Environmental lawyers have blasted the government’s unusually slow emergency response to the Battlefields mine disaster.
People and Earth Solidarity Law Network (PESLawyers) called the late pulling out of bodies of at least 24 illegal gold miners out of shafts in the mine west of Harare “just heartbreaking”.
The dozens of illegal gold miners were pulled out of mine shafts that were flooded, with only eight rescued alive, but alarmed lawyers said the anaemic rescue efforts did not begin until four days later.
The Mines minister Winston Chitando has said government was hampered by the sheer magnitude of the disaster, but its decision to fail to deploy supplies and staff in time to rescue the trapped miners has attracted opprobrium.
The sense of let-down is all the more stark because the “artisanal miners sell their gold to the government through Fidelity Printers and Refiners and various gold centres dotted across the country,” PESLawyers said.
And it is not the first time the government has faced severe criticism for a slow or weak response to disasters.
PESLawyers director Lenin Chisaira said the State has not taken adequate measures to regularise, capacitate and provide support measures to small-scale miners. “It took the government an unexplainable large amount of time to respond to the Battlefields mines disaster.
“Disaster response teams should therefore be evaluated and adequately funded to avoid unnecessary loss of lives,” Chisaira said.
In the preliminary report titled ‘‘gold capitalism and disaster preparedness in Zimbabwe’’, Chisaira said the accident, which was declared a national disaster exposes lack of disaster preparedness by both the State and local authorities as well as the culpability of large-scale gold miners who retain yet underutilise gold claims.
“The painful accident invites the need for a critique of the current nature of gold capitalism, disaster preparedness and the unequal and class nature of environmental and economic justice in Zimbabwe,” he said.
The lawyers challenged government to formalise and regularise artisanal gold miners, especially those utilising abandoned or neglected mines, while calling on the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to be more efficient in implementing its statutory roles.
The lawyers recommended a commission of inquiry to investigate property rights restrictions occasioned by large-scale mine ownership and underutilisation of gold claims and blocks.
They also called for training of miners and other concerned individuals to be trained in civil protection services as provided in the Civil Protection Act. Battlefields mine disaster response: Lawyers slam govt