Poor Infrastructure Development Due To Leakages In Zimbabwe’s
By Shingirai Vambe
Pushed by endless poverty, desperate illegal gold seekers have begun a new wave of panning, tearing down Zimbabwe’s countryside in Penhalonga’s Redwing Mine in search of the yellow metal, leaving behind a trail of destruction that includes devastated fields and forests, mud-choked rivers and mercury-tainted water along the Mutare River.
The disconnected sound of hammers drowns out the rush of the river. Saungweme Mountains and Mutare River close to Redwing Mine have been besieged by the illegal gold panners.
Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) told the Post On Sunday Newspaper that Illicit financial flows (IFFs) in the artisanal mining sector in Zimbabwe are responsible for leakages of an estimated 3 tonnes of gold, valued at approximately USD157 million every month.
According to the Asian News network, Aljazeera, the precious mineral is finding its destination in Dubai, where there is no any mining activity yet developed more than any country in the world.
Director for CNRG, Farai Maguwu said the country has become a huge gold mine with artisanal mining occurring almost everywhere. Incidences of gold-rushes are frequent, chaotic and well-immersed in informality. Gold money amounting to billions of dollars is flowing through a parallel system, outside the formal market, every year and consequently beyond the sanction of the law, whereby political and social elites deliberately keep state institutions weak in order to reap economic and political benefits or to increase rents.
“Some artisanal miners in Penhalonga sell their gold to local community buyers who are often working for registered buyers based in the major cities. There is no paperwork to ensure the traceability of the gold when it is produced and sold by artisanal miners to anyone. The so-called ‘Masters’ or ‘Bosses’ who lead the buying syndicates either have registered mines or are registered gold buyers. They are just politically connected individuals who then effortlessly smuggle the gold out of the country,” said Maguwu.
With this massive looting, open casts and contamination of water downstream, there is nothing to show, instead, in some instances, children of school-going age, are seen busy panning in Penhalonga due to widespread hunger that has wreaked havoc in the small mining area virtually forcing everybody regardless of gender or age to join the gold rush following the closure of the mine before Scott Sakupwanya took over the Redwing Mine.
Access to health care and education has become a foreign thing for the people living around the mine area and other parts of Penhalonga. These people rely on the use of mercury, during their amalgamation process and it has left behind unsafe drinking water for both men and animals.
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) communications officer, Batanai Mutasa, told this publication that the use of mercury has potential risk to the environment, flora and fauna.
“The use of mercury has raised environmental and health concerns due to mercury’s toxic nature. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can have severe health effects, especially when exposure occurs through inhalation or ingestion. It can contaminate water bodies, soil, and the food chain, leading to long-term ecological damage,” Said Mutasa.
He added and said, Mercury toxicity can impair kidney function leading to chronic kidney disease. it has also been associated with immune system dysfunction, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disturbances, and reproductive issues and affects a wide range of wildlife species, including birds, mammals, and fish. Birds and mammals can be exposed to mercury primarily through the consumption of contaminated prey, while fish and other aquatic organisms accumulate mercury directly from water and sediment.
“With this level of destruction, effects and occurrences, there is still nothing to show for the larger part of Manicaland which has the largest deposit of the yellow metal and the people are getting poor and poorer while the environment is seriously affected,” Maguwu said.
Interestingly, this publication managed to talk to one of the artisanal miners who disclosed the unfair treatment they are getting from elite registered alleged to be about 20 gold barons in Mutare, most of whom are employed by Sakupwanya.
Sakupwanya’s mobile phone was unreachable to get a comment on the alleged matter.
Tendai Sithole (not his real name) said, Sakupwanya buys gold processed at his mill at $33 per gram. However, if they take the ore to external mills, they sell their gold at $36 – $40 per gram and normally buy 5kgs a day.
Because of the gold rush, nothing is left for survival, the ecosystem is under threat, as well as human and their livestock. However, The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has raised a red flag in the rise of cases where mining is being done in a manner that disregards the safety of the public and integrity of the environment.
EMA communications officer, Amkela Sidange told the Post On Sunday Newspaper that, due to illegal mining across the country, some fatalities have been reported. Some months ago, a classroom block at Globe and Phoenix School in Midlands, collapsed into underground tunnels leaving scores of learners at the school nursing injuries and the school counting loses whilst in the same neighbourhood, a house also collapsed into another lurking underground tunnel. As if that was not enough, recently in Kwekwe again, the Agency issued an Environmental Protection Order for cessation of mining operations within the environs of Camelot Group of Schools which were in fact being implemented without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) licence.
“Very recent and fatal incident was recorded in Insiza District of Matabeleland South where two (2) children, aged 8 and 13 years drowned in a pit full of water on July 16 2023 at Kingdom Five mine. On that note, the Agency is calling upon miners to exercise due diligence in their mining operations by always ensuring they follow all the tenets of sustainable mining and save the environment, lives and property,” added Sidange.
She further highlighted that, the Agency is at the same time ceased with the rising Illegal mining activities in the country. According to a sample survey done recently by the Agency on 49 illegal mining sites across the country, it was noted that approximately 1110.18 hectares was degraded due to illegal mining. This is against an estimated 100 163 ha and a stretch of 1 555km of riverine ecosystems degraded due to illegal mining country wide, according to another recent survey also done by the Agency. What is worrisome is that the land is turned into a wasteland due to illegal mining rendering it unproductive and unsafe characterised by ugly pits as deep as over 30 metres in some circumstances, at the same time also fuelling biodiversity loss.
“This story was produced by Shingirai Vambe. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.”