Zimbabwe Government Faces Backlash Over Grave Desecration for Mining

Cultural Norms Clashed with Economic Development, Sparking National Outcry

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

The Zimbabwean government, led by the Zanu PF party, has sparked considerable controversy and backlash for sanctioning investors to demolish numerous graves in favor of mining ventures, actions that critics argue flagrantly disregard the nation’s social, traditional norms, and cultural values. This contentious issue came to the forefront following a report by NewsDay, where Farai Maguwu, the director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, vocalized his concerns over the desecration of burial sites across the country.

Maguwu highlighted instances where graves, some dating back to the 1940s, have been destroyed to accommodate diamond mining operations in regions like Marange, Penhalonga, and Buhera. Since 2009, it’s estimated that over 3,000 graves have been disturbed, a trend that Maguwu deems an affront to Zimbabwean cultural and psychosocial integrity. “Our appetite for profits must have some limits because some of these things have deep cultural, psychosocial effects that will haunt people for a long time to come,” he stated, emphasizing the long-term consequences of such actions on the communities involved.

The incidents in Penhalonga, where graves believed to be over 80 years old were exhumed, and Buhera, where around 30 graves were unearthed, have particularly struck a chord within the affected communities. Relatives of the deceased have reportedly been retraumatized upon witnessing the exhumation of their loved ones, a process Maguwu criticizes for its lack of sensitivity and preparation for the families to cope with the psychological aftermath.

Maguwu’s critique extends beyond the immediate impact on the families, condemning the government’s broader approach to displacement for mining interests as indicative of a disregard for the sanctity of burial sites and the rights of individuals to their land. “But when miners come, they just displace those bodies the same way government is displacing people on their rightful land,” he lamented, portraying a grim picture of the situation on the ground.

In defense, Zanu PF spokesperson Farai Marapira refuted the allegations, asserting the party and government’s respect for Zimbabwean cultural norms. “As Zanu PF and the Zanu PF-led government, we have the utmost respect for our cultural norms. The government can never disrespect or commit sacrilege against its own,” Marapira stated, countering the criticism leveled against the administration.

This issue is not isolated; the government has faced accusations in the past regarding the exhumation of deceased individuals’ remains to clear the way for mining and other development projects. A recent example involves the Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Pvt) Ltd, which is reportedly seeking approval to exhume human remains from a grave in the Manhize area, Chirumhanzu district, for a US$1 billion project.

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