BY VENERANDA LANGA/RUTENDO MATANHIKE
CIVIC society has urged government to come up with a disaster management fund to ring-fence the safety of artisanal miners after the recent tragic Battlefields incident near Kadoma, where at least 24 artisanal miners drowned at Silver Moon and Cricket mines and more remain trapped.
Delegates during a discussion by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) on the Battlefields mining disaster said it was imperative that government comes up with such an initiative through mining levies.
Zimbabwe Miners Federation president Henrietta Rushwaya said the country should have learnt from a number of other disasters like Eldorado, Colleen Bawn, and Mashona Kop to avert other disasters like Battlefields.
She said artisanal miners should be included in the formal economy.
“Most accidents in artisanal and small-scale mining are caused by human, technical and environmental factors such as pit flooding, groundwater inflow that can lead to flooding and causes trapping of miners, digging of deep pits, unsupported tunnels, and tunnel collapses that can cause severe injuries, among others,” Rushwaya said.
“After the Battlefields case, government should now expedite regularisation of artisanal miners through regulations and a policy framework that is monitored and enforced so that artisanal and small scale miners are included in the formal economy.”
Giving a photographic presentation of the Battlefields disaster, Alpha Media Holdings journalist Blessing Mhlanga described the unsafe mining methods used by illegal miners, where they go very deep, 63m underground in risky shafts, without protective clothing and proper mining equipment.
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Mhlanga described how government was lax in its management of the Battlefields disaster after he observed ordinary gold panners risking their lives to rescue their trapped counterparts, while trained mining engineers, police and soldiers were not swift in their response.
“The gold panners rescued each other and pulled out dead bodies of their counterparts, some of whose bodies were decomposed and skins were already peeling off. It was horrific and traumatic,” Mhlanga said.
Zela director Shamiso Mtisi said the issue of flooding of mines was well captured in the country’s mining regulations, adding that there was need for the responsible authorities to examine abandoned mines and secure them before more disasters occur.
Meanwhile, People and Earth Solidarity Law Network also said the Battlefields disaster exposed many issues concerning economic and environmental justice in Zimbabwe.
In a statement, the organisation said the right to access emergency medical treatment, as provided for by the Constitution, was dishonoured due to the carelessness.
“Lives were lost at Battlefields. The Constitution, nevertheless, provides for the right to life, environmental rights, human dignity and health care. Of the latter in a disaster, the Constitution states that no person may be refused emergency medical treatment in any healthcare institution. All these rights were potentially violated due to the negligence, omissions and or inefficiency of State,” the statement read.
“Another issue is the culpability of large-scale gold miners who retain yet underutilised gold claims.”