Artisanal mining: A continued environmental menace

via Artisanal mining: A continued environmental menace 2 July 2014 by Proceed Manatsa

Artisanal (informal) mining has become a way of life for many Zimbabweans these days.

Given the escalating rate of unemployment, many Zimbabweans who have not been fortunate to secure jobs have turned to illegal mining as a survival strategy.

While this author is mindful of the potential benefits of artisanal mining, it may be argued that artisanal mining is “a ticking time bomb for environmental disaster”.

This is so because the ecological problems arising from artisanal mining outweigh by far its potential benefits.

It is an indisputable fact that artisanal mining has done more harm than good.

The artisanal miners are concerned about panning and pocketing money more than the sustainable expropriation of minerals. Whenever they discover a lucrative panning area, they cut off trees and burn grass to pave way for the illegal mining activities. Such practices have adverse effects on the ecological system.

Rampant deforestation and land degradation have contributed to the siltation of rivers whilst animals and birds have suffered from the burns arising from veld fires.

Some miners also use mercury and cyanide to recover gold and rarely would they pay any attention to mercury or cyanide contamination of the river’s ecosystems.
This has had a negative effect of poisoning the aquatic life dependant on the river system.

To add on, another problematic feature of the illegal miners has been their being nomadic. Artisanal miners display a high mobility feature and seldom spend a long time on one particular panning area.

Whenever the mineral deposits are exhausted, they move from one place to the other and rarely would they rehabilitate the old dumps.

It is also noteworthy that whenever artisanal miners discover a panning area, they construct makeshift structures. It is also an indisputable fact that there won’t be any sanitation facilities in these makeshift structures and this poses a real risk of a health hazard not only to the artisanal miners, but to the surrounding inhabitants.

Drawing from the above, one can discern that artisanal mining is fraught with environmental problems.

Earlier this year, a house in Shurugwi was reported to have “. . . disappeared into the ground after a mine tunnel collapsed.”

To this end, this author implores the government to speedily regularise artisanal mining in Zimbabwe as the practice has of late proven to be a continued environmental menace.

Credit, however, can be given to the recently constituted task force for the formalisation of artisanal miners.

The taskforce was constituted early this year (January 2014) and it comprises officials from the Ministry of Finance, Mines and Mining Developments, Environment, Water and Climate, Environmental Management Agency, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Fidelity Printers and Refiners, Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.

The above notwithstanding, it is saddening to note that very little has been made to date and it remains to be seen whether the taskforce will successfully discharge its mandate.

In formalising artisanal mining, this author urges the Zimbabwean government to take a leaf and learn from Ethiopia, which provides “a model of artisanal mining engagement”.

l Proceed Manatsa is a Registered Lawyer, Legal Researcher and Associate Lecturer in the Private Law Department at Midlands State University. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at