RECENTLY, 15 artisanal miners were trapped underground for three days at Redwing Mine in Penhalonga, Manicaland province after a mine shaft collapsed. Fortunately, the miners miraculously survived the disaster. Redwing Mine has been under the spotlight over deaths of artisanal miners with citizens questioning the mining model being used at the site.
NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Kenneth Nyangani spoke to Centre for Research and Development (CRD) director James Mupfumi (JM) on mining operations at Redwing Mine among other issues. Below are excerpts from the interview.
ND: Can you tell us the motivation behind the formation of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD)? What is CRD’s role?
JM: CRD was formed in 2007.We envisioned human rights standards that enshrine inclusion, equality and sustainable development. We noticed that the beginning of multiparty democracy in Zimbabwe was dominated by a culture of intolerance and structural violence. Our role was to work with community institutions such as traditional leaders to promote civil and political rights encompassing issues such as peace-building and political tolerance.
The unbundling of the mining sector by the government as seen in Marange diamonds in 2007 was also dominated by that culture of violence, intolerance and exclusion. We expanded our role and started demanding a human rights approach in natural resource exploitation.
ND: CRD has done research on mining operations at Redwing Mine in Penhalonga, Manicaland province, what were some of your findings?
JM: We found out that the demise of Redwing underground mining operations in 2019 came as a result of micro and macro-economic factors, the application for corporate rescue by Redwing Mine workers opened an opportunity for mine capture and plunder of gold by politically-exposed mining entities in 2020. We have observed that looting at Redwing has become systemic similar to what we saw in the Marange alluvial diamond plunder. We also found out that the open pit mining method adopted at Redwing is being carried out on top of old mining shafts, tunnels and voids. We observed that the mining is unaccountable and hazardous. It does not adhere to all mining and safety regulations enshrined in Statutory Instrument 109 of 1990. This mining practice is also non-compliant to the Environmental Management Act [Chapter 20:27].
We also observed that mining is funding illicit gold market trade through establishment of illegal gold processing plants that have risen from 129 hammer mills and 6 cyanidation tanks in October 2021 to 774 illegal hammer mills and 28 cyanidation tanks by December 31, 2023.
We also found out that these gold processing plants have been established along farms, streams, residential areas, schools and forestry estates in Penhalonga and surrounding communities exposing citizens to the worst forms of chemical contamination, noise pollution and hazardous waste dumping that have rendered water from the affected rivers unusable.
ND: What do you think is the reason behind the deaths at Redwing Mine?
JM: I have already mentioned that mining is being undertaken on unstable ground. Mining is uncontrolled with artisanal miners digging and blasting for gold on surface pillars, shaft pillars and old workings. At the same time there is no investment in safety standards and securing the mining pits hence high numbers of fatal mining incidences from ground collapse and falling. The entire mining operation is a death trap.
ND: Since you started advocacy work on Redwing Mine, in your research how many people do you think have died due to mine accidents?
JM: Information we got from mining official sources point to over 50 deaths from 2021 to 2023. However most artisanal miners claim that the number could be big because fatal incidents were occurring almost every week and some of the information was not disclosed.
ND: Have you proffered any solutions to curb these accidents and what has been the response to your suggestions?
JM: The primary target of these opaque mining ventures is self-enrichment. Authorities that have responsibility to make critical decisions that will save lives at Redwing are directly benefiting from the rot. As a result, they have ignored all safety measures. They are not also willing to allow Redwing to look for potential investors until they have depleted every ounce of gold that can be reached at Redwing.
ND: Do you think the government has done enough to stop deaths at the mine?
JM: Government is responsible for loss of lives at Redwing Mine. Government allowed the suspension of the rule of law in Redwing mining activities. Government has also ignored our call for ending this opaque and unsafe mining method to ensure lives are saved. It is government responsibility to attract good investors that can resuscitate underground mining at Redwing. But it is alarming that the government through the Mining Affairs Board gave a non-standard tributary lease to an incompetent mining formation which then invited artisanal miners to start digging everywhere at Redwing Mine resulting in loss of life and environmental destruction of alarming proportions. As it stands the massive collapse at Redwing has destroyed underground mining infrastructure and that mining area is now a write off.