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The politics behind Chisumbanje Ethanol Project
Platform for Youth Development
October 21, 2012

On behalf of Chisumbanje villagers, on behalf of the Platform for Youth Development, and on my own behalf, I feel humbled to have been accorded this opportune moment to join the debate that we have become bystanders and observers for a long time despite being directly involved with the issues.

This paper seeks to reveal and discuss the controversy surrounding Chisumbanje Ethanol Project with the view to highlight the challenges that have led to its closure and "purported" politicisation of issues by the company directorate and the politics of the inclusive government of Zimbabwe. This paper will argue that the investor has lost focus and submitted herself to the caprices of the politics of the political parties, thereby losing support from stakeholders. At a glance, the project divides ZANU PF and MDC, Minister of Energy and Minister of Agriculture, Villagers and the Company, Business and politics, perceptions and reality, etc. This paper has arrived at a conclusion that the project has been hijacked by political and partisan players who are bullish and capitalistic therefore divisive and incapable of attracting co-existence from the villagers and the inclusive government of Zimbabwe.

This presentation shall rely more from the experiences of the presenter, who is part of the affected community in Chisumbanje as well as research and advocacy work carried out by Platform for Youth Development, where the presenter is a Director.

I agree that Chisumbanje Ethanol Project is a project good for the country, with the capacity to change the livelihood of many people. However, the activities and administration of the project is characterised by controversy that makes it very difficult for Zimbabweans to be optimistic that the project was brought to benefit the nation, if not the individual interests of the company directorate and their secretive shareholders. The project has failed to attract enough good will to convince local stakeholders of its capacity to be a national project meant to contribute positively to the development of the country.

The project has relied more on the personalities of well-known political and partisan persons who employ political tactics at the expense of business. These controversial names linked to the project may not have become issues if the company management had made effort to be consultative as well as representing truthful facts about their operations.

It is very disturbing that the company has been on a propaganda crusade to provide facts that Chisumbanje Ethanol Project is a 600 million dollar project. When challenged to prove the costs, it has become apparent that the real cost could be far less than that. The company has been telling the whole world that they employ 5 000 employees of which the majority are locals, facts that have only been found in press statements and media houses. As if that is not enough, the project has failed to co-exist with the local community where the company management have connived with the local police officers to arrest and victimise all those who dare challenge their operations (including the presenter).

This paper shall reveal that the villagers in Chisumbanje are concerned that the investor has made them even poorer as opposed to the propaganda that life has improved for them. Villagers who have been successful and celebrated cotton farmers were not given chance to adjust into sugarcane farming which is being imposed on them. While it has now been proven beyond any doubt that the project is operating beyond ARDA's boundary, the company has been making spirited denials and unintelligent claims that they were operating within the boundaries. Villagers have been disadvantaged out of their communal land for four farming seasons, with the company ruthlessly ploughing down ready crops on the strength that it was within their jurisdiction. This superiority and masochistic behaviour has made engagements and collaborations difficult, where relations have become confrontational. The villagers ended up seeking intervention from the courts and government to avoid direct confrontation with the investor. Now that the government is involved, a satisfying intervention is awaited.

The investor, while employing a small number from the local community, denies these employees the liberty to form worker's committees and join trade unions of their choice. This has assisted the employer to exploit the workers who are daily intimidated to hate their brothers who are advocating for their freedom and good labour practises. This is quite unacceptable since it is manipulative and taking advantage of their poverty and vulnerability.

The company has not been able to provide their environmental impact assessment report, allaying fears that they might not have formally engaged the regulating authority like EMA.Villagers have lost their livestock due to poisoned water from the wastes from the plant, when Jerawachera River was polluted. If the investor claims to have complied, this should be substantiated by making the report public. This is the only way forward on the matter. The report will help to evaluate their social and environmental proposed interventions.

The villagers commend intervention by government through the creation of an Inter-Ministerial committee. The committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara has produced a report. This report vindicates our advocacy as an organisation, and most of the grievances by the Chisumbanje community. The company has been advised to work with an independent committee as opposed to a handpicked team of political and partisan persons from the community. The report is also clear that a compensation framework should be put into place as a precondition for a holistic engagement with other key stakeholders.

The Inter-Ministerial committee report agrees with our advocacy that the relationship between the investor and ARDA was not friendly but meant to side step the local community and the government. The recommendation to change the problematic Build Operate and Transfer (B.O.T) to a Joint Venture (J.V) deal as a precondition for mandatory blending is not satisfactory but acceptable.

This paper expresses concern that the investor has not shown any respect for the cabinet report. Instead of adopting the holistic approach that engages with the government and the community as stakeholders, the investor has started going against the resolution by among other things bribing traditional leaders, paying the most vocal political players some stipends and define that as compensation.

This flagrant disrespect for a cabinet report is a clear sign that the company is not interested in co existence but part of the bigger politics in the country.

The company has remained political and partisan therefore will only be given cooperation after meeting up to key demands of mutual benefit and co existence with the local community. While the Inter- Ministerial committee report has allowed a progressive movement, strong monitoring is needed to pressure the company to comply with cabinet recommendations.

Claris Madhuku is the Director of Platform for Youth Development Trust(PYD).This paper was presented on the 12th of October 2012 in Mutare at a discussion forum organised by Mutare Press Club, where the presenter was sharing a podium with Basil Nyabadza who is the Board Chairman of ARDA and is also a ZANU PF cadre.

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