High time artisanal miners’ health, safety is prioritised

If our government seriously appreciates the artisanal miners’ efforts it should have surely by now made sure that their health and safety is prioritised.

IT was a welcome relief to hear that all the 15 artisanal miners who had been trapped underground at Redwing Mine in Manicaland province’s Penhalonga area escaped death by a whisker after tunnelling their way out from the belly of the earth where they had been entombed for three days following a mine shaft collapse.

Now that the very lucky and courageous 15 are all well and in good spirits after digging their way out after rescue efforts were stalled by a dangerously unstable ground which kept shifting, it is time to introspect over their obviously harrowing experience.

This unfortunate incident has once again spotlighted the plight of not only the artisanal miners at Redwing, where more than 100 miners are believed to have died over the past few years, but also of thousands of other artisanal miners across the country who are having it rough as they dig for mainly gold.

It is believed that there could be more than 1,5 million artisanal miners in Zimbabwe, a number we believe calls for our attention as far as their welfare is concerned because their occupation — hazardous as it is as the Redwing incident has proved — is contributing immensely to our economy.

Using such rudimentary tools as picks and shovels, the country’s artisanal miners reportedly supplied 65,6% of the 35 tonnes of gold the country officially produced in 2022, an incredible contribution which we believe should jolt the nation, especially government to do something about the health and safety of these people.

If our government seriously appreciates the artisanal miners’ efforts it should have surely by now made sure that their health and safety is prioritised.

However, is it sad that every year dozens of incidents are reported of  artisanal miners being buried underground, some for good after the tunnels they would be working in collapse. The Chegutu incident is one such episode which quickly comes to mind which claimed seven miners who never made it back to the safurce months ago.

Granted, mine accidents happen and mine collapses are inevitable once in a while, but the state of the working environment for our artisanal miners leaves a lot to be desired and calls for government to insist that these miners graduate into more organised gold diggers.

What deeply pains some of us is that while the artisanal miners are risking their lives, the people owning the claims where the miners are working seem not to care at all about these workers’ health and safety. All they seem to care about is the gold being mined.

So we urge government to stamp its authority and make it mandatory that all claim owners using the services of artisanal miners should establish proper structures such as well-maintained shafts and underground tunnels that are well-lit and adequately aerated.

As it is, the claim owners are not reinvesting into their mines and the artisanal miners are simply using their rudimentary tools to burrow their way into the ground like rats, bring out the gold and get paid peanuts, while the claim owners walk away dripping with riches. Some of the claim owners are accused of not even handing over the gold to government, but spiriting it away to the black market.

It is, therefore, about time things change in all areas artisanal miners are currently working. And, just maybe, government should start at Redwing as a pilot project to help upgrade mining operations in all areas where there is artisanal mining.

On the same note, it is gratifying — as reported elsewhere in this NewsDay edition in the business news section — Metallon Corporation, the real owners of Redwing Mine, have pledged to restore sanity in Penhalonga

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