By Clayton Masekesa
THE arrests of high-profile figures Henrietta Rushwaya, the Zimbabwe Miners Federation president and Tashinga Masinire allegedly connected to top government officials among others, has exposed floodgates of pilferage and smuggling of gold through well orchestrated syndicates.
Rushwaya was arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport in October last year for alleged gold smuggling. She was reportedly preparing to board a flight to Dubai when authorities found six gold bars worth an estimated US$366,000 in her carry-on luggage.
Masinire was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa early this month with smuggled gold worth US$730 000, without the requisite licence to neither carry nor declare to officials.
Concerned civic organizations in Zimbabwe have said the arrests of Rushwaya and Masinire among others have exposed how Zanu-PF elites along with senior individuals in the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and Customs and Excise officials within the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) have ganged up to help themselves to the nation’s natural resource with impunity.
The Ministry of Finance says it has been losing about $1.8bn of mineral revenues yearly, especially from gold smuggling.
Green Governance Zimbabwe Director Nyasha Frank Mpahlo, says the arrests of the smugglers is only a tip of an iceberg.
“It is our conviction that this can only be the tip of an iceberg, which can be fully understood if government expends resources towards fighting to reduce smuggling, which is a form of illicit financial flows,” said Mpahlo.
“It is also telling that this cache was detected outside our borders. It proves beyond reasonable doubt that the syndicates work in cahoots with the security sector and politicians in their smuggling excursions,” he said.
Mpahlo said the solutions to curb the rampant smuggling of the precious stones was the enforcement of national laws that security personnel, tax officials and immigration officials must assume with requisite importance to guard jealously the national wealth.
“We call on government to collaborate with civil society partners to create joint-monitoring mechanisms, develop internal capacity of its security arms and invest in airport and border surveillance equipment,” he said.
Mpahlo said it was high time Zimbabwe joined the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative to promote responsible investment, transparent and accountable mining operations.
The Centre for Research and Development (CRD) Director James Mupfumi said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rejection to assent the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill (MMAB) has exacerbated gold smuggling.
“Consultations on the MMAB have been extensively carried out over the years, but rejected by the Executive. The law making process in Zimbabwe has become a preserve for the Executive.
The hemorrhage that the country is experiencing in the gold sector is as a result of the decision by the Executive to hold on to laws and practices that promote self-interests over public accountability,” said Mupfumi.
“The amendments were important to curb leakages in the trading of gold and precious stones. The constitutional Amendment Bill number 2 was processed into law at lightning speed because it intends to safeguard the interests of the Executive. The views of the people of Zimbabwe on the bill that were expressed through Parliament were not adopted,” explained Mupfumi.
Zivai Community Empowerment Trust (ZICET) Programs Director Mildred Muzanechita said it was disheartening to learn that Zimbabwe was losing domestic revenue due to smuggling.
“Corruption and gold smuggling among other issues have crippled the country’s efforts to leverage on its vast mineral resources and deliver basic services such as education, health and clean water,” said Muzanechita.
“Illicit financial flows in the mining sector are hampering socio-economic development, hence, there is a serious need of the government to act responsibly.
As a community organization, which is deeply rooted where gold is being extracted, we seriously condemn the resource leakages and call upon the government to promote and demonstrate commitment to transparency and accountability in gold mining,” she explained.
Muzanechita urged government to develop a Gold Trade Policy that provides policy direction on marketing of gold including creating scope for responsible gold production and sourcing systems.
The chairperson of Penhalonga Residents and Ratepayers’ Trust, Westone Makoni said the residents of Penhalonga, where a huge chunk of gold is being looted from, are disturbed by organized gold leakages that continue to occur in the mining sector.
“A significant amount of revenue from gold and other precious minerals is not finding its way into the Reserve Bank because of excessive looting with culprits being condoned and not brought to book. As a result of this malpractice, the Executive is losing people’s expectations on servant leadership,” said Makoni.
“Penhalonga residents mourn the corruption bedeviling the management of their natural resources, which has robbed them of better service delivery and sustainable development,” he said.
Makoni said it was high time President Mnangagwa dealt with corruption in gold mining and engaged international institutions to stop gold smuggling.
“Government must implement devolution to enable communities to monitor their mineral resources.
Government must stipulate a competitive pricing regime for Fidelity Printers to curb black market flourishing,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) has reported that unclear policies have caused gold to be smuggled outside the country, with the country losing large amounts of foreign currency.
“The system of gold leakages in Zimbabwe is linked to criminality within the artisanal and small -scale mining sector. Massive gold leakage is facilitated by a well-connected system leveraging on the chaos in the sector and the influence of political actors,” reads the 2019 report on Gold Smuggling in Zimbabwe.
Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi has said an inter-agency comprising of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and law enforcement agents were working to prevent the smuggling of the precious metal.
“I was in Dubai recently and the officials there were telling us that a total of 60 kg of gold every month comes from Zimbabwe and we have to put together a team of investigators to establish where the gold is coming from,” Hodzi said.
He said the Zimbabwean government has also allocated funds to conduct training for investigators.
“We need to train investigators properly because there is also plenty of smuggling into South Africa and other countries,” he said.
Gold is illegally shipped from small-scale miners, often to Dubai and neighboring countries such as South Africa.
The precious mineral has a significant role in the development of the country as it brings the much-needed foreign currency.