Lithium mine uplifts villagers Zulu Lithium in Fort Rixon

Nqobile Tshili Bulawayo Bureau

THE landing of Premier African Minerals’ Zulu Lithium in Pioneer Village, Fort Rixon, initially sparked scepticism within the community with the families told they had been moved to make way for lithium mining, a prospect that often faces resistance from communities that have sentimental attachment to their ancestral lands, especially when graves are involved.

However, the approach taken by Zulu Lithium, centred on community engagement and support, convinced the local community, leading to the exhumation of graves within the designated mining                                                                           area.

To address the villagers’ concerns, Zulu Lithium offered an attractive relocation package, and already, five out of the 26 affected families have been successfully moved.

The Pioneer villagers, beneficiaries of land reform, had previously resided in modest pole and dagga houses.

These structures were unfortunately ill-equipped to withstand the adverse effects of climate change.

Zulu Lithium Mine decided to construct modern houses as part of the package.

Construction is still in progress but the first units are almost complete.

The construction of the houses is set to completely transform the lives of the moved families as they will move to modern houses that can withstand the vagaries of weather.

The mine is also providing additional social amenities for the relocated families. When Saturday Chronicle visited the area recently, the villagers expressed their satisfaction with the ongoing development facilitated by the Zulu Lithium mining project.

Proccillia Sibanda, a mother of two, acknowledged the distress usually associated with relocating. She however said from what they have experienced so far, the mine is promising a better future for the affected families.

“We were affected by the mine, that is how we ended up here,” Sibanda explained while speaking from her new home, which is under construction.

“Our lives have significantly changed since we left the place where mining is now taking place. We were living in pole and dagga houses but now the company is building us modern houses.”

In addition to the improved housing, Zulu Lithium has pledged to pay school fees and transport for the affected school children until they complete their education. Sibanda said her husband is among the local people that have been employed by the mine.

Bongani Masango, Pioneer Ward 2 village head, said the first families to be relocated were those whose homes were where the mine is.

“The first five have been moved but we have 13 more who will be moved soon,” said Masango.

He said to ensure the affected famlies had temporary accommodation while their houses were being built, the mining company put up temporary wooden structures. Each family will have a four- roomed house, plus a kitchen, bathroom and toilet.

Additionally, the company will plough one-hectare for each family for just one season and also provide one tonne of maize.

“There is also a promise that each relocated family will be paid US$100 allowance every month for one year. Zulu Lithium will also pay school fees for all the children of the relocated families up to tertiary level,” he said.

The company has also drilled four boreholes that will be solar powered to guarantee the families a reliable water source.

Mr Masango said the company has also taken steps to address the community’s long-standing need for a dam. Construction of a new dam is underway that will enable villagers to grow crops under irrigation and water their livestock.

Breadwinners of most of the relocated families have been employed at the mine which is an additional package for the affected families.

Chief Jahana expressed his satisfaction with the mine, emphasising the significance of communities directly benefiting from their natural resources.

The modern houses being built for the affected families will improve the families’ livelihoods.

“Most of the villagers were living in thatched houses but now they have strong modern houses.

“The company has also promised to provide solar power in future. We agreed that in moving the people, certain terms had to be met and we are happy that the company is delivering on the promises,” said Chief Jahana.

Zacharia Jusa, the Insiza District Development Coordinator, underscored the importance of ensuring that the relocated communities are provided with better facilities as a way of compensating them.

“We are saying in a way, you have paved way for the mine and the company that is benefiting from your natural resources should make you happy by providing better facilities such as modern houses,” said Jusa.

The whole community affected by the mining including children should enjoy the benefits of exploitation of their natural resources.

“When some of the children complete their education, the mine should be able to employ them so that they continue benefiting,” said Jusa.

The company has so far invested about $80 million in the mining project and the plant is undergoing a trial run.

Management is saying their target is to generate up to $30 million in revenue a month once they start operating at full throttle.

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