The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has expressed grave concern over land degradation caused by gold panning in the gold-rich area of Boterekwa in Shurugwi.
Gold panners have for years dug up gullies causing environmental damage in the area, which lies along the Great Dyke, and recently they had intensified their activities, prompting EMA to act.
Even the intervention of police has failed to stop gold panning in Shurugwi. EMA Shurugwi district environmental officer Severino Kangara said open pits were now commonplace in Wards 17 and 18.
Vast tracts of grazing land have been lost due to the many open pits and veld fires.
Families from nearby farms have complained their livestock has fallen into the pits and died.
Kangara said the deforestation of Boterekwa was acting as a desertification catalyst and causing siltation in nearby Muterekwi and Manzimudhaka rivers.
“The Boterekwa area is now heavily degraded and you can see pits everywhere,” said Kangara.
“Almost every place along the Great Dyke within Shurugwi has been destroyed. Gold panning comes with devastating effects because enormous tracts of grazing area are lost due to digging everywhere as well as veld fires caused by panners,” said Kangara.
He added: What makes the situation worse is that we have gold mills scattered around Boterekwa that continuously spill cyanide and other substances onto the land as well as into Muterekwi and Manzimudhaka rivers.
These chemicals percolate into the ground and pollute water bodies around, which is a serious environmental challenge. Big mining companies around this area are also responsible for cyanide spillages into the environment.”
EMA’s efforts, backed by police and the Criminal Investigation Department’s minerals unit, to clamp down on the illegal panners have so far proved futile.
“The problem is that when we plan to raid the panners tomorrow, we find the places deserted with no one on site. Some spies within our system work in tandem with the panners who inform them that we are planning a crackdown on them so raids have failed to work,” Kangara said.