via ‘Makorokoza’ finally embraced – DailyNews Live 27 August 2015 by Gift Phiri
HARARE – Government wants to legalise hundreds of thousands of small-scale miners, colloquially known as makorokoza, who scrape out tiny amounts of gold from abandoned mine shafts using dangerous and polluting techniques.
This emerged in Masvingo last weekend at a national dialogue conference on artisinal miners, sugar cane cutters and farm workers organised by leading grassroots-based rights group ZimRights, led by Okay Machisa.
Small-scale miners complained bitterly that top politicians in President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF were seizing their small mine claims the moment they strike gold.
The small-scale miners asked government to speedily review procedures in allocating mining concessions in the country, saying the current processes were fraught with abuse by politicians, resulting in double allocations.
Artisanal miners from Battlefields in Kwekwe called for an urgent review of steep licence fees. It costs $350 just to register a mines prospector’s licence, a top-line ripple for most makorokoza.
The miners also slammed the hefty Environment Management Agency (Ema)’s pollution fines, pegged at $2 000, describing them as “unreasonable” and “unaffordable.”
It is estimated that there are between 300 000 and 400 000 artisanal miners in Zimbabwe, most of them unskilled, under-equipped, with little appreciation of the environment and using rudimentary methods and processes to extract minerals.
Because most are employed by unregistered enterprises or individuals, they said they were exploited by barons or “sponsors” who give them peanuts after rich pickings. One small-scale miner said their duo hit $7 000 worth of gold, and were given $300 each, while the “sponsor” pocketed the rest.
Pardon Mlambo, an artisanal miner, said: “The challenge that we have is that we are exploited by sponsors, who get a lion’s share of the proceeds after we have endured the hard and precarious work.”
The government of the mineral-rich southern African nation, which touts its strict environmental rules, is worried about unchecked informal miners and want their operations formalised
“We agree that the system has not been well, government has taken the initiative to normalise, formalise the system,” deputy minister of Mines and Mining Development Fred Moyo, told the artisinal miners at the conference.
Typically, artisanal miners are young males, but there are occasional female underground workers such as the ones at the conference who also complained bitterly about exploitation by sponsors.
Accompanied by the Masvingo provincial mining director Chris Dube, Moyo accused the artisanal miners of creating the barons that are now exploiting them.
“Zvoto zvina mazera, kwamuri kuma miners kune zvoto zveko, mashefu (You created bosses in this informal industry),” the deputy minister said. “Ukainda kuBondolfi kune vakuru venyu ikoko, kusina (If you go to Bondolfi, there are head honchos there, even though there is no) political leadership. So, all this thing has to be stopped so that it operates formally.
“Ini ndiri (I am an) MP we(in) Zvishavane, the other day I was being introduced, kwahi (they said) these are the big boys, kwahi pamakorokoza ose vanosaluta ivava (all the small-scale miners salute these guys), they are not even councillors! You have created your own barons within yourselves, toda ku (we want to) correcta (correct) all this so that anyone who wants to go into (mining) business can go in fairly.”
Lured by record prices for gold, which topped $1 150 an ounce this year, thousands of informal miners use toxic mercury to extract gold from rocks chipped out of narrow tunnels.
Those who go underground to extract the gold and the barons share 50-50 the earnings, but the small-scale miners also have to use their earnings to foot bills for power, water, equipment and all ancillary charges arising from the operation, leaving them with meagre earnings despite doing all the donkey work.
“Model ye50-50 we don’t recognise that model ye50-50 as ministry of Mines,” Moyo said.
“The reason why people are being exploited is that there is no legal space for small-scale miners.
“I said it myself that there is an industry around artisanal miners, the suppliers of claims, materials, explosives, buyers of gold, providers of intelligence. All these things, the maze of illegal operations all emanate from the fact that it has no legal authority to operate transparently and access markets.”
The Zvishavane-Runde Zanu PF MP staunchly rejected accusations that ruling party officials were seizing mining claims from artisanal miners the moment they strike gold.
“If there are things happening, don’t make it sound as if there is some politics that has to be
observed or feared; have your claim, mine, access markets,” Moyo said.
Official estimates show makorokoza produce around 25 percent of approximately 1 500 kg of gold produced in Zimbabwe per month and sell it to local dealers at cut rates below the market.
Moyo said government was pushing for amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act, which will be tabled in Parliament this session, regulating the small-scale miners by urging them to formalise their operations, apply for official mining concessions with environmental permits and pay taxes.
“If we have the numbers (of artisanal miners) going into millions as we think they do, then we have a dilemma,” Moyo said.
“How can millions of people be engaged in illegal business in a nation? Is it possible that we can have a million people engaged in a business that is termed illegal? If it is illegal business, how is it possibly transacted with the law failing to stop it?
“That perspective brings the dimension that says around the small-scale miners is a big market of beneficiaries. Those who sell equipment to them are illegal, those who buy minerals from them are equally illegal, (and) those who live with them in their homes become accomplices and so on?”
He said government has supported the small-scale miners despite their illegal operations.
“We have done our part, we have reduced royalties for small operators, it’s 1 percent now, and electricity, we also reduced that,” Moyo said.
“We will set up offices where you can buy explosives from government; right now we don’t know where you get explosives.”
With gold prices soaring, informal miners are willing to take big risks to scrape a living out of deep caves, some a century old, abandoned by international mining companies.
Miners have died when weakly-supported tunnels collapsed during rainy season.
And they regularly handle mercury with their bare hands, even though the liquid metal can cause birth defects, miscarriages, nerve damage and renal failure.
“You use cyanide, mercury, we don’t have your names in the ministry of Industry, we want to formalise that supply side as well,” Moyo said.
Artisanal miner Runyararo Mashinge said: “Often we are affected by the chemicals such as carbon that are used in the mining, but we have no medical cover for treatment. When we fall ill, usually the sponsors who get mining tributes through their political connections abandon us.”
Machisa said the policy conference deliberately afforded stakeholders a crucial discussion to improve the welfare of the marginalised socio-economic groups.
“Decriminalising artisanal mining is important for people to benefit from their resources and do it legally,” Machisa said.
The mining industry has overtaken the convulsing agriculture sector as Zimbabwe’s main foreign currency earner, contributing the bulk of the country’s export earnings last year.