Complaints of unfair compensations refuse to die as communities whose land is being used in the exploration of graphite in Malingunde, Lilongwe, are bitter with government after some of them received as little as K700 as compensation.
Experts have since faulted government for failing to sensitise communities and protecting people’s interests in areas where explorations are taking place.
The concerns of the people in Malingunde, where an Australian Firm, Sovereign Metals Limited (SVM) is exploring graphite, bring memories of the residents around Kanyika mine, among others, who took government to task after they were not compensated.
For the Malingunde communities, while Sovereign Metals categorically stated that the issue of compensations was left in the hands of the Lilongwe district commissioner’s office, relevant government departments kept pushing responsibility to each other.
Members of the community in the area told Nation on Sunday, alleging that they received as little as between K700 and K10 000 to sacrifice their crop fields for collection of samples last month as part of exploration of graphite—a mineral used for production of batteries for cellphones, among other functions.
Nation on Sunday visited the area and interviewed 15 households from Mbonekera, Ndumira and Kumalindi villages—all of which fall within the proposed mining site.
Madalitso Chinyama, a mother of six from Mbonekera Village said she was taken by surprise by heavy machinery that was moved into her garden.
“I was surprised when I saw heavy machines in my field [last December] and when I rushed to check, some black people in the company of white men told me that they wanted to use my field to extract some expensive minerals.
“I asked why they did not ask me first, and they said they had permission from the government. So, I could not argue with them. But I complained to them that they were damaging my crops [groundnuts and maize] with their equipment, and that was when they paid me K3 000 as compensation,” she claimed.
Claimed Dickson Frank of Ndumira Village: “They have destroyed my crops with their heavy machines. I tried to physically fight them, but I failed because they were many, and also threatened that they would report me to government and have me arrested for refusing this important development. Like everyone else in the area, I obliged, and received K700 as compensation to replant where they had damaged.”
Some villagers have accused chiefs of conniving with government to have their land taken away. One chief we spoke to, who refused to be named, admitted attending a meeting convened by the Lilongwe DC’s prepare the people for a possible resettlement plan should the company decide to mine in the area. office, where they were asked to
In a telephone interview, last week, Traditional Authority Masumbankhunda, in whose area the exploration activities are taking place, confirmed about the meeting, which he had delegated, saying they were told to publicise the project.
Legislator for the area, Peter Dimba, who has been in touch with the investor, expressed shock at reports of poor compensation.
“Actually, I have just confirmed [the reports]. So, I am deeply shocked. They hid this laughable compensation arrangement from me. Much as it is a simple and narrow hole in someone’s maize field, but it is not a hole for killing mice,” said Dimba.
But mining governance experts have blamed government for failure to negotiate on behalf of the villagers, most of whom could not understand the whole concept of the mining deal.
Chisomo Manthalu, an expert in Extractive Industries working with ActionAid, said government should have engaged the people even before the exploration started.
“By the way, are people giving out their land or crop fields out of an informed consent? I guess not. This is why government would have been proactive to provide information to the people and also negotiate on their behalf in terms of compensation,” said Manthalu.
Manthalu also fears that local communities could resist the project if the information gap is not properly and immediately filled.
Chairperson for the Natural Resources Justice Network Kossam Munthali described the Malingunde situation as a violation of human rights and international set standards in terms of mining operations.
When contacted for comment, Director of Mining Atileni Wona confirmed about the exploration activities in Malingunde, but said he was not aware of the amounts paid to the people as compensation is a matter under the jurisdiction of the DC’s office.
In a telephone interview yesterday from South Africa, Sovereign Metals Limited country manager Andries Kruger said he is not aware of compensation grievances because such matters were dealt with by the DCs office.
“Just to put the record straight—compensations were happening through the lands officer at the DC’s office. Everything was done through the DC,” he said.
District Commissioner for Lilongwe Lawford Palani said the whole project was being handled by the Department of Mining who are working hand in hand with the investor to collect samples. He said their role was limited to simply introduce the company to chiefs who would later inform their subjects about the same.
On meagre amounts offered for compensation, the Lilongwe DC deplored the situation and promised to investigate the matter:
“That’s unfair to the people and contrary to what we advised the company that if they want to use someone’s land or crop field that they should use all proper channels and measures to ensure that people are fairly compensated,” he said.
A mining governance and taxation expert Rachel Phoya said this is a more reason concerned stakeholders are advocating for enactment of a new Mines and Minerals Act to replace the old legislation which is weaker in terms of spelling out investor’s obligation towards the community.