MAC: Mines and Communities

Zimbabwe: corporate culpability and machete attacks

Published by MAC on 2019-02-27

Zimbabwean mines that have been technically closed, are often illegally left exposed, and exploited by artisanal workers.

These, says one Zimbabwean journalist, also engage in deadly machete battles for the spoils, among each other.

 

Zimbabwe: Large Scale Mining Companies Culpable in the Battlefield Disaster

By Columbus Mabika

The Herald

25 February 2019

Large scale gold mining companies should be held accountable for the
Battlefields mine disaster that left over 24 artisanal miners dead because
they failed to obtain certificates of abandonment as required by the
Minerals and Mines Act after they abandoned their unutilised claims.

Presenting a report titled "Gold Capitalism and Disaster Preparedness in
Zimbabwe, A Preliminary Critical on the Battlefields Mines Disaster" in
Harare on Friday, People and Earth Solidarity Law Network (PESLawyers)
lawyer Mr Lenin Chisaira said the Battlefield accident exposes many hidden
malpractices in the mining sector and in environmental integrity as many
large scale miners are exploiting the nature of property rights in the
gold mining sector.

PESLawyers is a non-profit making organisation of legal and policy
researchers, lawyers and activists standing up for environmental, climate
and economic justice in Zimbabwe and Sub-Saharan Africa.

"The role of large scale gold miners should be investigated for they are
the ones who continue to retain these gold claims where many people have
been killed," he said.

"For instance RioZim owns over 200 claims in Mashonaland West which they
cannot mine, at the end when they abandon these claims without applying
for certificates of abandonment as required by the Mines and Minerals Act,
artisanal miners and small scale minors take unauthorised entry," he said.

Mr Chisaira called on the Government to provide adequate legal and
environmental support systems to deal with the disasters and exploitation
of artisanal miners and small scale miners by large scale mining entities.
He called on Government to look into the nature of property rights in the
gold mining sector and ensure that disaster response systems are evaluated
and adequately funded.

The report, Mr Chasaira said, has been forwarded to Government and
relevant institutions and stakeholders in the gold mining sector, calling
for an inclusive, free and open inquiry into the Battlefields disaster. He
applauded the contribution of artisanal miners and small scale miners to
the national gold output.

"Artisanal miners and small scale miners' contribution to the national
gold out[put] should not be taken for granted, statistics show that three
quarters of gold delivered to Fidelity is coming from them,"

Mr Chasaira said PESLawyers will continue to work with relevant
authorities in making recommendations aimed at improving the welfare of
artisanal miners and small scale miners.


 

Zimbabwe: Battlefields - a Place of Blood, Conflict and Pain

By John Mokwetsi

The Standard

24 February 2019

Ronald Dzumbunu's face reflects a picture of concern and torment as the
sputtering sound of a generator powering the water pump being used to
flush water out of a mine shaft to rescue four trapped miners could be
heard kilometres away.

Dzumbunu's distress has been felt in the rural setting of Muzvezve, about
180km from the capital, Harare, where a mine shaft was flooded by water
after torrential rains burst the makeshift soil walls.

Scores of artisanal miners were trapped and many died. Of the trapped, 24
bodies have been recovered while eight people were rescued in one of the
biggest disasters to befall the country.

Dzumbunu, with a measured voice and as he gawps into the blank space as if
deep in thought, said: "I know two people from the four who are still
trapped underground.

"I sometimes feel like they are calling for help and urging us not to give
up on them.

"Those are the people we grew up with. I am saying that they are still to
be rescued, deliberately, because I believe God is with them and they will
come out alive."

But even as Dzumbunu is hopeful that the four might come out alive, he
lapses at intervals and uses the past tense: "These were family men. They
were breadwinners and it saddens us that this happened."

This has been day five and relatives of the affected have kept vigil at
the disused Cricket mine.

Silent prayers, fighting tears and agonising occasional pump breakdowns
defined the wait and the sombre mood.

For some, it was just a wait for the normalisation of mining activities.

"This is where the food comes from. This is my job and our livelihood,"
said an artisanal miner called Mike who was smoking marijuana with a host
of others who vowed that as soon as the rescue mission is called off, they
want to go back underground in search of the stone that glitters -- gold.

"We do not know any other way and while this is sad, this mine is what our
lives are all about," one of them said.

"We are waiting to continue digging."

Mike added that as an artisanal miner, he had experienced horrible
accidents underground, but the Battlefields disaster was the worst.

"We go underground, knowing that anything can happen to us at any given
time, and that is alright with us," he said.

"People die for various reasons and the major one being a collapse of the
shaft.

"We experience that as we do our work but that is our employment that is
what keeps my family alive."

However, there is nothing that reflects that gold glitters in this rural
community.

Workers using earth moving equipment were busy patching the gravel road
that branches from the Harare - Bulawayo highway to the mines.

The stretch is about 7km to Silver Moon and Cricket mines.

Mining conglomerate RioZim holds the licence to mine, but, according to
the company's group corparate affairs executive Wilson Gwatiringa, they
have no operations in the area.

"It is almost a misnomer to have these earth-movers here as if we finally
have the gold to rescue us from the poverty that gnashes us.

"People died and this is just not a number to flaunt and a time for
politically correct actions.

"We are saying these were breadwinners and we can do without the hypocrisy
of government people ordering a road to be sorted.

"We deserve better," said Takura Mutambo, who was among the gold panners
waiting for the rescue mission by the Civil Protection Unit and other
mining companies called in for technical support.

Mutambo added: "We are unemployed. We have never had support. You need to
be politically connected to get an opportunity.

"For example these mines were a reward to the youths and without being
part of the group you could not go underground. It is dangerous to be
panning, but what options do we have?"

Many drop out of school to pursue what is regarded as easy money.

A vendor who referred to herself as Gogo Mutema said most children were
dropping out of school to fend for their families.

"Schools are far away from where we live. Children here grew up working in
farms around or the only other life they got exposed to is this way of
life.

"The problem is that even when they get the money, the only way they
celebrate is by drinking and having sex and this has been a cycle. The
gold is both a curse and a blessing," she said.

Besides deaths from working without the required safety protocols for
mining given the illegality of gold panners, there is also a high number
that have been murdered in the mining fields around the Zimbabwe.

In Kwekwe, which is about 40km from Muzvezve, residents of the city have
been living with the reality of the machete wars among gangs that attack
each other over gold.

This is a town that is supposed to show wealth and status owing to its
strategic positioning above goldfields, but it has instead become a place
of blood, conflict and pain.

"This is my fear," Dzumbunu said.

"We prefer it here because we managed to talk to each other and protect
what we have.

"This is a no machete zone. At some point in the past the Mashurugwi
(colloquial for gold panners from Shurugwi notorious for using the machete
to settle scores) came here with their machete behaviour and we stopped
it."

Last month Mbizo legislator, Settlement Chikwinya (MDC Alliance) vowed to
confront head-on youths moving around attacking residents with machetes
over politics and mineral resources in and around Kwekwe, but enjoying
impunity because of their alleged links to Zanu PF.

Speaking to Southern Eye, Chikwinya vowed to end the lawlessness, saying:
"Mbizo now deserves peace".

He added then: "We can't be counting bodies every month and injuries every
day from people we are aware of.

"Mbizo has recorded a death rate of close to three people per month in the
past six months due to machete violence.

"The machete-wielding youths are largely gold-panners who enjoy impunity
provided by the Zanu PF leadership in Kwekwe and so this is what I want to
fight against."

In an interview with one victim last year, the man who had machete
injuries and feared for his life told The Standard that being a gold
panner was more dangerous than being in a war situation.

As the pump roared and relatives shed tears by each gallon of water that
came out, Muzvezve constituency was in a reflective mood, wondering if an
ounce of gold was worth the struggle.

"Do they shut down the mine? Do we stop? The human instinct is that we
have to survive and we will do all we can for that plate of sadza because
our lives depend on it. We are all ready to go underground and earn a
living," Dzumbunu said before digging into a plate of sadza and sour milk.

 

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