Shifting Zimbabwe’s vision 2030 beyond predatory extraction : Feminist Alternatives to Development

There isn’t a day that goes by living in Zimbabwe without encountering the phrases “Vision 2030” , “Upper Middle-Income Economy” and “ Mega Deals” . These slogans have become part of our daily vocabulary as state media and government institutions inform the public on the  gains being made in the new development agenda. 

As I read through the National Development Strategy, I was disheartened by the central role extractives play in Zimbabwe’s new developmental agenda.

But what do these gains look like? Is the current development agenda people-centred? What does Vision 2030 mean to me, a young African ecofeminist living in this country? These questions often pop up when I see those slogans appear in the media. I am a young ecofeminist living in Zimbabwe and hope for a greener just feminist future. This desire shapes my analysis of my government’s vision towards an empowered and prosperous upper middle-income society by 2030. 

Building blocks of Vision 2030 

In September 2018, the newly but highly contested ZANU-PF elected government launched Vision 2030. The state envisions Zimbabwe becoming an upper middle-income economy by 2030, with a per capita Gross National Income of over US$5000 in real terms by 2030, from the current 

US$1440.28. In this reality, there will be less income disparities, a growing middle class, inclusive economic growth, reduction of poverty, universal access to water, higher life expectancy and improved access to affordable amenities such as health, education, and electricity. 

The government maintains that  “ Vision 2030 guides the revival of Zimbabwe’s development process benefitting from the economy’s rich human skills base, and abundant natural resource endowment.” Vision 2030 will be achieved  by implementing these short to medium term national development plans.: 

 

The Transition Stabilisation Programme laid the foundation for Vision 2030. The purpose of this short-term development plan  was to stabilise the macroeconomy and financial sector; introduce necessary policy and institutional reforms to transform a private sector led economy; and launch quick wins to stimulate growth. 

Second Building Block of Vision 2030: National Development Strategy 1

We are currently on the second building block of Vision 2030. The National Development Strategy 1 succeeds the Transitional Stabilisation Programme. The government states that “the overarching goal of NDS1 is to ensure high, accelerated, inclusive and sustainable economic growth as well as socio-economic transformation and development as Zimbabwe moves towards an upper middle-income society by 2030”.  

The medium-term development contains objectives, priority areas and macroeconomic objectives. Economic Growth and Stability is a priority area. The government identifies agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and tourism as  key sectors that will assist in achieving sustainable economic growth. Productivity and production in these sectors are projected to trigger economic growth in other sectors; Micro, small, medium enterprises;  and semi-formal activities existing on the peripheries of the economy. 

As an instrumental sector, mining is believed to radically  transform Zimbabwe’s economy. The government seeks to exploit the country’s abundant minerals. These include gold, diamonds, gemstones, coal, rare earth stones, platinum group metals, and others. The state maintains that due to under exploration and weak regulatory frameworks, the country has not gained sufficiently from its resources.

Key investments in mining are geared towards exploration, beneficiation, and value addition of minerals. The government aims to open new mines and resuscitate; attract large scale investment; addressing regulatory challenges; accommodate artisanal and small-scale miners; increase job opportunities and foreign currency. Collectively, these strategies aim to make mining into  a USD12 Billion industry.  

Other priority areas listed in the National Development Strategy include  “Environmental Protection, Climate Resilience and Natural Resources Management”. Action plans under these priority areas target sustainable production and consumption, sustainable use of land and aquatic ecosystems, reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss. The government recognises that sectors such as mining, and energy heavily depend on the environment for inputs to the production of goods and services. To achieve these targets, the government’s development agenda aims to improve ecosystem health and climate action. Collectively, these strategies will contribute towards achieving a protected environment by 2025.

An Ecofeminist’s reflections on Zimbabwe’s National Development Strategy

The moment institutions and government adopt feminist language, our issues become depoliticalized as everyone is apparently on the same page. There is no longer a crisis. We don’t have to challenge capitalism, patriarchy, class heteronormativity, racism, or ableism. 

As I read through the National Development Strategy, I was disheartened by the central role extractives play in Zimbabwe’s new developmental agenda. My disappointment emerged from the violent and ecologically destructive legacy of the extractive sector in Zimbabwe. From the diamond mine fields in Marange to coal exploration and extraction in Hwange;  communities have experienced pollution of water and air sources, sexualised violence, displacement, increased human and wildlife conflicts and  heightened moments of militarisation. 

WoMin African Alliance  and Centre for Natural Resource Governance’s (CNRG) report “Guns Power and Politics: Extractives and Violence against Women in Zimbabwe” uncovers gender-based violence against women in Zimbabwean mining towns. Rather than benefiting from the discovery of diamonds, the communities of Chiadzwa-Mukwada area of Marange district faced brutal treatment from security forces. Oxfam Zimbabwe’s story collection on extractives in Zimbabwe demonstrates how women bore the brunt of relocations. Women recounted how Unki Mine relocated their families from Shurguwi to Reitfontein Village, Zvishane in 2002. Given three months’ notice, families had to move to a new area with poorer soils,  no schools  and inadequate toilets. As the government pushes for large-scale investment in mining, one wonders who these arrangements benefit if citizens live in fear and discomfort.  

I also felt  cautiously optimistic as the government presented strategies towards environmental protection, sustainability, adoption of renewable energies and climate resilience. It was the same feeling I had when I read Zimbabwe’s updated National Determined Contributions (NDCs). The country recently submitted its NDCs to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. NDC’s  are the country’s climate plans to  reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change as agreed in the Paris Agreement. 

Zimbabwe set an ambitious new target of 40% emission reduction of greenhouse  gases by 2030 across all sectors of the economy. This is a 7% increase from the NDCs submitted in 2017, where Zimbabwe committed to reducing emissions in the energy sector. However,  implementation of the updated NDCs  is conditional to “ [the] availability of affordable international financial support, investment, ability to leverage domestic resources, technology development and transfer and capacity development”, the report states.

Shock came over me when I saw ‘intersectionality” mentioned in a Zimbabwean government policy document. For the government to recognise that multiple oppressive systems shape women’s interactions with the environment, education  and natural resource management is  ground-breaking. The government had long acknowledged that climate change is a gendered experience but had failed to craft policies that spoke to the varied experiences of different women, men, children, and gender and sexually diverse individuals. I felt proud that the demands by Zimbabwean feminist and environmental activists for inclusive and gender mainstreamed climate policies were finally being taken seriously. 

But that celebratory moment was brief. A couple of days later, I attended a virtual seminar facilitated  by Professor Patricia McFadden. The seminar “Embracing Contemporarity: Theorising and Living Our Feminist Futures‘ was thought provoking as Professor McFadden touched on ecocide, feminist futures and community. She also spoke about the co-option of feminist language by the mainstream as a means of pacifying and silencing feminist movements. The moment institutions and government adopt feminist language, our issues become depoliticalized as everyone is apparently on the same page. There is no longer a crisis. We don’t have to challenge capitalism, patriarchy, class heteronormativity, racism, or ableism.

As I reflected on Patricia’s powerful words, I remembered the contradictions between development and ecological protection in Zimbabwe’s building block to Vision 2030. Extractive industries in their current form cannot be compatible with development goals that aim to improve citizen’s wellbeing and protect the environment. ActionAid (2020) defines extractivism as “an economic and political model based on the exploitation and commodification of nature by removing large amounts of a nation’s natural commons for sale on the world market.” Feminist resistance against extractivism reveals how systems of oppression collaborate to dominate women, historical marginalised groups, and nature. 

Mapondera, Reddy and Hargrevs (2020) report “If another world is possible, who is doing the imagining?” notes that extractivism thrives on women’s undervalued paid and unpaid work. Patriarchy and capitalism coexist to subject women to extreme exploitation of their labour, bodies, and territories (ibid). Due to sexual division of labour, women are socialised to be responsible for social reproduction.  When illness from polluted air or water bodies emerge, women take care of the sick. In moments of forced removal or loss of access to common lands, women’s capacity to produce food and shelter for themselves and their families is greatly reduced. 

Given these realities, can Zimbabweans afford to maintain the social and environmental costs associated with the neo- liberal extractivism development model?

Reimagining our relationship with nature and women’s labour

Gudynas’ (2009) works identifies three forms of extractivism: depredating, moderate and indispensable. Depredating or predatory extractivism “includes activities that occur on a large scale or are intensive, their social and environmental impacts are substantial, and their costs are externalised”( Gudynas,2010). Moderate extractivism incorporates some social and environmental concerns as well as community participation. However, Randriamaro (2018) contends that approaches shaping moderate extractivism do not systemically challenge the means of accumulation or the socio-ecological impacts driving predatory extractivism. Lastly, indispensable extractivism works towards extracting as little as possible as it promotes sustainable practices such recycling, reducing emissions, addressing regulatory weakness, and maintaining viable ecosystems. 

Gudynas’ framework provides that the Zimbabwean government, at least on paper,  has adopted the indispensable extractivist approach to development. The National Development Strategy makes room for the social and environmental concerns arounds productive sectors that extract from nature.  It seeks to reform legislation around mining and environmental protections and includes community participation in decision making. Read in conjunction with the Nationally Determined Contributions and National Climate Policy, it appears that the Government of Zimbabwe aims to move towards a just transition. 

Yet in the same vein, I do not believe that implementation will match the well-articulated policies. My distrust largely stems from the conditionalities shaping the Government climate action plans. I’m concerned by the state’s desire to maximize benefits from minerals, metals, and nature in a rapid period.  It is correct that governments, the private sector, and development financial institutions from the Global North should fulfil their climate finance commitments. The climate and ecological crises exist because they formulated and benefitted from the extractivist development model as colonial and neo-colonial powers.

But two truths can coexist. The government needs to address the climatic and ecological challenges brought about by predatory extractivism in Zimbabwe. Feminist alternatives to development demand that society reimagines our relationship with nature and labour. Fernandes (2016) contends that society needs to recognise and protect the autonomy, livelihoods, indigenous knowledge, and source of production nature gives women. It’s imperative that the building blocks of Vision 2030 centre equitable production, sustainable resource use, human rights and community led solutions.

Concluding remarks 

Shifting Vision 2030 beyond predatory extractivism requires that the Zimbabwean state regains citizens’ trust. The current neo-liberal capitalist path to development has negatively impacted Zimbabweans livelihoods, dignity, and ability to hope for an equitable green future. The trust deficit is worsened by structural and physical violence used against citizens which result in gross human right’s violations and depletion of natural resources.

As the Zimbabwean government works on regaining citizen’s trust, the state should embrace cooperative and collective economic models. These approaches shift political and economic power from political elites and corporations towards communities. These feminist alternatives approaches to development translate to Zimbabwean communities crafting initiatives that are rooted in their collective needs and aspirations towards prosperous livelihoods.

My engagements with women living in different mining towns across the country reveal there is a strong desire for prosperous livelihoods and preservation of the environment. These communities want collaborative investment projects that offer local women equal job opportunities, access to renewable energy sources and decent pay. They want to be part of consultative processes between mining companies and the government to protect their ancestral lands, places of worship and family burial sites. They want all women and girls to be freed from the various manifestations of patriarchy in public and private life.

Reimaging Zimbabwe’s economic development demands bold action from duty bearers. It is possible. It is demanded by citizens. Shifting Vision 2030 towards citizens’ understanding of proposerous livelihoods; respect of women’s bodily integrity, personhood and labour and climate justice ensures that this economic roadmap is  not another empty promise to Zimbabweans. It is not another empty promise to me, a young Zimbabwe hoping for a green just feminist fututre. 

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