Small-scale miners plead for mercy

Source: Small-scale miners plead for mercy | The Sunday Mail

ARTISANAL small-scale gold miners say they continue to face impediments when selling the metal to Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) despite calls by fiscal and monetary authorities for transactions to be on a “no-questions-asked basis”.

Government has promised to address the small-scale miners’ concerns through amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act, whose Bill is before Parliament.

According to Section 3(1) of the Gold Trade Act (Chapter 201:03), dealing in gold without a license is a criminal offence.

Zimbabwe has over 500 000 small-scale miners, with almost 100 000 operating without licenses and trading on the black market.

This prompted Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya to propose in their fiscal and monetary policy statements in 2013 and 2016 respectively that unlicensed miners sell to FPR freely “to increase gold deliveries”.

FPR, an arm of the RBZ, is the country’s sole gold buyer.

Small-scale miners interpreted this to mean dealing in gold without a license had been “decriminalised”.

But the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, which represents the bulk of small-scale miners, says arrests of unlicensed miners continue.

In a no-holds-barred meeting in Harare last week, ZMF president Ms Apolonia Munzverengi said the Home Affairs and Finance ministries, the RBZ, Police, FPR and small-scale miners should meet to chart the way forward.

“We are not yet serious about this gold mobilisation issue. So I am saying we should work together, this is a national issue.

“This year we were given a target of 10 tonnes and if we are supported, we have the capacity to beat the big mines, and they are cheating you by the way, but I don’t want to talk about it here,” said Ms Munzverengi.

Small-scale miners contributed over seven tonnes of gold to the 18,3 tonnes delivered to FPR last year. Gold earned Zimbabwe almost US$685 million in 2015.

ZMF is working on formalising operations of small-scale miners so that they are recognised by FPR and can sell there gold there.

Illegal miners in the sector, commonly referred to as “gold hunters”, use detectors to identify the occurrence of the metal.

The “gold hunters” normally extract large quantities and sell it on the black market because they are unlicensed.

In the last two weeks, artisanal miners in Silobela, Lower Gweru delivered close to 2kg of gold to FPR after Ms Munzverengi convinced them to sell the metal through formal systems.

There is another gold rush in the Mupfurudzi area of Mashonaland Central where over 2 000 villagers are illegally extracting the metal – most of which is not getting to FPR.

Ms Munzverengi said ZMF had applied for a special grant to enable miners in Mupfurudzi to sell their gold through official channels “but someone is digging in”.

Similarly, there is a stampede for gold by illegal artisanal miners in Zhombe where almost a kilogramme is said to be mined daily and sold on the black market.

Early last year, there was another gold rush in Mukanga Game Park in Hurungwe under Chief Kazangarare.

It is understood that Mines Ministry and FPR officials were prevented from accessing the area by security details and National Parks authorities.

This resulted in plunder of the metal with unconfirmed estimates saying over 7kg of gold were extracted daily.

Police and illegal miners engage in running battles daily in Jumbo, Mazowe where over 3 000 panners are believed to be operating.

“We call upon (Police, Mines Ministry and FPR) to support the sector. In difficult times you need to make difficult decisions,” said Ms Munzverengi.

Mines and Mining Development Deputy Minister Engineer Fred Moyo said it was critical that small-scale miners were assisted to legally sell gold.

“The SME sector is going to drive the economy and our SME (sector) in this regard is the small-scale miners. They have got an issue with regards to gold and their issue is really to say ‘if you are legalising us, how far are you going?

“‘Are you going as far as reviewing the Gold (Trade) Act to remove or to amend or to adjust the requirements of the law that says it’s illegal to possess gold without papers’?

“It is currently illegal to possess, to carry, to have gold on you when in fact you don’t have legal papers; gold in all its forms . . . it is illegal to carry.

“The SME sector has got challenges in getting papers, we will formalise them and make sure that they get papers. But there are cases of gold being found inadvertently by those who don’t have papers; maybe it is found in the fields as they are farming or in water; we recently found gold in Gache Gache, does someone throw away that gold or take it to the police or the bank if they don’t have a license?”

He said gold mining was the biggest SME in the country given that over 500 000 citizens participated in it.

Eng Moyo said it was crucial to craft laws to aid small gold miners.

“The ministry . . . is busy reviewing the Mines and Minerals Act. You know that the Bill is before Parliament now and this meeting must also be partly a consultative process by ministry as regards the work we are doing on that Bill.”

A representative of the Police CID Border Control and Minerals Unit said they would continue arresting illegal gold dealers until the law was amended.

Officials from the RBZ, FPR, Finance Ministry and Zimra attended last week’s meeting.