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‘They want to remove us and take the rock’, say Zimbabweans living near Chinese-owned mines | Global development

A convoy of trucks laden with huge black granite rocks trundles along the dusty pathway as a group of villagers look on grimly.

Every day more than 60 trucks take granite for export along this rugged road through Nyamakope village in the district of Mutoko, 90 miles east of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

The air reverberates with blasts and heavy machinery noises as the mountain above the village is slowly reduced, slab by slab. Quarrying has been happening here since the 1980s.

Mutoko stone is sought after for its lustre. It is a popular material for tombstones. An extension to the Danish royal library in Copenhagen, known as the Black Diamond, is clad in Mutoko granite.

Water reflected in the Mutoko granite facade of the Black Diamond extension at the Danish royal library, Copenhagen.
Water reflected in the Mutoko granite facade of the Black Diamond extension at the Danish royal library, Copenhagen. Photograph: Architecture2000/Alamy

The Buja people who live here say that as mining companies extract wealth from the mountain, they leave behind a trail of damaged roads and bridges, hazardous pollutants and dirty air. Cracks can be seen on houses and blast debris is everywhere.

Now 50 families in the village have been told by a Chinese mining company that they will have to leave their homes and land. People in four other villages in the district fear they will also lose their ancestral lands.

Two families, including an 82-year-old villager and his wife, have already been relocated by Jinding mining company, which wants to build a polishing plant.

“The 82-year-old man collapsed when he heard the news because he never anticipated it. He was later resuscitated at the hospital. This is how bad things are here,” says Claudine Mupereri*, 38.

She says the man was told his house was within the area licensed to the mining company by the government. Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Act gives the president power to decide the use of an area that makes up 40% of the country’s land, home to about 70% of the population.

“These companies do not respect communities. If the government does not protect us, then where will we get the protection we need?” says Mupereri.

Two other families were given $2,500 (£1,840) to rebuild their homes, but community leaders say this is insufficient.

“There is uncertainty around this village. Right now, we do not have anyone willing to help us because our councillor does not want to help us. Anyone who dares to speak out is threatened. Whether they remove us or not, we are already scared to speak out,” says Anesu Nyamuzuwe*.

The 40-year-old father of four fears losing five hectares (12 acres) of land, his only source of income.

“I have a good farm with fertile soil. My farming always meets my household requirements. I had built a good home and I am close to Mutoko centre, so I am not sure if I will ever get such a piece of land again,” he says.

“What is more important, investors or the villagers? We should have the right to reject these people from entering our community.”

Cut granite blocks left on a farmland in Mutoko.
Cut granite blocks on a farm in Mutoko. Those living near mining sites say companies are not restoring the land after extraction. Photograph: Nyasha Chingono

Jinding mining company in China could not be reached for comment.

A manager and interpreter at the company’s plant in Mutoko says families who live within the 500 hectares the company is licensed to mine will be relocated, but adds: “the people who are giving out the claims [to mining companies] have a problem. Why are they giving them [companies] so much land? This land is almost 500 hectares, I am sure they already know that people live in this place.”

Zimbabwe has enjoyed a close relationship with China for decades. But the bond between the two countries solidified when western states imposed economic sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s government. As credit and investments dried up, China stepped in.

In 2018, Zimbabwe-Chinese relations were elevated from “all-weather friends” to strategic partners, paving the way for Chinese investors to pour money into the country, particularly in the extractive industries, where they have been accused of paying little attention to environmental damage by environmental and human rights activists.

Those living near granite mines say companies are failing to restore the land after extraction. Open pits are left uncovered, endangering children and wildlife.

Zimbabwe’s government has been accused of turning a blind eye to complaints because, critics say, it doesn’t want to anger its biggest investor.

Mineworkers speak of poor working conditions. At another mine in Mutoko, workers give accounts of beatings and poor pay.

“Imagine going to work every day for over 12 hours and getting $50 at the end of it all. When I get home I am tired. My home knows no peace,” one worker tells the Guardian.

“My friend was beaten with a steel rod and another 17-year-old boy had his arm broken after coming to work late. He was given $250 as compensation after villagers complained.”

A truck transporting black granite.
A truck transporting black granite. Villagers affected by mining say they are often too scared to challenge firms. Photograph: Nyasha Chingono

In 2020, two workers were shot and wounded in Gweru, central Zimbabwe, allegedly by a Chinese miner after a quarrel over salaries.

Evelyn Kutyauripo, a paralegal with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela), who has been rallying villagers in Mutoko to resist evictions, says local officials need to protect people.

“I blame the headmen and the councillors because they are working with the Chinese. They should stand with the community,” she says, adding that companies were taking from communities and not helping them develop.

“They are not developing anything in the community. They should have a strong corporate social responsibility because they are killing our environment. We are suffering, our houses are cracking and there is pollution. The government should come to see what is happening.”

Another Chinese mining company, Shanghau Haoying Mining Investments, is also causing unease among Nyamaropa villagers.

Last year, the company was reportedly given a government licence to mine granite on tracts of land belonging to local people.

“I hear they want to remove us so that they take the rock, which is underneath, but the people do not want to. They will have to use guns to remove us here,” says Gladman Murape*, 34.

Shanghau could not be reached for comment.

Richard Ncube, a legal officer at Zela, says people in Mutoko were “extremely worried” about evictions. “The major challenge is they are living in the dark, and they are not sure what is going to happen.”

He said people were too scared to challenge the company. “We have gathered that most of the communities [in Mutoko] are afraid to come forward and take these matters to court due to intimidation and fear of being victimised,” says Ncube.

Attempts to challenge the mining companies elsewhere in Zimbabwe have had mixed results.

Workers at a black granite site in Mutoko.
Workers at a black granite site in Mutoko. Miners in the region speak of poor working conditions, including beatings and low pay. Photograph: Desmond Kwande/AFP/Getty

In November, Heijin mining company lost its mining licence in Murehwa, a district about 55 miles from Harare, after local leaders complained to the government that the company planned to evict locals.

In 2020, Zela was involved in the successful fight to overturn licences to mine coal in Hwange national park, the country’s largest national park, home to 40,000 elephants. Following protests, the government banned mining in all its national parks.

However, in September, hundreds of people in Chikomba district, 80 miles south of the capital, were evicted from their ancestral homes to make way for a $1bn iron and steel mining project.

The Zimbabwe government says it has not received any reports of abuse of workers in Chinese-owned mines, but it did encourage workers to report any incidents.

Deputy mines minister, Polite Kambamura, urged villagers to approach the ministry if they had problems.

“We haven’t heard of any Chinese company which has relocated people in Mutoko. If villagers are not happy, they may approach our provincial mining office in Marondera or come directly to the ministry,” he says.

“We understand that if ever there is a company that wants to relocate the people, they should engage the community, to buy that social licence from the community.”

Kambamura adds that an environmental impact assessment – to ensure the environmental, social, economic and cultural issues related to any mining project are considered before it begins – must also be conducted by the company and should address any concerns.

The Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Mutoko leaders were also approached for comment.

* Names have been changed

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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Culture

‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Global Affairs

Brazil’s G20 Presidency Kicks Off In Rio With Foreign Ministers Meeting | International

Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 nations were gathering Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro to discuss poverty, climate change and heightened global tensions as Brazil takes on the annual presidency of the bloc.

The ministers and other representatives of the 20 leading rich and developing nations planned to spend two days setting a roadmap for work to accomplish ahead of a Nov. 18-19 summit in Rio.

One of Brazil’s key proposals, set by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a reform of global governance institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and multilateral banks, where he wants to push for stronger representation of developing nations.

Brazil’s ambassador to the bloc, Mauricio Lyrio, said at a news conference Tuesday that structural reforms of international institutions are urgent because of a proliferation of conflicts around the world — not just in Ukraine and Gaza, but in a total of 183 locations, according to one study, he said.

“We have practically returned to the level of conflicts seen in the Cold War period. This shows that there is a lack of governance to deal with current challenges,” said Lyrio, who is the economic affairs secretary at Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“It is one thing to work for peace in each conflict; another thing is to have a global governance that prevents conflicts from occurring,” Lyrio said. “We’re basically putting out fires.”

After years of diplomatic isolation under former President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula has sought to reinsert Brazil on the center stage of global diplomacy since returning to power in January of 2023.

Lucas Pereira Rezende, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said Lula was especially well-suited for the role, recalling that during his earlier terms as president from 2003 to 2010 he was once called “the most popular politician on Earth” by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

The G20 “is a very important international stage, especially at a time when the world is facing two major wars, involving large states, and also at a time when multilateralism is in crisis,” Rezende told The Associated Press.

“But Lula is a very strong international actor and has a very strong multilateral role, especially when presenting himself as a leader of underdeveloped or developing countries.”

G20 finance ministers and central bank presidents are set to meet next week in Sao Paulo, and a second meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for September.

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