By Thomas Chidamba
Artisanal and small-scale miners have called for a complete overhaul of the colonial Mines and Minerals Act. They say the current proposed Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill does not adequately deal with issues affecting them.
The Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill is yet to be brought before Parliament amid numerous calls for its recrafting. Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners Association (Assa) national chairperson Blessing Togarepi told NewsDay that artisanal and small-scale miners were not consulted during the drafting of the amendment Bill. Togarepi (BT), who is also TogaBless Mining Investments managing director, told NewsDay (ND) reporter Thomas Chidamba that the concerns of artisanal miners should be adequately captured in the Bill as they are the biggest contributors of the bullion to Fidelity Printers and Refiners. The following are excerpts from the interview:
ND: Tell us about your journey in representing the voices of artisanal and small-scale miners.
BT: I was once the chairman of Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) in Mashonaland Central province. During my term as the chairperson, I managed to bring sanity in the mining industry within the whole province.
I vividly remember that in 2018 when all artisanal and small-scale miners were evicted in areas such as Kitsiyatota in Bindura and Mukaradzi in Mt Darwin by government through the Joint Operations Command (Joc), hundreds of them were left stranded after the police destroyed their makeshift shelters.
They were accused of spreading cholera in the gold-rich areas and nearby villages.
As their leader, I visited the Mukaradzi mining area and I met the Joc members manning the area. I also managed to engage Mt Darwin South MP Clemence Kabozo and we had a long discussion on the way forward since the livelihoods of people of my constituency had been affected.
Kabozo promised to assist and fortunately that engagement resulted in artisanal and small-scale miners being allowed to come back and register their names under the claim owner.
Since, then the artisanal and small-scale miners in the areas mentioned have been working peacefully and contributing to the government target of US$12 billion mining revenue by 2023.
Following the failure by ZMF to deliver and adhere to its mandate, I left ZMF and joined hands with other like-minded members and we formed Assa.
Since its formation, Assa has won a number of battles that we fought as an organisation which represents the interests of the majority artisanal and small-scale miners.
For example, Assa contested the issuance of exclusive prospecting orders (EPOs) in a blanket approach, whereby the province or eight out of 10 provinces in the country will be under EPOs, ignoring the presence of the local small-scale explorers.
Assa also appealed to all the relevant stakeholders to raise their voices against the new Mines and Mineral Amendment Bill and has written to Parliament and the Mines ministry pertaining to that.
ND: You have been a lone voice in making noise over the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill. What is wrong with the new proposed amendments?
BT: I feel the new Bill centralises power around the Mines ministry officials by giving them power to make decisions through the Mining Affairs Board (MAB).
The Bill isolates other critical stakeholders like Environmental Management Agency (Ema), rural district councils (RDCs), civil society organisations (CSOs) and traditional leadership.
This is in violation of section 13(4) of the Constitution, which obliges the State to ensure that local communities benefit from resources in their areas.
Under the Traditional Leaders Act (Chapter 29:17), traditional leaders have jurisdiction over communal land in terms of environmental, economic, social and cultural rights for the benefits of their communities.
The RDCs are agents of development for rural communities through revenue collection for service delivery.
EMA is the regulatory agency in environmental health and protection. Community-based organisations (CBOs) and CSOs need representation on the MAB in view of the paramount role they play in providing checks and balances to operations of government.
These human rights defenders have played a critical role in exposing rights abuses, opaque mining deals and other forms of resource plunder.
The MAB cannot adequately address issues of transparency and accountability in the mining sector if these critical players are not involved in decision-making on the board. Artisanal miners were not consulted on the Bill.
ND: You also made a lot of noise about the EPOs. Some people now say you were against the Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando. What is your response on that?
BT: Yes, I have made it clear, and I put it on record that I am against the issuance of EPOs in a blanket approach. However, I am not against the Honourable minister (Chitando), people should know that it is also right to differ in opinion with others and it does not necessarily mean we are against each other. Constructive criticism is healthy for the development of our country.
ND: In your own view, do you think government will meet the targeted US$12 billion mining revenue by 2023?
BT: Yes, I am very confident that the target can be met. Nothing is impossible as long as you are alive. The key to success is determination, hard work, resilience and co-operation.
However, certain measures and policies need to be adopted by the authorities and these include that the proposed Mines and Minerals Bill should be grounded on transparency and accountability along the mineral value chain and should reflect the tenets of the African mining vision of having a “transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development”.
There must be formalisation and decriminalisation of artisanal and small-scale miners to optimise their contribution to the economy. The formalisation of the sector should be coupled with incentives for the players to access mining claims and licences at reasonable fees.
Measures must be taken that will promote the attainment of gender equality, equity, and women empowerment within the pursuit of a just mining sector.
Government must also show that Zimbabwe is committed to join the extractive industries transparency initiative (EITI) and to implement its standards. Implementation of the EITI standards establishes a systematic process for making data in the mining sector transparent and accessible. By joining EITI, government will be committing itself to ensuring full disclosure of information along the mineral value chain — from how extraction rights are awarded to government revenues and how the public benefits from the sector.
ND: How can mining contracts be strengthened so that the country can benefit?
BT: The country should adopt a legal framework of fiscal terms that provides sufficient accountability to citizens, stability for investors and flexibility to respond to changing circumstances in the mining sector.
This will enable government to review mining contracts in the event of policy changes. Authorities should also desist from giving harmful tax incentives and abolish the indefinite carrying over of losses in the mining sector.
Government should incorporate the mining contracts provisions that impose obligations on the mining companies to respect human rights and the highest standards of environmental, social and health protection consistent with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Human Rights.
This will create the basis for mining communities to report wrongdoing and assure them of prosecution from companies that violate human rights.
ND: You have been at the forefront of assisting women to get mining claims for free, why women only?
BT: Yes, I have a strong bias towards women for a number of reasons, including that women had been left behind in areas of production and decision-making in our societies. They now need empowerment to bridge that gap.
Women are committed, and they are eager to try to succeed, unlike men. Men are always doubtful and they can be easily distracted when they earn an extra dollar.
By numbers, using the 2012 national statistics, women in Zimbabwe outnumber men. They should be assisted to break the cycle of poverty through mining initiatives.