BY VENERANDA LANGA
DISRUPTION of employment and increasing levels of poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic have forced artisanal small-scale miners to resume their activities, raising fear of the resurfacing of the dreaded machete gangs.
This was revealed by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) in its COVID-19 mining sector and communities’ situational report.
“With many jobs and sources of income being disrupted, and the high costs of basic commodities, many people are increasingly moving into the ASM [artisanal small-scale] gold sector for the quick money they can get,” the Zela report said.
“A series of machete violence cases have been reported in June and July 2020. In Zvishavane, one man was injured during a gold rush.
“In Matobo, at Nugget Mine, a machete gang violence case was reported. Reports of the gang invasions were also recorded in Maphisa, Makwe, and Mvana, with criminals and gold gangs escaping with cash, digital scales, and gold ore.”
Added Zela: “Machete violence incidents have been recorded in a number of mines in Bubi, where the criminal gangs managed to get away with the gold ore.
“In Gwanda, machete gangs have been reported at Vhovha Mine, where they assaulted and injured several miners and got away with gold ore. The police were able to arrest the gang leader after he was handed over to police by the miners who tracked him down to Gwanda.”
The Zela report also said soldiers were reported to be raiding artisanal miners, while police were arresting and closing some mines in cases where miners were not complying with COVID 19 regulations.
“In Matabeleland South, 145 ASM miners were arrested in Gwanda, while 115 were arrested in Bulilimangwe.
“During a recent Parliamentary Committee on Mines meeting in Mutare (23 July 2020) a representative of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) informed parliamentarians that many artisanal and small-scale miners are being arrested, but gold mining activities go on even at mid-night in the ASM sector,” Zela said.
Recently, the Zimbabwe Miners Federation leader Wellington Takavarasha appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines led by Edmond Mkaratigwa and called for the formalisation of artisanal mining to enable the miners to operate within the law.
Zela also said there were growing mining claims disputes within the ASM which could be attributed to the use of archaic manual claim allocation and mapping systems in Zimbabwe.
“The use of the manual system has resulted in claim disputes with some claims being double pegged or boundaries overlapping.
“The disputes have resulted in violence. A case was recorded in Penhalonga. A gold miner allegedly hired bouncers to rob a rival of gold ore worth over USD$2 500 over a mining boundary dispute.”
They said the Ministry of Mines confirmed that processing of mining licenses was slow due to a high number of applications in 2020 and shortages of staff.
“Over the year, the Ministry of Mines has been issuing 2 500 mining titles per year. However, by July 2020, there have been a massive number of applications for mining licences to the Ministry of Mines.
“A large number of applications are straining the Ministry since it does not have adequate resources-human resources and equipment to process mining titles. This has affected the speed of processing mining titles.” Zela said.