The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Business Reporter
INFORMAL mining in Zimbabwe is believed to be one of the biggest contributors to minerals being smuggled out of the country, and that is a cause for concern which should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The predominant minerals include platinum, chrome, gold, coal, and diamonds. Informal mining which is largely characterised by artisanal and small-scale miners has seen Zimbabwe estimated to be losing at least US$100 million worth of gold every month from smuggling.
It is estimated that there are between 500 000 and 1,5 million artisanal and small-scale miners operating in Zimbabwe and of these only 16 percent are registered according to the Mines and Minerals Regulation Act Chapter 21;05. In an interview, Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development chairman Hon
Edmond Mkaratigwa said the effects of informal mining from a Government perspective saw informal miners being difficult to regulate. He said there was a need to turn informal mining into a formal practice for it to benefit more from mainstream market and Government initiatives.
“We have advanced many options for formalisation. Dialogue is key so that these groups are capacitated for growth and business mentorship, among many other aspects. Policy frameworks are better crafted together than when others are shying away due to informality. Informal mining should just be turned into formal mining,” he said.
Hon Mkaratigwa said due to informal mining, there was no environmental reclamation, rather more land degradation and conflicts.
He said with informal mining there was no guarantee for a future in the business and that resulted in side marketing of the minerals to the black market.
“Also but if you look at their production capacity where they supply to the Government buyer, you see that they need mentorship otherwise they can easily be tamed. We have been trying to advance mopping them into the formal sector and there is still more to be done through amendments of various Acts. In the meantime, at least they should be supported through administrative means, to push them back to selling to the Government buyer while showing them the merits of the same.”
Trade unions in Africa have time and again called for artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) to be formalised as a way of transforming the sector. Regional trends have shown that in many countries, 70 to 80 per cent of small-scale miners are informal.
Informality has brought along with it damaging socio-economic, health and environmental impacts, which trap the majority of miners and communities in cycles of poverty and exclude them from legal protection and support.
Hon Mkaratigwa said Zimbabwe has tried to push for reduction of bureaucracy and any form of discrimination by any means, with less exclusion meant to promote formality. In terms of the Draft Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, he said it should be among the key priorities during this session of Parliament.
This comes as the sector is being governed by the Mines and Minerals Act of 1961, which has been described by stakeholders as archaic.Since it was crafted over five decades ago, the Act is reportedly creating a lot of confusion in the mining sector which stakeholders believe would be eradicated if the new bill is passed into law.
“The Draft Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill should be among the key priorities in this session of Parliament and in this Government year. It has been placed among the key enablers of the 2022 Budget targets and the national vision for the upper middle-income economy,” said Hon Mkaratigwa.
He said the Draft Bill still has to pass through the “hall of critics before it goes to the hall of fame”. Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF), which represents small-scale and artisanal miners is on record saying 84 percent of small and artisanal miners are not registered.
Commenting on that ZMF chief executive officer Mr Wellington Takavarasha said only 16 percent of small or artisanal miners were formerly registered, which meant that Government was not deriving optimum benefits from the “illegal activities” of small and artisanal miners.
Lack of formalisation has seriously affected production and deliveries from small and artisanal miners, with the National Mine Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (NMWUZ) president Mr Kurebwa Javangwe Nomboka calling for the need to formalise informal miners who are not benefiting the country by selling their minerals on the black market.
“Informal miners sell their minerals through illegal means and as a union we propose the absorption of informal miners into the legal tunnels of mining with the Government assisting them in their mining activities by monitoring their mining methods to avoid disasters.”
Informal miners are said to be lacking sophisticated equipment, working capital and the right knowledge, among others, which have accounted for their inconsistent total annual gold deliveries to Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR).
Meanwhile, environmentalists have said the increase in illegal mining activities was heavily scarring the environment. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) said informal mining activities were also causing problems such as water pollution, deforestation, poor soil fertility and limited access to land for agriculture productivity.
Illegal mining in Zimbabwe has become the major cause of other environmental problems such as veldfires with a 2021 environmental report showing that illegal mining contributed to 42,81 percent towards veldfires while land clearing constituted 2,89 percent and arson 28,3 percent.
EMA education and publicity manager Ms Amkela Sidange said: “The study showed that we have over 1.5 million illegal miners in the country and over 11 100 hectares is degraded due to illegal mining. Over 1 500km of rivers have been affected by illegal mining. Areas like Matobo District have lost about 142 livestock between 2017 and 2021 that have fallen into the pits left by illegal miners across the district.”
She said as an environmental agency, they were lobbying for a fiscal consideration from Government so that they could be able to roll out rehabilitation of decommissioned mines in the country. Nationwide decommissioned and abandoned mine sites are said to be a threat to humans and animals.
Climate Change scientist in the Climate Change Management Department in the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality, Mr Lawrence Mashungu said the mining sector was an energy intensive industry.
“The mining sector contributes to various climate change issues through the use of heavy machinery that need to be powered, the type of transport systems that they use, mining equipment that uses a lot of energy to purify the ore among others. These contribute to the issues of climate change because there are a lot of emissions that are being emitted through the mining processes,” said Mr Mashungu.
Bulawayo based non-profit environmental organisation, Greenhut Trust is working with youths in communities to come up with solutions on how to rehabilitate old unused mines under a programme called Sharpening Community-Level Youth Leaders for Environmental management Excellence (SCYLE). The programme is meant to address challenges emanating from unsustainable mining activities.
Greenhut Trust founder and director Ms Cinderella Ndlovu said they tailormade a programme to capacitate communities through funding from the Frederick Naum Foundation for Freedom.
“We recently carried out the SCYLE programme in Umzingwane District where 25 young people took part. The programme which is being funded by the Frederick Naum Foundation for Freedom and is aimed at putting youths at the forefront of lobbying and advocating for environmental issues in the district,” said Ms Ndlovu.
She said they came up with community led initiatives with regards to environmental management which included tree planting, rehabilitation of abandoned mines, putting in place awareness programmes to enable the youths to engage their communities and reach an understanding on the extent of the damage that illegal mining activities were causing.
ZMF Matabeleland South chairman of the Small-Scale Miners Association Mr Philemon Mokuele said there was a possibility of rehabilitating unused mines through formalisation of the artisanal and small-scale miners.
“There is a need for registration of all formal and informal miners, allocate them workable land for mining and take them for short courses so that they understand the importance of environment and safe methods of mining,” he said.
Zimbabwe Young Miners Foundation (YMF) chief executive officer Mr Payne Kupfuwa said they were working on formalising young artisanal and small-scale miners so as to upscale them into formalised medium scale miners.
“Our aim as young miners is to positively contribute to the realisation of a US$12 billion mining economy target which should see Zimbabwe edging closer to the goal of being an upper-middle income country by 2030. This can be achieved by working together with strategic partners to formalise and grow young miners’ enterprises into professional medium scale entities so that they boost their production capacities,” said Mr Kupfuwa.
Formalisation of illegal miners in Zimbabwe will see Government achieving targets set for the mining sector. In 2019, President Mnangagwa launched the US$12 billion mining industry roadmap where gold is expected to contribute US$4 billion, platinum US$3 billion while chrome, iron, steel, diamonds and coal will contribute US$1 billion each. Lithium is expected to contribute US$500 million while other minerals contribute US$1,5 billion.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando said the US$12 billion mining industry target by 2023 was achievable as part of the broader macroeconomic roadmap towards achieving an upper middle-income economy by 2030.