grand ambitions to be Africa’s number one processed steel exporter. 

The promises and expectations of the government have however been met with doubt by locals who are already facing adverse effects due to the ongoing project. The biggest grievance has been the displacement of people off their traditional land.

Six of such affected families have sought the intervention of human-rights groups and investigators to shine a light on their plight. One family has already moved while the other five are yet to move. Dinson Iron and Steel Company says the families are too close to the plant and mine. They were compensated with about 27 hectares of land and had homes built for them. However, the houses are substandard and unhabitable, the families say. 

The Chinese company had also hired a borehole drilling company to construct water boreholes for the affected people. When the driller reached the agreed depth, they left without securing the water. Farai Maguwu, the director of the Zimbabwe Centre for Natural Resources Governance, confirms the despicable conditions in which the project affected persons and communities now live. “There are no schools or a clinic nearby. The displaced families’ graves were to be relocated to the new settlement. However, after the families refused to cooperate, citing compensation issues, the mission was aborted,” Maguwu says. 

Environment activists equally question the environment impact assessment report for the Dinson mine. According to domestic reports in Zimbabwe Dinson is accused of being in bed with Zimbabwe’s high political decision-makers, influential local businesses and even independent environment impact assessors. “In extreme cases, Dinson fraudulently turns community consultation attendance registers into consent forms. The whole thing is a mess,” Maguwu says.

This is not the first time in Zimbabwe that Chinese-owned industrial mills and mines have been accused of trampling on locals’ rights. The Manhizhe Steel Mill, a plant in central Zimbabwe, was accused in 2021 of expelling hundreds of villagers from their industrial land to make way for expansion. 

Dinson, the Chinese company denies all allegations against it and says negative reports are a smear campaign to tarnish the image of Chinese investments in Zimbabwe. 

Commissioned by Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa in December 2022, the Dinson Steel mill, according to the President, will churn out 600,000 tons of steel when fully operational. It ought to reduce steel imports and create over 20,000 jobs. The President promises that “a new smart city” will spring around the plant. 

Progress Mwareya is a freelance journalist based in east Zimbabwe.

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