FOR years the importance of artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM), who graduated from being called illegal gold panners, has increasingly been recognised with their contribution to the country’s overall income significantly rising to equal and at times surpassing that of their large-scale counterparts.
Many studies have shown that these miners have become key economic contributors not only at national level, but also at household and community levels. It is, however, sad to note that despite the obvious significance of ASGM, their welfare has not been taken into consideration.
For the past year or so the country has witnessed a worrying spike in incidents of machete-wielding criminals targeting the ASGM sector resulting in the loss of many innocent lives. Surprisingly there have been no arrests yet, even in cases where the perpetrators are known.
Some of the miners have rightly implored: “There should be laws to protect miners and President Emmerson Mnangagwa should use his Presidential Powers to bring sanity and stop these economic saboteurs by imposing stiffer sentences like 15 years imprisonment for those criminals who injure others as well as life sentences for those who cause loss of life. In fact, the life sentences for the machete gangsters must be accompanied with hard labour at mines.”
Why has it taken this long for government to act on protecting the very people who are literally its lifeline as they daily pump much-needed foreign currency into its perpetually empty coffers? We also recall, with some great pain, that this very government has hardly done anything to make the miners working environment safe to the extent that many of the ASGM die every day in shafts while burrowing for the precious mineral.
It is high time government was concerned by the welfare of those significantly contributing to its survival because the killings in the ASGM sector are not only disturbing, but an indictment on government’s sincerity and commitment in allowing people to work the mines as espoused by the mantra that Zimbabwe is open for business.