Artisanal miners demand recognition

HARARE - As dawn breaks and the sun paints the horizon crimson and orange, a group of dishevelled men and women trudge up from disused mine shafts in Penhalonga carrying picks and crow-bars.

Their muddy limbs and toothy grins are proof that their hard toiling in the dead of the night has been fruitful.

“Working at night is much better and safer as opposed to mining during the day where we risk losing our gold to the police, who patrol this area,” said 34-year-old gold panner only identified as Diva.

“I have been mining gold for the past 10 years, but unfortunately the government does not want to recognise our efforts. Our ambition is to be granted licenses to mine legally so that we stop this cat-and-mouse game we play with the police and contribute to the country’s economic development,” he said.

A former kombi driver and father of three, Diva is one of the 500 000-strong artisanal miners, popularly known as makorokoza, who are criminalised in Zimbabwe due to serious environmental damage they cause through water contamination with heavy metals like mercury and cyanide.

Artisanal mining, which was banned in 2006, has also been blamed for deforestation, soil erosion and siltation in the country. 

However, the criminalisation of artisanal mining has failed to stop the activity that is poverty-driven and the proliferation of economically marginal ore bodies around the globe makes artisanal mining a subsistence activity that no amount of legislation can eradicate.

Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) executive director Farai Maguwu said it was imperative that a solution which benefits the artisanal miners and that is ecologically sustainable be developed.

“The formalisation of artisanal mining can be beneficial to all stakeholders if implemented correctly,” he said adding that the objectives of formalising are to ensure that a win-win scenario is created for the miners, the environment, the communities and the government.

“This will also assist in achieving good governance, transparency of mineral production and trade while ensuring that social requirements are met and the environment is protected. Formalization will also generate revenues for both the individuals and the communities through royalties and other taxes,” Maguwu added.

CNRG, which on Friday held a meeting in Harare with small-scale miners from across the country, is not only assisting artisanal miners with equipment but is also lobbying government to rescind its decision on informal miners.

Although all forms of artisanal mining are illegal in Zimbabwe, this has not always been the case. In 1991, Parliament gazetted Statutory Instrument 275, the Mining (Alluvial Gold) (Public Streams) Regulations as a measure to recognize gold panning and incorporate it in national development policies.

This statutory instrument allowed Rural District Councils (RDC) to apply for special grants for particular streams from the permanent secretary in the Mines ministry or a mining commissioner who would consult with the department of natural resources.

After acquiring the grant, the RDC would demarcate a public stream into 50 meter-sections for ‘approved’ local persons, cooperatives and partnerships in consultation with the mining commissioner.

The regulations also outlined and specified where panning is legally permitted, and prohibited panners from mining in an environmentally degrading manner. In essence they stated that no mining should be carried out within three metres of the riverbank and they should not be deeper than 1,5 metres.

However this Statutory Instrument was repealed with the effect of making gold panning, which constitutes 90 percent of artisanal mining activities, an illegal activity.

Another gold panner from Penhalonga, Isaiah Manyau, said the proliferation of illegal mining has resulted in increased health and moral hazards in society.

“The pits we work in are very close to each other and it is not uncommon for the pits to collapse during the rainy season killing people on either side. As such, it would be prudent for government to give us permits to mine in a regulated environment,” he said.

Lloyd Feranando, who used to mine gold in Bindura’s Kitsiyatota area, said illegal mining attracts commercial sex workers and sexual abuse was rife on women colleagues.

“We understand that our work stations pause a health hazard to our lives due to lack of ablution facilities but with the high unemployment rate in the country, it is better for us to engage in illegal mining activities that to steal,” said Tsverukai Duma from Penhalonga.

Mining experts assert that government must come up policy on artisanal mining which will be used as a guideline by law-makers in legalising all forms of artisanal mining within environmentally sustainable bounds.

“Artisanal miners should be well organised in unions, cooperatives and partnerships to secure their titles, attract investment and obtain loans. Government should then avail mining technologies and specialised mining services to the artisanal miners,” said researcher and economic commentator Francis Mukora.

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