Plundering the life out of Chimanimani

CHIMANIMANI - Illegal artisanal gold miners who have retained a stranglehold on government-owned Allied Timber’s Tarka Forest Reserve — a commercial pine tree plantation in Chimanimani — may just have become overly aggressive.

With the area having been worked and reworked for nearly two decades, the illegal gold miners have evolved their mining engineering from panning to something more efficient but frighteningly more destructive to the environment.

From carrying bags of gold ore to water sources and panning for the alluvial gold deposits, they are now diverting streams into areas with alluvial gold deposit traces and eroding the whole mountainsides into a tapestry of man-made streams which in turn run through makeshift gem-sorting stalls which then trap any gold nuggets.

While the artisanal mining engineering ingenuity is a marvel, its trade-off with the environment is unreasonably high.

With ecosystems difficult to value in economic terms, there can never be telling the total cost.

Surface mining may already be an extreme land use practice that undermines agriculture, the illegal artisanal miners are threatening to completely wash out over 600 hectares causing permanent woodland loss.

These agricultural pests are eroding the timber estate’s economic foundation.

It has been the price the country has had to pay for making artisanal gold mining increasingly attractive over the last two decades due to ruinous economic policies, investment flight and rampant corruption.

Interestingly, it has been corruption that has been aiding the environmental degradation.

“We obviously pay someone to be allowed to work in these forests,” confessed an artisanal miner who refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.

“Some of our buyers are politically-connected and also help in facilitating our access to these gold fields,” he said.

Clearly, his story has a ring of truth as setting up this riverine mining infrastructure requires an ounce of permanence in settlement and a lot of patience, betraying the artisanal miners’ corrupt ties with law enforcement agencies.

A tour of the estate by the Daily News on Sunday revealed a shocking proliferation of this form of artisanal mining with huge tracts of the forest heavily gullied. Some roads are now completely impassable by heavy trucks as the panners create makeshift log bridges to hide their destruction.

While a map of the estate seen by this paper marks off 600 hectares of the forest in the southwestern tip, investigations reveal that the problem has long spread to the central and northern parts as hundreds of artisanal gold miners have swamped the estate, tearing up the forest in groups.

Uprooted trees are strewn all over the estate’s forest floors and all its rivers diverted and bleeding out its fertile soils.

From being a major source of employment to nearby communal areas, the estate is now largely abandoned as Allied Timbers has lost productive access to huge portions of its plantations.

Interviewed gold diggers acknowledge the negative environmental impact of their labours but are quick to point to their desperation.

“We have no better alternative but we can’t survive when we know we can get something here,” said Obedience Breakfast, whose group works in the northern parts of the estate.

Another group that works nearby has since dug a gully across a major road and patched it with a makeshift bridge that can hardly sustain the weight of a five-tonne vehicle making it a death trap for logging and haulage truck drivers (see picture below).

Peter Zike from Checheche, who married only recently and is expecting his first child, also confessed his desperation in adopting this extreme form of mining.

“This is not by choice. I have just married and my wife is expecting a baby anytime soon.

“I need to look after them and this is the only thing that I can do for now,” Zike said, revealing that their income has been going down over the past 18 months he has been working the estate with his group members taking a miserly $30 each after about three weeks of labour.

“We know that we are destroying the environment,” added Zike.

Environmental Management Agency (Ema) provincial manager Kingstone Chitotombe acknowledges that the environmental degradation is now alarming and now needs a multi-stakeholder approach.

“The level at which the matter is demands a multi-stakeholder intervention, involving Forestry Commission, timber companies, ourselves and the Zimbabwe Republic Police. We have already alerted the police in writing over the situation in Chimanimani and they acknowledged receipt so we are waiting for them to react accordingly to the issues raised,” Chitotombe acknowledges.

Independent environmentalist Amos Chiketo also expressed concern on the impact of the massive erosion on aquatic life in the area.

“These illegal gold diggers are washing away tonnes of soil into rivers with the hope that they would trap gold nuggets but at great loss to river life and downstream communities,” Chiketo said.

The former Allied Timbers forester, who managed Tarka Estate for nearly a decade, said the estate was a crucial catchment, particularly of Rusitu River — a major water body on which thousands of families depend for agriculture and fishing.

“The illegal artisanal mining is at its worst. It’s not only rendering huge portions of the forest unusable but also threatening the livelihood of thousands of villagers along Rusitu River while spoiling Rusitu forest, a very important tropical forest for the country which has among other things rare birds that can only be found there,” Chiketo observed.

Comments (3)

ZRP should Get rid of these illegal miners fullstop

jonah chiwara - 7 November 2016

ZRP should Get rid of these illegal miners fullstop

jonah chiwara - 7 November 2016

ZRP should Get rid of these illegal miners fullstop

jonah chiwara - 7 November 2016

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