By Partinella Ngozo
Artisinal Miners are wreaking havoc in Kwekwe causing extensive land degradation and posing a risk to human life.
This is worrying according to Climate Reality Leader and founder of Climate Justice Zimbabwe (CJZ), Perseverance Javangwe.
“If you travel around Kwekwe town land degradation has become the norm with illegal mining becoming rampant in the city. Law enforcers are not taking action. The environmental agency (EMA) is mute on all these atrocities that are taking place in the city. It is a risk to the health of citizens and is damaging the environment. Mother earth has warned us that the planet is burning yet we are adding more damage instead of doing justice to earth, there is need for more action on that,” he said.
EMA Midlands Provincial Manager Benson Bhasara refused to comment on land degradation issue citing political reasons.
“I’m sorry I am not able to comment on the questions you asked because the issue involves top leadership and politicians in Kwekwe I hope you understand my concerns ,” he said.
A baseline survey of the Great Dyke conducted by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) showed that Midlands Province is endowed with a plethora of mineral resources. Approximately eight minerals are found in the region. The province has in the past two decades witnessed devastating impact on the environment such as deforestation, burning of bushes and uses of harmful chemicals, river siltation, land destruction and cultural damages. These environmental impacts are a result of destructive mining, wasteful mineral extraction and processing practice and techniques used by artisanal miners threatening infrastructures in the province.
Kwekwe is infested with artisanal miners who operate within the proximity of its Central Business District. A report by Environmental Agency (EMA) Impact Assessment after the closure of Globe and Phoenix Mine in 2007 revealed that its mine shaft run under Kwekwe CBD. The tunnels form a network beneath the city with nearby mines such as Gaika. Artisanal miners are now illegally operating the mine posing a serious risk that some parts of the Central district and residential areas may collapse into tunnels that run underneath the city.
Recently, Globe and Phoenix Primary school in Kwekwe which is about 500metres from CBD is reportedly in danger because of artisanal miners, makorokoza, who have dug pits with some reports that illegal gold-panners emerged under-classrooms.
Teachers who teach at Globe and Phoenix Primary who spoke to on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation expressed that when schools are opened, their life is in danger as gold panners would be moving around in the school grounds in search of gold, resulting in the grounds being covered with trenches and big holes around building foundations and school authorities having to close the holes almost on a weekly basis.
“It is very scary imagine that these makorokoza do not even respect our school compound and we no longer even have a sports ground for our learners since the panners dug out the field leaving very dangerous gullies all over. Pupils have nowhere to play as a school, we are trying to cover these holes and recently we were using the car park for children activities but now the place is also dug putting lives of children at risk“, he said.
According to makorokozas leader Ngonidzaishe who was spotted and interviewed at the school grounds, he said their main target is to get gold and they had not been aware that the tunnel they were following from underneath Globe mine would lead them to the school.
“Tunnels in Globe can lead you anywhere in town and because we are searching for gold belt sometimes we are surprised when we realise we are underneath town. We did not know it would lead to the primary school”, he said.
Kwekwe city councillor Melody Chingarande complained of how makorokoza were operating and using explosives even in residential areas while conducting their mining, resulting in people living in fear that their homes might collapse in tunnels that run underneath the city.
“These illegal miners are posing a great danger in Kwekwe and they don’t even care about other people and in some parts like Mbizo residential areas where they are gold claims u can actually hear mining explosives causing danger to our children and women,” she said.
Kwekwe District Administrator (DA), Fortune Mupungu said artisanal mining in the region have brought positives and negatives in the district. He highlighted that they have noted the negative impact of Illegal mining such as gullies around town and water sources being polluted posing a threats to aquatic and human life.
“As a district we have also noted that land meant for agriculture purposes has also been converted into mining activities therefore there is need for co-existence between farming and mining since farming is the backbone of our economy,” he said.
Reports from Zimbabwe Mining Indaba in 2017 revealed that illegal miners are usually violent and threaten other land users resulting in conflicts between farmers and miners. Environmental activist Moreblessing Gwaze said illegal mining pose a serious threat in many ways. She noted that in addition to negative effects of chemicals used by miners, illegal mining operations were dangerous in that miners have no proper equipment or protective clothing.
“It is sad that most families are left either without breadwinners or with child headed families because of shaft collapse and violence that is usually associated with illegal miners,” she said.
According to reports by ZELA on their child rights programme , there are a lot of child headed households in mining areas resulting in children now risking their young lives and participating in artisanal mining which is usually associated with violence and drug abuses.
However, there is need for government to regulate artisanal miners before they cause further harm to the environment and livelihoods of other land users. It is imperative that there be enforcement of legislation to protect the environment and health of communities and miners.