Parliament has begun public hearings on the Mines and Mining Amendment Bill that seeks to harmonise perennial disputes between farmers and miners by providing for various conflict resolution mechanisms that include negotiations, referring disputes to the courts and an option allowing the farmer to sell the property to the miner among other proposed measures.
The Bill, which was gazetted early this month, will also seek to reconstitute the composition of the Mining Affairs Board and clarify its functions, establish the Mining Cadastre Register and Registry, and reduce the classes of Mining Titles to three only as well as regulate the activities of prospectors.
Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development chaired by Shurugwi South MP Cde Edward Mukaratigwa yesterday embarked on week-long countrywide public hearings starting in Harare aimed at gathering views about the Bill.
The issue of how to resolve disputes with a farmer who in most cases is the landholder and a miner who is coming in to extract minerals has been a thorny issue that has seen the Bill taking long to be concluded.
The Bill now provides a number of resolution frameworks which are hoped will end the disputes.
With respect to prospecting, it proposes open negotiations between a farmer and a miner but if they fail to find common ground, the prospector might refer the dispute to the Provincial Mining Director who will have to make a determination after a hearing.
Section 36 of the Bill provides that an aggrieved party has a right to appeal to the Permanent Secretary of Mines and Mining Development and ultimately to the Administrative Court.
“This clause is the first of many adverting to the manner of resolving disputes between prospectors and miners, on the one hand, and farmers and other landholders on the other hand, and it sets the pattern for other clauses addressing farmer/miner disputes.
“The pattern is as follows: whenever a dispute arises (usually after negotiations between the disputants to resolve the dispute informally have failed), one of the disputants (usually the one asserting the mining right) approaches the PMD, who thereupon establishes the issues in dispute by obtaining affidavits from the disputants.
“The PMD then convenes a meeting (at his or her office or elsewhere), to which other interested parties are also invited. At the meeting the disputed issues are canvassed in an informal yet structured
way. The PMD conducts the meeting in accordance with certain rules specified in the Second Schedule, to ensure the proper adjudication of the issues.
“After the meeting, the PMD notifies his or her decision to the disputants and compiles a report for the Secretary on how the dispute was resolved,” reads the Clause.
Another avenue is provided in Section 242 providing for compulsory purchase or sale of private land covered by a mining lease.
“Subject to subsection (3), where a mining lease has been issued and the whole or a portion of the land covered by such mining lease is private land, the owner of such private land may apply to the Administrative Court for an order compelling the holder of such mining lease to purchase,” reads the Clause before spelling out modalities regarding the disposal of the property under a sale.
In yesterday’s public hearing, some stakeholders expressed reservations on how the clause was structured.
Mr Aleck Chimhofu, a Harare legal practitioner, said it was unfair for a miner to approach the court to compel a farmer to dispose his or her property to him.
“If one is a miner and the owner of the land himself is the one who is saying that my farming activities have been rendered unsustainable because of the mining activities I therefore should approach the court to compel the miner to purchase my property, that is fine. But for a miner, who comes to my property and has it as a right of law to approach the court to have the court to compel me to dispose my property, that would have been disguised expropriation of private property. I propose that the section be removed. There must also be a domestic remedy before parties go to court,” said Mr Chimhofu.
He also felt that it was not proper to burden courts by determining value of private properties arguing that the role of courts was to resolve disputes and not go into administrative issues like determining value of properties.
Other issues that were raised during the public hearing were the need to allow local communities to benefit from extraction of minerals.
Zimbabwe Young Miners Foundation representative, Ms Everdine Deshe, said the Mining Affairs Board should expeditiously consider applications for mining licences.
She said applications were currently taking years to be processed, something that was not tenable.
Other objectives of the Bill include the need to ensure uniformity and simplicity of mining titles, the pegging of secondary reefs while the holding of extra-lateral rights will be abolished.
It will also regulate the activities of prospectors more closely, and to confine their activities to specific areas defined by grids, remove the distinction between precious metal and base metal claims, abolish the extra-lateral rights which holders of precious metal claims enjoy at present, provide for mining title to be granted in the form of a mining lease, where the title extends over four or more contiguous blocks and to require holders of mining rights to work their claims rather than allowing them to preserve their title by paying annual fees.