An air of expectation greeted villagers from the Sese area of Chivi following reports that rich diamond deposits have been discovered in their locality, with investors scrambling for the right to exploit the gems that are expected to catapult Masvingo province into a mining hub.
Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs, Josaya Hungwe said the discovery of the gems came at a time when Masvingo was yearning for investment to kick-start economic development.
He said the development will help in efforts to undo years of economic stagnation that have seen the vast majority of people being unemployed.
In a bid to ensure that the locals benefited from the exploitation of local mineral resources, Hungwe said the government would make it clear to the investors who are interested in extracting the gems to come up with proposals on how they plan to exploit the diamonds in mutually beneficial way.
It has since emerged that Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE)-listed RioZim, the giant mining company which operates Renco gold mine as well as other mines across the country, will be one of the companies working in Chivi.
Over the decades, mining companies have been known for neglecting communities they operate from as was the case with the former diamond mining companies in Marange, Manicaland province, that dismally failed to plough back into surrounding communities.
For that sheer neglect, they were recently criticised up by the Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs, Monica Mutsvangwa.
In a speech read on her behalf at the launch of the Diamond Super Cup in Mutare recently, Mutsvangwa noted that Marange remained underdeveloped despite previously having several diamond mining companies operating in the province.
They were later booted out by government and replaced with the newly-formed Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC).
She said most schools in Marange were dilapidated, with some children walking long distances for basic education.
"It is very sad to note that in all these years, the communities in Marange and Mutare have not benefited from the mining of diamonds and this is not what we all expected.
"Let me warn the new company (ZCDC) not to repeat the same. Communities must benefit from their diamonds and may I take this opportunity to urge ZCDC to take stock of their predecessors and empower the communities," Mutsvangwa said.
The previous mining companies have been accused of presenting a US$1.5 million dummy cheque to former president Robert Mugabe during the launch of the Zimunya/Marange Community Share Ownership Trust in 2012.
With that in mind, one villager from Sese area, Munyaradzi Mabira said although the diamonds were set to benefit all Zimbabweans, locals should be the first to benefit from such opportunities as employment created from the mining of the precious stones.
"As we all know, the future of a mining company depends on the relations between the company and the locals. If the locals don't support a mining company, chances are there will be delays on future projects and problems in getting permits for an operation to push through.
"We expect them to help my community with jobs and I am very confident that they are going to help," said Mabira.
Such communal expectations require companies to give back to host communities and show goodwill gestures through corporate social responsibility activities.
Corporate social responsibility, also known as CSR, is a public relations tool used to win the hearts of the community in which a company operates. The process involves giving back to the community as appreciation and incentive for the privilege of doing business in that particular community.
The most common programmes involve development of different infrastructure, for instance, the building of roads for better transportation, hospitals and schools for better access to health and education respectively.
CSR programmes may also involve providing free education and providing families with critical information on such important topics as family planning, HIV and Aids, proper hygiene and many more.
Although the issue of CSR is fast becoming archaic due to the harsh economic environment which has seen rampant closure of businesses, mining companies have consistently been encouraged to do their best for the sake of cordial relations with host communities.
A case in point is that of Mimosa, Unki and Zimplats who are currently playing a big role in the country's health sector by adopting wards at hospitals and contributing to the upgrade of health facilities as well as fighting HIV and Aids.
Given that the country's indigenisation laws still have been revised to leave only diamonds and platinum as the only extractibles whose exploitation must be in line with the 51/49 percent ownership ratio between local people and foreign investors, it is such people as Mabira's dream that similar empowerment processes take place in their own area.
The government has also been on record warning that companies benefiting from the country's natural resources risk losing their operating licences if they don't plough back to local communities.
Chegutu West House of Assembly Member, Dexter Nduna was once quoted as saying it was important for investors to develop local communities. He urged potential investors to emulate Mimosa Mine and Hwange Colliery, mining companies he said were playing a pivotal role in road network development.
"There is no doubt that mining has the potential to contribute to a nation's economic development through creation of jobs, attracting foreign direct investment, infrastructure development and many other social services.
"I urge those in the mining sector to emulate Hwange and Mimosa which developed a big part of their road networks and prioritised infrastructure development in their respective communities. Hwange Colliery managed to surface many kilometres in 100 years and Mimosa also surfaced all the roads leading to their operations and around the mine," Nduna was quoted as saying.
Mining consultant and spokesperson of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF), an umbrella body for small scale miners, Dosman Mangisi also urged mining companies to give back to host communities.
"Government, should take sterner action against companies that are harvesting the country's natural resources yet they are failing to remit part of their proceeds to the community they are operating from. We have laws to deal with such companies such that their operating licences may be withdrawn if they do not want to cooperate," Mangisi said.business