Brother Rodrigo Peret OFM attends People’s Dialogue Network in Zambia

Br. Rodrigo Peret OFM collaborates with the Serviço Inter-Franciscano de Justiça, Paz e Ecologia (SINFRAJUPE) and many other Latin American and international organizations, and is a long-standing partner of Franciscans International.

In November 2017, Br. Peret travelled to Zimbabwe for an exchange visit held by the People’s Dialogue Network (PD). The aim of this mission was to understand the status, potential, and sustainability of artisanal mining in the country.  Within that visit, together with other 22 PD delegates, he was arrested and, after two days, released.

Franciscans International reached out to him to better understand the mining situation in Zimbabwe and how human rights work fits within his Franciscan mission.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Why is mining so contentious in Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe is a very rich country in terms of natural resources, especially minerals. However, the population is very poor. There is no direct translation of this natural wealth in positive gains for the population. Actually, local communities are displaced by mining corporations and seldom receive proper compensation both in terms of hard cash and of infrastructures—roads, fresh water distribution, schools, among others. Many communities, displaced years ago, are still fighting for their human rights to water, education, health, etc.

Also, you have to realise that all mining concessions given to foreign and national corporations are at the discretion of the President [at the time of the interview the President Mugabe had just been deposed]. This is different from other countries in the region, where different bodies within the state decide on these matters.    
Do you think the situation of mines is bound to change for the better given the new President Emmerson Mnangagwa?
I do not have much hope for big changes. President Mnangagwa is a veteran of the revolution; he was Vice-President and has been in many different positions in the government during the 37 years of Mugabe’s presidency.
In your experience is this situation specific only to Zimbabwe?
No. There is a pattern in the way big mining corporations operate, regardless of the country. Although at different degrees, you will find similar types of exploitation of communities living on the land where the mining has, or will occur: a lack of redistribution of wealth, abuses, human rights violations, lack of compensation (communal or private) and poor to inexistent infrastructures. These communities and these lands are, in the eyes of corporations, expendables for profit. We really need to rethink this extractivist approach in its totality.
How do you see the connection between Franciscan charism and the type of human rights work that you engage in?
My human rights engagement is, at the base, an effort to protect and safeguard creation. There is a deep connection with the Canticle of Creatures and the feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood with all creatures and ecosystems on the planet.  Human rights are Franciscans at heart, they are a call to all people to defend the dignity of our brothers and sisters and the environment around us: all of God’s creation.