MUTARE– The national lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the Coronavirus has impacted negatively on the gold sector, lowering production and spiking cases of gold smuggling, a new report by a civic watchdog Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) has revealed.
In the report titled ‘From blood diamonds to blood gold’ CNRG interrogates origins of machete violence, which rocked the gold sector claiming over 200 lives in 2019, examines drivers of artisanal mining and gives recommendations to policy makers.
CNRG said it has noted that the disrupted international travel has fueled illicit trade facilitated by corrupt security officials, while smugglers have also taken advantage of the country’s porous borders.
“The lockdown also slowed down artisanal gold production due to limited supply of chemicals such as cyanide which is imported from countries that closed their borders much earlier than Zimbabwe.
“CNRG noted that smuggling went up during the lockdown as the illicit gold market adapted to the lockdown conditions in various ways. RG Mugabe International Airport remained open to both passenger and cargo planes whilst the country’s porous borders remained active.
“The closure of Beitbridge Border Post has seen a rise in organized crime as security officials on both sides of the border facilitate illegal passage of smugglers into both countries,” reads part of the CNRG report.
CNRG recommendations to government in ending machete violence calls for formalization of artisanal miners to avoid the deliberate conflation of artisanal and small-scale mining for expediency.
It also noted the influx of Zimbabweans into artisanal gold mining pushed by economic hardships, despite efforts to regulate artisanal mining being resisted by both large scale miners and government.
CNRG said if the artisanal sector continues operating without proper regulation it could soon degenerate into a national security crisis as the gangs continue to enrich themselves from easy pickings.
“…the majority of Zimbabweans have been turning to artisanal gold mining as it gives them an opportunity to earn the greenback which gives them stronger purchasing power. People have been digging anywhere and everywhere, where they suspect there are gold deposits.
“The chaotic situation in the artisanal mining sector which is characterized by an ever rising number of desperate artisanal miners preyed on by armed gangs with links to politicians poses a security threat to the country.”
CNRG said that there is a ‘danger that some gangs shall be armed by their political godfathers to venture into wide scale organized crime’ urging government to respond accordingly to adopt policies and legal frameworks to curb this.
It said government must among other things end impunity of perpetrators by commissioning a thorough investigation on the surge in violence in the sector and bring perpetrators to book.
“Amend the Mines and Minerals Act and the Environmental Management Act to ensure thorough land rehabilitation after mine closure. Impose tough sentences on those found guilty of machete violence or robberies in the ASM sector.
“Adopt artisanal mining best practices from around the world and ensure the sector is properly regulated for the safety, security and benefit of the miners, women, communities and the country.
“Craft an artisanal mining policy that improves the safety, health and well-being of those involved in the sector,” said CNRG.