HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsThe real gold panner cannot be regularised

The real gold panner cannot be regularised

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It appears the idea to legalise gold panning is receiving more and more support from senior government officials, particularly with an election looming.

It is indeed plausible to empower well-meaning, hardworking and honest citizens, and it can safely be assumed it is on this premise that Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Mines minister Obert Mpofu find it well and good to “regularise” gold panners’ operations.

What the officials may, however, have omitted to do is seek to understand the subject of their concerns — the gold panner in terms of what they do, how and where. They do not seem to have sought knowledge about how gold panners operate and how feasible it is to try to control their operations.

Gold panners are bounty hunters whose quest for fast riches knows no bounds. They do not operate in organised groups and they have no working principles. They flood an area like ants once word gets out that the precious mineral has been discovered there — it does not matter where it is or how accessible the area may be.

Their tools of trade are portable picks and shovels and, like soldiers on patrol, they walk long distances without having to be bogged down by “unnecessary” equipment which the sympathetic officials may want to offer them.

They are individuals, sometimes whole families, including fathers, mothers and their children, who often abandon their crops to go hunting for gold. They are not an easily definable group of people that can be brought together and organised to make their operations regular!

It is not as if one went to some area in Zimbabwe and asked who the gold panners were, they could be easily pointed out. Their activities too are not organised and therefore not easily regularised.

An example of how gold panners operate is the digging-up of highways, schools, rivers, bridges and farms which no amount of policing has managed to stem. Nothing will stop a gold panner from following a gold belt crossing a highway, running under a classroom or passing through the foot of a bridge.

Trying to organise them and directing them on where or how to dig cannot be an easy task. It can only happen with small-scale gold miners that already have some semblance of order and machinery — not the whirlwind gold seeker whose concerns are focused on fast money and nothing to do with the environment.

VP Mujuru said she hoped part of her audience at the recent Mining, Engineering and Transport (Mine Entra) conference were gold panners, but it is obvious she was expecting too much of the typical gold panner who most likely has never heard of an animal called Mine Entra.

So, unless the officials get down to the ground to assess the reality of organising real gold panners, all they will achieve in terms of assistance will be to empower already existing small-scale miners while at the same time encouraging environmental degradation by the real panners whose activities, no matter how destructive, would become legal.

As usual, efforts by VP Mujuru and Mpofu would end up materially benefiting a few miners who are already established while the real gold panner will only benefit by evading arrest for their wanton destruction of the environment.

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