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 the country. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko
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 the country. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Gold fever leaves trail of destruction in Zimbabwe

By Andrew Mambondiyani Time of article published Apr 17, 2017

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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

environmental authorities.

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

roads destroyed.

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

Zimbabwe.

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

the country.

Experts believe these numbers could grow as the economy

continues to falter.

"Shocking"

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

company executives.

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

market."

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

Reuters Foundation.

"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

plantations."

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." 

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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