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In Bubi grass is fast emerging as a new conflict frontier between local and grass ‘hunters’ from neighbouring areas. Image by Unsplash
A long battle to benefit from local resources for Bubi villagers has continued with no solution, now a fight for boom grass has entered the fray.
BUBI (The Citizen Bulletin) — Ownership and utilisation of natural resources have often sparked conflicts in communities with locals crying foul that they hardly benefit from the resources.
There is a sea of poverty in most communities where natural resources such as timber and gold are plenty, and in many cases untapped. Bubi is endowed with vast mineral deposits ranging from gold, lime, nickel and copper.
However, villagers live in abject poverty while social services like schools and clinics are few, resulting in them being forced to walk long distances to access services.
In Bubi district’s ward 19 that covers Kenilworth, grass is fast emerging as a new conflict frontier between local and grass ‘hunters’ from neighbouring areas. Unregulated boom grass harvesters and tree fellers have invaded the area in search of the product for resale in urban areas.
There is high demand for boom grass in urban and resort areas where they are sold at lucrative prices. A bale of grass is sold at $6USD.
Sickles, axes, and machetes for harvesting which are classified as dangerous weapons by the police are preferred “tools of trade” for illegal boom grass harvesters and tree fellers.
Habakkuk Trust, a civic non-governmental organisation operating in Matabeleland provinces says “premature harvesting of broom grass, rampant cutting down of trees, and illegal harvesting without authorization from Bubi Rural District Council is brewing conflict between locals and non-locals”.
The local community feels it is being “deprived of revenue through illegal harvesting of their resources” Habakkuk Trust says.
According to the organisation, the Kenilworth community has expressed its disgust over the wanton harvesting of locally available natural resources by villagers from neighbouring districts.
“Premature harvesting of broom grass, rampant cutting down of trees, and illegal harvesting without authorization from Bubi Rural District Council are brewing conflict between locals and non-locals.”
“The community has expressed fear of being attacked as the harvesters use tools of the trade that easily equate to dangerous weapons. Grass cutters and tree fellers use sickles, axes, and machetes for harvesting which are considered as dangerous weapons.”
Periodically, law enforcement agents ban the carrying of dangerous weapons mostly machetes and knives for a specific period. The move is meant to curb criminal activities in communities.
What irks locals is the hostile attitude exhibited by the illegal harvesters when engaged and confronted by the local community to find an amicable solution.
A former councillor who preferred anonymity says at community meetings locals have resolved to 'fight for themselves'.
He likens the harvesters to illegal gold miners “who instil fear on communities by brandishing dangerous weapons”.
Habakkuk Trust notes that despite Bubi Rural District Land Use and Conservation by-laws providing a regulatory framework for licensing of harvesters, including fine schedules for penalizing offenders, the practice continues unabated.
“Illegal harvesting has continued despite the appointment of ward conservation officers who are charged with implementing the provisions of the by-law.”
The Trust together with traditional leaders in the area have called for the strengthening of the existing by-law to help protect the environment and enhance community benefit from locally available resources.
Deforestation causes massive environmental degradation. Image by Forestry Commission
In early August, the Forestry Commission imposed a nationwide ban on the sale of firewood and launched a blitz against the cutting down of trees in rural areas which is causing massive environmental degradation.
A few days after the launch, a multi-task team headed by the Forestry Commission confiscated more than 120 tonnes of firewood and an estimated 3 000 bags of charcoal.
In an update, Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) Monitoring Report has called for the setting up of an environment court to ensure environmental restorative justice.
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