- Brazilian mining giant ignored warnings from community leaders over likely protests
- Locals say mine expansion will deny them access to their livelihoods
A man living on the edge of Vale Mozambique’s mining area in Moatize, Tete province, was killed by police last week while protesting against Vale’s latest attempt to fence off an area where locals gather firewood.
25-year-old Husseni António Laitone was hit by two bullets fired by a policeman after the Brazilian-owned company ignored warnings from local officials that their actions would cause unrest from locals who fear losing their livelihood.
The fence in question separates Vale’s Moatize II mine – an extension of its original Moatize mine – from houses which are, in places, just five metres from the mine. The fatal incident, on Thursday 13 July, was the company’s third attempt to close the fence – but the first which had a police presence.
The secretary of the bairro of Nhantchere, where the incident happened, told Zitamar News’ local correspondent that he had warned Vale not to close off the fence on the day of the incident, as it would cause unrest – but that the company had ignored him.
“They called me in the morning to tell me they’re going to cancel the entrances,” he said. “I said I was not aware they were going to do that, so they couldn’t do it – otherwise they would cause unrest in the neighbourhood. But they didn’t listen to me, and all of a sudden I heard shots.”
Diolinda Morais Jorge, a resident of Nhantchere, told local newspaper Malacha: “We live off this wood; we come here to the woods to get it to cook, and to sell; if they close this gate, how are we going to live?”
Footage of locals taking firewood through gaps in Vale’s fence in Moatize. © Jornal Malacha
Malacha covered the shooting in detail, but failed to get an official comment from the Brazilian firm. It was only late on Monday, four days after the event, that Vale published a ‘clarification’ of the incident, following pressure from Zitamar News. The company has failed to respond to further questions sent on Tuesday.
Vale’s statement said the company has been communicating with the local community since 2013, through government representatives and community leaders, to tell them that fencing off its mine is essential for the safety of local residents.
Malacha, however, spoke to an anonymous source at the company who said the head of the Moatize operation, Wilco Uys, accused the local population of trying to steal fuel from Vale. He reportedly told staff at a ‘Health and Safety Dialogue’ meeting that the official company line on the incident was that the local population had attacked the police with sticks, leading them to open fire.
But Geraldo Ferrão, another local official (chefe de quarteirão), told Malacha that people needed access to the site to gather firewood – and added that the incident could have been avoided if the company had informed the local leadership.
“The first two times they came without police and they didn’t manage, because the population refused. This time they came back with a machine to open the trench, and then put in the gate and close the fence definitively. But this didn’t happen – and resulted in a death,” he told Malacha.
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