Government should devise methods to incorporate illegal panners into mainstream mining activities if they are to find a lasting solution to curb the spread of gold panning activities, an environmental law expert revealed.
Gilbert Makore, a projects coordinator with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), told NewsDay in an interview illegal miners (artisanal small-scale miners) were a difficult group to control because they operated informally and outside the law, making it hard to enforce environmental legislation on them.
“In the past years there has been an increase in illegal mining activities by artisanal small-scale miners, but the challenge has been that they operate outside the law and it is difficult to enforce the Environmental Management Act upon them,” said Makore.
“The Environmental Management Act stipulates that companies should be responsible for the environment where they operate from, but it is difficult to monitor the activities of illegal panners because they are not registered with the Ministry of Mines or the Mining Commissioner,” he said.
Makore said since they were not of any fixed aboard it made it difficult to monitor how their illegal activities damaged the environment and then bring them to account or even force them to rehabilitate the environment.
“These illegal panners are destroying the environment and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) should be able to find them, but it is difficult. We have cases of illegal gold panners in Shurugwi and when EMA officers do the rounds, they are actually attacked by these people,” said Makore.
He said in Ghana, incorporation of illegal miners into mainstream mining had been successfully done.
“In Ghana, Metallon Gold has managed to engage illegal miners so that they sell their gold through proper channels and their contribution now goes to the fiscus,” he said.
He said the fact that they operated without licences made it difficult for them to sell their produce through legal channels, but since the police had failed to control them, it was better to find ways to get them into formal structures so that they also contributed taxes to government.
“The police have failed to find ways to control them and wherever they operate from they have caused extensive damage to the environment, causing gullies and sometimes digging pits that do not only threaten their lives, but also that of animals and other people,” said Makore.
He said sometimes in Mutoko livestock fell into the pits and since they did not have the necessary equipment, they used a lot of mercury, causing the soil to become loose, as well as causing siltation at riverbanks.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said illegal gold panners were a menace.
“We have always had operations against illegal panning of minerals and have often conducted sporadic arrests, but they have always come back to do their illegal activities. At times they go very close to mines and illegally pan from there,” said Bvudzijena.
He said the police never protected these illegal miners and wherever there was a case of police members doing so, they should be brought to book because they would also be breaking the law.