Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Business Reporter
GOLD panning has been a major source of livelihood for thousands of artisanal miners who trekked to numerous mineral rich areas across the country. Notwithstanding hardships faced by artisanal miners, there have been some that were lucky to strike it rich at once.
Others were not so lucky. Many died as they tried to get to the rich metal, equipped with only a pick and shovel, minus the protective clothing. But this did not deter their peers who still go down precarious mine shafts in search of the elusive metal. Things are made worse as the Environment Management Authority (EMA) is always on the miners’ throats, accusing them of indiscriminately harming the environment. But despite all this, Government has acknowledged the significant contributions by artisanal miners to the fiscus. As a result, it is seized with a process to regularise their mining operations.
The registration will enable them to mine sustainably and channel their gold to the formal market. It is estimated that more than 15 tonnes of gold, valued at over $400 million, was smuggled out of Zimbabwe between 2002 and 2007. In 2014, reports say the police intercepted more than 20kgs of gold being smuggled out of the country. About 180kgs were intercepted from illegal panning sites. It was on the back of these developments that Government agreed to decriminalise activities of artisanal gold miners.
And the country began to see a significant increase in their contribution as gold started flowing through formal channels.
In the first half of 2018, cumulative gold output stood at 17t, valued at US$715 million. The Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) acknowledges that the increase in gold output was boosted by increased production from the small-scale and artisanal miners who continue to benefit from gold facilities made available by Fidelity Printers and Refiners under the Gold Development Initiative launched in October 2016.
“This saw introduction of the Gold Development Facility, which initially targeted support to small-scale miners who are now contributing around 60 percent of all the gold that is being delivered to Fidelity Printers and Refiners. The Facility is being extended to also benefit large scale producers.” reads the TSP.
The Programme states that the capacitation of small scale miners through access to equipment for hire and affordable credit lines will see an increase in their contribution grow further.
“The thrust of the Transitional Stabilisation Programme will be on further improvements towards artisanal formalisation and enhanced funding support to drive production volumes, also embracing interventions to reduce environmental, social and health impact challenges that arise in artisanal and small scale mining operations. Furthermore, to address the problems of small scale miners, Government will also focus on the provision of extension services, concentrating on establishing accurate geological and survey information, and training of small scale miners on the application of proper mining methods,” the TSP says.
But the question remains, will small scale miners appreciate such efforts and stop selling their gold on the black market for the benefit of the economy?
Small scale miners say they definitely can increase annual gold production if they have the requisite technology and working capital to improve production efficiencies. Zimbabwe Miners Federation president Ms Henrietta Rushwaya has hailed the $150 million facility availed by Fidelity Printers to capacitate small-scale miners. Although the uptake for the facility has been low, she said it would help most miners who have been struggling to increase production and formalise their operations.
“We will continue to work together and make sure small-scale miners are formally registered so that when the Mines and Minerals Law, being amended is complete, we become formally recognised as miners. If we form groups and approach Government, we can access those areas that had been closed to us before. In line with Government’s 2030 vision, we expect to grow to become medium scale-miners,” she said.
If they access the facility, small-scale miners will be obliged to meet Government halfway and sell their gold to Fidelity Printers and Refiners. Government on its part has a bigger role to play by making sure that the facility is properly managed and miners in every part of the country equally benefit from it. It cannot concentrate on a few mining towns and neglect numerous other areas where gold mining is taking place. More than that, there has to be a system in place to ensure that those who benefited from the facility sell all their gold formally. This should be the case considering that Government has gone the extra mile to relax taxation and fee structure, which were previously “too steep”.
EMA recently came up with new mining guidelines that sought to cut down on the processes involved in the application of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and reduce the costs for small-scale and artisanal miners. The new guidelines sought to eliminate fees charged by consultants to process EIAs. The consultation fees could be anything between $1 500 and $3 000 depending, on the consultant used.
The cut down resulted in the reduction of EIA fees to $253, which many small miners can now afford. With commitment from both small-scale miners and Government, the gold sector can become more organised with an efficient value chain that will drive the country’s economic recovery.