Andrew Mambondiyani –
Thousands of unemployed Zimbabweans have turned to illegal gold panning in a bid to survive the country’s deteriorating economy, leaving a trail of destruction that has alarmed farmers, timber plantation owners and the country’s environmental authorities.
Peasant miners have set up makeshift mines on farmland and timber plantations in the country’s eastern provinces, which border Mozambique where gold fetches a higher price.
Deep tunnels have been dug beneath roads, railways and buildings in the Kwekwe area of the Midlands province. In some parts of Manicaland province, waterways have been diverted and roads destroyed.
With more illegal miners likely to exploit the area as the economy continues to slump, and the state placing responsibility to act on landowners, farmers are fearful of irreversible damage to their land, and the risk of losing their livelihoods.
“Kwekwe is under siege from illegal miners and some of these miners are very violent. We don’t know what to do,” resident Jonas Dube said.
Simon Simango, an illegal gold miner in Chimanimani, Manicaland province, said the excavations were having a negative impact on the environment. But many workers had run out of options, he said.
“This (illegal mining) is our only source of livelihood. Look, there are no jobs in the country,” Simango said.
“We sell most of our gold to illegal buyers from Mozambique who are offering us very good prices.”
Miners report that buyers in Zimbabwe paid around $30 per gram of gold while buyers in Mozambique were paying, double at around $60 per gram.
A report by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization estimated that between 2007 and 2012, some 500,000 illegal, artisanal gold miners were operating in the country.
Experts believe these numbers could grow as the economy continues to falter.
In Tarka Forest, a timber estate owned by Allied Timbers in Chimanimani district, more than 600 hectares of prime timber have been damaged to make way for the illegal digs, according to company executives.
Manicaland’s minister of provincial affairs, Mandi Chimene, said in February that illegal gold mining in Tarka Forest had reached “alarming levels”, and resulted in the pollution of streams and rivers.
“What is happening in Tarka (Forest) is shocking,” Chimene said. “We wonder who is benefiting from the illegal gold because as a country, we are not. Such gold is not going to the legal market.” — Thomson Reuters Foundation