Michael Magoronga, Midlands Correspondent
A DAY before schools reopen tomorrow, Loreto Mission in Silobela, Midlands province is in danger of losing its infrastructure after illegal gold panners invaded the institution and dug large pits in search for gold.
So daring are gold panners that they are digging within the school premises, leaving classroom blocks and other buildings, people and animals exposed to environmental effects and destroying vegetation in the process.
The Roman Catholic-run boarding school which has a cattle rearing project, has since reduced its cattle herd as most of them are reportedly dying after falling into the pits within the school premises. Although illegal panners were cited as the main problem at the school, some registered miners are also taking advantage of the situation and are reportedly infiltrating into the school premises and leaving people and livestock exposed to the open pits.
“We are facing challenges paused by the illegal gold panners. I have engaged the police, Ministry of Mines (and Mining Development) and other relevant authorities but the situation is not improving,” said the school head, Father Porino Saga.
According to Father Saga, recreational facilities like soccer fields, hospital and the school garden, were the worst affected.
“While the illegal gold panners are the main problem, there are also some registered miners who are now taking advantage of the situation and defying all protocol and can do anything just to lay their hands on the gold. The soccer pitch has since been reduced to pits and to make matters worse they leave the pits open and they become a threat to our livestock,” said Father Saga.
He said they have since reduced the size of their herd.
“We run projects like cattle so that they come in handy for our students. We usually have between 200 and 500 cattle but we have since downsized to only 50 because most of them were being trapped in the pits. We are not saying miners should not go about their business but they should do so within their stipulated areas. They are also cutting down trees and destroying vegetation,” he said.
Midlands Provincial Mines Director Mr Tariro Ndlovu said he had received the report and his officers were on the ground.
“Our office is seized with the matter. We have sent officers on the ground and are working closely with police. It is however, worrying that the moment our teams leave the area, the illegal miners come back,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said they were ascertaining reports that there were some miners who have mines pegged within the school.
“I hear there are some genuine miners who have mines pegged and our office is still looking at it. What I understand is that the school is located within a farm and under such circumstances, the miners should align with requirements. Both the farmers and miners should be able to enjoy it. It’s an issue that we are still looking at,” he said.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Midlands spokesperson, Mr Oswald Ndlovu also confirmed having received the reports.
“It is true, our team went on the ground and there were signs of environmental degradation on sight due to illegal mining activities which were done in the area,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said the illegal miners were committing a crime.
“Mining is a prescribed activity as per the Environmental Management Act Chapter 20:27. This means that all mining projects be it within school premises or outside, can only be implemented after an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been granted. Engaging in mining without an EIA is a breach of statutory requirements,” said Mr Ndlovu.