The recent mining disaster at Premier Estate in Mutasa district, where at least ten artisanal miners are suspected to have been buried alive by a Chinese gold firm has lifted a lid on an illegal river bed gold mining by the Asian venture.
Zhong Jin Investments, despite claiming that it is only carrying rehabilitation works under subcontract of Zimgold Fields, is actually carrying out outlawed extraction of gold in Mutare River.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tavhiringwa Kakohwa released two names of artisanal miners who were recovered as Sure Matamba (29) and Vincient Gundo (30).
“Some miners vacated the place leaving others behind which resulted in the death of the two,” said Inspector Kakohwa.
He said that on November 11, Matamba and Gundo of Premier central went for gold panning at Zimgold Fields along Mutare River.
They failed to return home which prompted Matamba’s brother in law Joseph Sande to make a report on the following day at Penhalonga police station that the two were missing.
“On November 13, around at 7.pm police together with Zhing Jian mining company went to the mining place and opened a pit where the two were trapped. They retrieved the bodies using an excavator,” said Kakohwa.
However the Chinese firm has already cordoned off a part of Mutare river with intention of diverting it for the rich pickings of gold nuggets.
Its clandestine operations have only surfaced following the incident which occurred on 11 November at Premier Estates, in Old Mutare about 20 kilometers North East of Mutare city.
Although Zhong Jin Investments general manager of operations vehemently denied allegations that it acted negligently and buried artisanal miners alive, the firm has a fractious relationship with artisanal miners who have flooded it’s mining claim.
Zhong Jin Investments says it is not involved in mining directly, claiming it is operating jointly with Zimgold Fields as a machinery and equipment subcontractor.
No shareholding structure was revealed.
The General Manager only identified as Xu yesterday gave a conflicting account of the accident and nature of operations despite evidence that it’s machinery was cordoning off part of Mutare river.
A 263CHAT survey at the site revealed that Zhong Jin Investments which started operations in November is mining illegally in Mutare River. Mining equipment including excavators trucks were observed at the mine site actively operating.
Centre for Research and Development, a civic organization which advocates for judicious management of natural resources said this development was a just the tip of an iceberg of illegal mining activities by shadowy investors.
Statutory Instrument 92 of 2014 of environmental management (control of alluvial mining) regulations, banned alluvial mining in riverbeds, banks, wetlands and any land within 200 meters of naturally defined banks.
James Mupfumi said on 8 September 2020 the Mnangagwa administration also announced the ban on all mining in riverbeds and national parks, further buttressing the SI 99.
“Their operations are unlawful and they must be stopped immediately. They do not have an EIA, and concession is not protected either, Chinese authorities at first lied that they were not a mining company but were subcontracted by Zimgold Fields to fill in pits left by illegal miners.
“It is increasingly becoming clearer that EMA can no longer protect environment health and safety of communities as obligated by the constitution because mining investments in Zimbabwe are ring-fenced by government elites,” said Mupfumi.
Meanwhile the Chinese company said it was operating in partnership as subcontractors providing machinery and equipment, despite evidence that it was mining.
General manager Xu, who spoke through an interpreter, also refuted claims that the artisanal miners could have been over ten as initially reported saying that the company only received a report of four missing artisanal miners.
“We have been land filling open pits left by artisanal miners after we were given a go ahead by the authorities to protect our claim from illegal operations which were taking place.
“We are in partnership with Zimgold in these operations. The company is also in partnership with ZPC in Hwange for a coal mining project. We own machinery that we subcontract to partners who may not have the capacity. We are not directly into mining.
“We are just fulfilling our contract obligations to fill in the areas mined illegally by artisanal miners,” said Xu.
Zhong Jin Investments claims notice was given for two days to give time for artisanal miners to cease their activities. It said when alerted that there were suspicions that some artisanal miners were trapped rescue operations started on the 11th and yesterday after extensive searching.
Xu made sensational claims that one of the two victims who was recovered in the debris showed signs of decomposition, although he failed to explain how the other one was not in similar condition.
“Zimbabwe Republic Police made the announcements to artisanal miners and they came back with feedback that they had managed to disperse the artisanal miners. The numbers are not clear but we have been searching from the east to the west under the guidance of the police.
“When we were alerted by some artisanal miners, we stopped and when the police came and asked us to assist since we had the machinery we obliged as we cooperate with the police and follow the rules of the country.
“We suspect that one of the victims was already dead and was not buried during our operations they had been underground for a long time.
“On the 14th another report was also made that they suspected that their partners were still underground and we assisted to excavate the areas and search for the body. We also found out that the artisanal miners were also making efforts to search but they found no one underneath,” said Xu.
He said when relatives of the two deceased persons came with the report that they were facing challenges with transport they chipped in and met funeral costs.
Asked on whether the search would continue, the Chinese said police must first ascertain the locations before excavation which were costly and not viable for business operations.
“We are still willing to cooperate with police,” said Xu.
“We have just started operations and we are establishing relations with the community and we are ready to assist and drill three boreholes, grade the road and refurbish a football pitch for the community. We have engaged some of the traditional leaders.
“Artisanal miners have been attacking our personnel, throwing stones at our vehicles and machines, this is disturbing our operations. At one time they also blocked the road with stones to stop our vehicle from moving. It’s a running battle that we need police to also assist us.
“We are operating under the guidance of a map from the Ministry of Mines,” said Xu, without divulging how big their claims was.
Zhong Jin Investments has also not erected a security fence contrary to Mines policy that a mining company cannot start operations without fencing off the area of their claims and assigning security personnel to man the same.