Gold panners ruin Byo council's work

BULAWAYO - Illegal gold panning activities taking place in areas near some of Bulawayo’s water supply dams, remain a thorn in the flesh to the city council which for years has battled to provide uninterrupted water to its residents.

The city council has been fighting the panners popularly known as Amakorokoza for nearly two decades now, but with limited success.

In an interview with the Daily News during a tour of the dams recently, Bulawayo City Council deputy director for engineering services, Ian Mthunzi admitted the war with panners was far from over.

“Amakorokoza are simply a headache to our operations. As I am speaking right from here (Upper Ncema) to lower Ncema they have virtually wreaked havoc digging a lot of holes all along the rivers,” Mthunzi said.

He however, singled out three dams — Umzingwane, Upper and Lower Ncema as the most affected.

He attributed this to their proximity to rich alluvial gold deposits in the area.

“This has contributed heavily to siltation of our dams. Besides there have come as an extra expense to the council as it means more money to purify water that has been drenched in mud.

“We need different chemicals like aluminium sulphate to coagulate the muddy foreign objects which I can say is also time consuming and laborious,” he said.

Mthunzi said the massive siltation has drastically led to the water holding capacity being condensed. Matabeleland South Province is known for its abundant alluvial gold deposits, a development  which has
seen many illegal gold panners invading the area to eke out a living from the bowels of the earth.

Coincidentally, this is the province that carries all of Bulawayo’s five major supply dams which are Insiza, Inyankuni, Umzingwane, Upper and Lower Ncema.

Although Mthunzi could not be drawn into revealing the extent to which the holding capacity has been affected, he said previous checkups have indicated a major impact.

The official water holding capacity for Lower Ncema is 18,2 million cubic litres, Umzingwane 44,7 million cubic litres, Upper Ncema 45,4 million cubic litres, Insiza 173,49 million cubic litres and Inyankuni 80,8 million cubic litres.

Mthunzi said it was an uphill task to curb the activities of the gold panners who for years have been playing a cat and mouse game with the police in their search of gold.

“I should say it is very difficult to curb this. As council alone, we cannot cope and as such we need collective effort with the ministry, the police and Environmental Management Agency among other stakeholders,” he said.

In the past, police and council rangers launched a war against the panners which saw some being arrested but this has done little  to permanently drive them away.

Councillors who were part of the tour told the Daily News that if siltation is left unchecked, it will  in the long run worsen the already ugly water situation in the country’s second largest city.

A fortnight ago, the city council reduced its water rationing regime from two days to a day per week.

Councils explained that they were anticipating more water inflows to the supply dams this year.

The overall combined percentage total of dams was at 40,4 percent as at January this year, leaving the city fathers praying for more rains to boost supplies.

Bulawayo over the years has experienced perennial water problems.

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