Government has on two occasions tried to cancel Illomba Granite Company’ mining licence, suggesting failure to comply with the Mines and Minerals Act. Today, the company is fighting with the community, while the owner thinks community members are making unreasonable demands. As JOSEPH MWALE writes in this last part, the mine has been re-opened, but communities feel betrayed by authorities.
The controversy surrounding Illomba Granite Company (IGC) Limited at Mbilima in Chitipa, where sodalite is extracted, is not new.
This is the first time that the company has faced resistance from community members, who now feel knowledgeable, and are trying hard to remain in an area they have called home for decades and demand development projects.
In 2013, the Department of Mining cancelled the contract, but the
decision was rescinded after the Minister of Mines’ intervention.
According to a letter titled ‘Cancellation of Mining licence Number ML0019’, the then director of mining, Charles Kaphwiyo informed IGC that the decision to rescind the cancellation was made by the minister.
“We will be expecting you to submit a fresh programme of operations on how you are going to take advantage of improving markets and resume commercial production and shipment of sodalite blocks to a different level. The programme of operations will be scrutinised by the Mineral Licensing Committee, who will make an appropriate application to the Minister of Mining,” reads part of the letter.
Yet, in another letter dated July 19 2017, the department also wanted to cancel IGC’s licence because the company had allegedly failed to deliver on the requirement to reinvigorate the mine.
Government also argued that the company had further failed to comply ‘satisfactorily with the requirement of the Mines and Minerals Act and Regulations and conditions’ of its licence.
“The company has held the licence since August 4 1988 without any significant production and sale of minerals. For the last few years, there has been no activity at all on the licensed area. An attempt was made to cancel this licence in May 2013, but this was rescinded after you appealed.
“However, the rescission was accepted on condition that you submit a “fresh programme of operations” for which you should have abided to. This has not been done. The company has not resumed operations to date, from April 2014, when you were given a second opportunity,” reads part of the letter signed by Secretary for Natural Resources Patrick Matanda.
According to the licence renewal granted in 1995, IGC is supposed to take all measures necessary for the conservation and protection of the environment, reinstate the surface of the licenced area which has been mined progressively.
It states: “The licencee shall, before commencing mining operations under this licence and three months before the end of each year of operation under this licence, submit to the minister for his approval a statement of the programme of operations for the ensuing year and a forecast of the amount to be expended on those operations in that year.”
So, after wrangles with the government, is it now a turn for the community? Since 1988, did people from Mbilima not know what was happening?
Senior Group Village Head (SGVH) Mbilima admits that ignorance resulted to this, as chiefs had no knowledge of what was happening when the activities started.
“Our forefathers did not know anything. They simply accepted everything without actually knowing how we could benefit as a community. But now, we cannot remain in the past, we have to demand what is rightfully ours,” he says.
Nashi Chilale, who once worked at the mine from 2000, adds that people simply had no knowledge of the extractive sector.
“In the 90s I was in school, but started working at the mine in 2000. Faisal Hassan used simply to come and mine, but never met chiefs to discuss what was happening. They simply started the mine, where serious blasting of the rocks was taking place.
“We were just wondering where the safety of people like Frank Mutafya is because sometimes very heavy rocks after blasting fell on his house. We thought the first thing was to compensate him so that he finds a safer place to settle on elsewhere,” he explains.
After disagreements, communities suspended operations on October 28 after seizing a truckload of sodalite granite minerals headed for export.
Mine re-opens amid corruption rumours
Since October 28, the district commissioner’s office, department of mines, the community and investors have been holding meetings which have led to the opening of the mine last week.
After the community had agreed to halt operations, some chiefs secretly met Faisal Hassan, signed a memorandum of understanding, authorizing the company to re-open the mine, which happened and the truck has also been released.
Chilale claims these chiefs were given money, because none of their demands has been met.
“We have some chiefs who are betraying the community. We want development, yet they want to satisfy their bellies. They got money and signed some document allowing these Chinese to start operations. The situation is still tense and we will fight on,” he says.
But Hassan argues the controversy around Mbilima is a result of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leadership in the district, whom he claims are misleading people they are mining precious stones.
“I have got some Chinese investors who have come to join our company, and when they got there, I instructed them to meet stakeholders like chiefs, the DC, Police and others. So, these friends decided to offer the community some assistance, out of their own will not because of corporate social responsibility.
“Communities wanted water, a classroom block and a clinic. But he told them to understand that all issues will take some time to be done, so he will implement them based on their priority,” say Hassan.
He observes that problems arose when the Chinese investors started moving out samples and materials for marketing purposes, and people thought the company was smuggling precious minerals.
“So they mobilized the youth to shut down the mine and came up with a list of more demands, it’s not what was offered to them, it’s what they are demanding. They now want five boreholes, two classrooms, two teachers’ houses, a clinic, two kilometres of a gravel road, and electricity.
“But some chiefs came to me and said the new demands were out of the influence from HRDC, but said if we put up a borehole, then we can start mining, and that’s what we have done. We have resumed operations,” he said.
However, Natural Resources Justice Network chairperson Kossam Munthali, who is also part of HRDC, defends the people’s quest to demand benefits from the mine.
“It is shocking that since 1995 there is nothing tangible to show here for the people. This community has set a standard which will have an impact on mining companies in Malawi who exploit our land without people benefiting,” he says.
But who are these Chinese investors? Frankly, regional mining engineer (North) George Maneya seems to suggest that government is not aware of the presence of the said Chinese investors.
On selling shares, the licence holder has to officially inform the minister so that it is officially recognized by government. In the case of Illomba, the licence has an obligation to do the same.
“The licence holder [of Illomba], the local government authority [Chitipa], local community through chiefs and area development committee [ADC] and other stakeholders need to engage and discuss their areas of interest with regard to social development and then prioritize [put in the order of need],” says Maneya.
But Hassan is defensive, arguing, “incorporation of Chinese investors is none of your business. Just write the other things.”
Government seems to suggest it has no authority to bring warring factions together. Who then helps the people of Mbilima? n