Tarka Forest, Zimbabwe - Thousands of unemployed Zimbabweans have turned to
illegal gold panning in a bid to survive the country's
deteriorating economy, leaving a trail of destruction that has
alarmed farmers, timber plantation owners and the country's
Peasant miners have set up makeshift mines on farmland and
timber plantations in the country's eastern provinces, which
border Mozambique where gold fetches a higher price.
Deep tunnels have been dug beneath roads, railways and
buildings in the Kwekwe area of the Midlands province. In some
parts of Manicaland province, waterways have been diverted and
With more illegal miners likely to exploit the area as the
economy continues to slump, and the state placing responsibility
to act on landowners, farmers are fearful of irreversible damage
to their land, and the risk of losing their livelihoods.
"Kwekwe is under siege from illegal miners and some of these
miners are very violent. We don't know what to do," resident
Jonas Dube told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Simon Simango, an illegal gold miner in Chimanimani,
Manicaland province, acknowledged that the excavations were
having a negative impact on the environment.
But many workers had run out of options, he said.
"This (illegal mining) is our only source of livelihood.
Look, there are no jobs in the country," Simango told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We sell most of our gold to illegal buyers from Mozambique
who are offering us very good prices."
Miners report that buyers in Zimbabwe paid around $30 per
gram of gold, while buyers in Mozambique were paying double at
around $60 per gram.
Zimbabwe has never fully recovered from an economic slump
that began in 2000 with the violent seizure of thousands of
white-owned farms. Unemployment runs at 80 percent, and even
those with jobs face unpaid wages and an acute shortage of cash.
There is no official data on the number of illegal miners in
However, a report by the United Nations Industrial
Development Organization estimated that between 2007 and 2012,
some 500,000 illegal, artisanal gold miners were operating in
Experts believe these numbers could grow as the economy
continues to falter.
In Tarka Forest, a timber estate owned by Allied Timbers in
Chimanimani district, more than 600 hectares of prime timber
have been damaged to make way for the illegal digs, according to
Manicaland's minister of provincial affairs, Mandi Chimene,
said in February that illegal gold mining in Tarka Forest had
reached "alarming levels", and resulted in the pollution of
streams and rivers, and destruction of standing timber.
"What is happening in Tarka (Forest) is shocking," Chimene
said. "We wonder who is benefiting from the illegal gold because
as a country, we are not. Such gold is not going to the legal
The government says it is the responsibility of landowners
or affected businesses to evict the illegal miners.
"If it's a forest plantation, it is the responsibility of
the timber companies to remove the illegal miners," Minister for
Mines and Mining Development Walter Chidhakwa told the Thomson
"If an area belongs to the timber plantations, the
government cannot legalise gold mining in the area. The
companies must put measures in to stop illegal mining in their
The same rule applies to illegal miners on privately-owned
farmland, he said.
Darlington Duwa, CEO of the Timber Producers Federation,
warned of lasting damage as a result of the disappearing forests
and water pollution caused by illegal mining.
"It (illegal mining) reduces the timber resource, thus
affecting direct and indirect employment, economic development,
foreign currency earnings and leads to environmental degradation
and reduced resilience to climate change effects," Duwa told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"In some areas illegal miners (settlers) uproot young trees
that have been planted," Duwa said. "At this rate, the industry
is bound to suffer irreversible damage."