Villagers from Traditional Authority (T/A) Symon in Neno have closed down a road to Lisungwe River where Mota-Engil collects sand for the Nacala Railway Project, accusing the company of failure to its development pledges.
A visit to the area on Thursday revealed that the villagers have, for the past five days, been spending nights on the road to block the company from accessing the river where it collects sand for the railway project.
However, Mota-Engil has assured the communities that the company “remains committed to fulfilling all its development pledges made at the start of the project”.
Pearson Banda, who comes from Mkundika Village, said this was their last resort to force management of Mota-Engil to fulfil pledges they made at the beginning of the project.
Banda explained that Mota-Engil promised, among others, to drill a borehole in each and every village; apply gravel on the road to a place where sand is being mined and provide assistance to families whose houses developed cracks due to the impact of the crane-shakes.
“However, the company has implemented none of the projects. And this is why we’re camping on the road to force them fulfil their promises. Otherwise, they can as well forget that they’ll ever access the river again,” he swore.
Banda further stated that their action is aimed at preventing Mota-Engil from causing further damage to the environment.
He claimed that the work of the company in the area has caused a lot of damage to the environment.
Village Head (VH) Mkundika said much as chiefs do appreciate the social and economic potential the [railway] project has to the area, chiefs could not allow the management of Mota-Engil to violate the rights of the ‘poor’.
“We feel the company was taking people’s patience for granted. It’s very sad that a company of international repute could choose to default on minor projects like the drilling of boreholes,” narrated Mkundika.
VH Kanselu vowed that they would not open the road to Mota-Engil until the company meets their expectations.
Said Kanselu: “We’re ready to die fighting for justice. We won’t open the road until the company starts fulfilling its development promises.”
But Sevison Malata of Mkundika Village heaped the blame on T/A Symon who is reportedly refusing to issue the villagers with a letter that would necessitate dialogue between communities and Mota-Engil.
“We’ve been to his house five times asking for the letter, but to no avail. He keeps on sending us back without proper explanation,” he said.
Neno district lands officer Francis Kachingwe, who was on site representing the district commissioner (DC), corroborated this account, accusing T/A Symon of delaying the initiation of dialogue between the aggrieved communities and Mota-Engil.
He said the DC’s office has since issued a directive to the T/A instructing him to write the letter within 24 hours.
“The DC appreciates the suffering these people are going through as a result of the damage caused to their environment and houses. Thus, we fail to understand why the T/A could choose to keep quiet when his people were suffering,” he said.
Symon dismissed the allegations as untrue, saying he failed to write the letter because of ill-health, but he said he would comply with the DC’s directive.
Mota-Engil public relations officer, Thomas Chafunya, said the company was aware that the villagers had blocked the road but they were yet to be furnished with official complaints from the aggrieved communities.
“This notwithstanding, Mota-Engil is more than ready to fulfil the corporate social responsibility activities it promised the communities at the start of the project.
“We remain committed to all the development projects we promised the people. It was just a matter of time because some of the projects such as drilling of boreholes couldn’t be implemented during rainy season,” he said.
He urged communities to be patient, saying although the Nacala Railway Project is winding up, Mota-Engil will remain in the country for many years to come, hence cannot default on its promises.
But the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) paralegal officer, Peter Muyaya, questioned the company’s commitment, arguing Mota-Engil did not have to wait until villagers blocked the road for them to realise they had unfulfilled development pledges.
Neno Police Station officer-in-charge Maxton Kalimanjira described the action taken by the communities as illegal.
“I’ve since deployed officers to the area to bring calm to the area. I’m hoping that the situation has normalised and that motorists are able to access the road,” said Kalimanjira.