MUTARE– Internally displaced persons relocated to Arda Transau, from Chiadzwa diamond fields, say illegal gold panning activities promoted by local politicians is causing massive land degradation.
An adverse report by Zimbabwe Allied Diamond Workers Union (ZIDAWU) says what started as subsistence panning has now attracted hordes of artisanal miners, who are sponsored by a local top politician.
Cosmus Sunguro chairman of ZIDAWU raised a red flag over the intensification of these artisanal gold activities which have now encroach into the yard of a local primary school.
Sunguro said the artisanal miners have been growing in numbers, with some coming from as far as Masvingo province, as they are protected by the unnamed politician who allegedly is sorting out his papers with the Ministry of Mines.
Arda Transau, formerly a farming area, is located about 30 kilometers away from the eastern border town of Mutare, and is now home to people who were relocated from Chiadzwa to pave way for formal diamond mining.
“The search for elusive gold has intensified in Arda Transau as artisanal miners numbering to as much as fifty could be witnessed jostling for a portion of land to dig. A case of hard times calling for desperate move as they reinvade Wellington primary school in Arda Transau.
“The miners have literally invaded the farming land near Wellington primary school. This is the second time the farming land has been invaded by miners, after they were chased by state security in 2017 for mining illegally.
“The mining activity by artisanal miners has left a trail of land degradation as this can be seen from a distance. Deep pits as much as 20 metres are dotted around the place. The msasa and mnondo indigenous trees that were dominant in this area are nowhere to be seen as they have been cut during clearing of the land in preparation for mining.
“Miners from as far as Masvingo province are part of the groups that are operating in this place and they show no remorse on the destruction they are causing to the environment, in fact to them their activity is justifiable as they claim that there is no employment,” said Sunguro.
Arda Transau Relocation Development Trust (ARDT) leadership also confirmed this development, although they sought to have their identities withheld for fear of victimization.
A committee member of the ARDT, a development trust set up by the relocated villagers, said the artisanal miners have a political backing which they boats of openly.
The source said gold panners have openly declared they won’t leave the place as they were chased from a nearby estate, where they had been mining for alluvial gold, along Odzi River before Covid 19 lockdown restrictions.
“We are living under fear because of these developments, we are not safe because of the trail of destruction that has been left, open pits are everywhere and pour livestock and children are not safe. ‘
“The artisanal miners are growing in numbers every day and some of them openly boast that they are protected by a top politician who is powerful so they are protected even from the state security,” said the sources.
Sunguro also concurs with these sentiments, detailing how the place is now covered with deep pits and excavations, left by the artisanal miners and posing a danger to the local community.
He said police is suspected to be taking bribes from the connected sponsors of the mining activities which he says are not beneficial to the country.
“I came across one of the deep pit alleged to be belonging to a prominent politician in Manicaland (pictures and name available) whom under normal circumstance must be involved in the monitoring these places.
“The politician, is said to be in the process of sorting out his papers to own that as a gold claim with ministry of mines and mineral development. Police is nowhere to be found as it is suspected that buyers are bribing them not to be harassed or prosecuted.
“Such a worrying situation won’t make us realize the value of our mineral resources. The councilor of the Ward 3 where mining activities is taking place promised to look into that issue of illegal mining. Admittedly he acknowledged the presence of illegal mining could result in societal vices like drug abuse and prostitution,” said Sunguro.
He added, “More effort is required to protect our environment from wanton destruction. The consequences of illegal mining can result in catastrophic impacts as witnessed from other similar mining areas. Monitoring activities has to be increased in these hotspots.”
Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), a local watchdog of mining activities is on record calling for formalization of artisanal mining basing on its lion’s share contribution to gold deliveries to Fidelity Printers and Refineries.
Despite gold deliveries significantly shrinking due to lower supply from artisanal sector which plunged in 2019 by 20%, ZELA says artisanal mining continue to contribute the lion’s share, despite gold deliveries from ASGM which peaked to 21,678.42 kgs in 2018, falling to 17,478.74 kgs in 2019.
This slump was attributed by ASGM players to be a result of ‘the decrease of foreign currency retention threshold of 70% from 55% introduced in 2019 mainly contributed to the plunge in gold deliveries.’
Prior to this plunge, annual gold deliveries from ASGM grew from 3.9 tonnes in 2014 to 21.7 tonnes in 2018, a 556% increase for a sector, which directly benefits over ‘1 million people and over 3 million indirect beneficiaries’, according to the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF).
ZELA says its bias towards the ASGM is, “hinged on the fact that the sector, for the past 3 years, from 2017 to 2019, delivered more gold to FPR than Large Scale Miners (LSM). ASGM sector accounted for 63 percent (17 478,74kg) of total gold deliveries (27 650,26kg) to FPR in 2019.”