Following a series of disasters in artisanal mining that has seen the death of at least 50 people this year the issue of safety and zero harm is now taking centre stage in the mining industry.
On the 13 of February 24 illegal miners died at Cricket and Silver Moon mines in Battleﬁelds when a water reservoir burst after heavy rains and sent in water underground while ﬁve died in May at Nugget Mine in Matobo when a shaft they were working in collapsed.
At Jumbo Mine in Mazowe, nine illegal miners died in May when their colleagues set off explosives at an adjacent shaft leading to the collapse of the area they were working in. A total of 17 people are reported to have died at the mine this year.
The series of accidents mostly aﬀecting artisanal miners working in abandoned mines has led to calls for closer monitoring and better security for the miners operating in disused mines to prevent loss of lives.
Delegates attending a discussion in Harare by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) on the Battleﬁelds mining disaster in February implored the government to come up with intervention measures to stop the mine deaths.
Zimbabwe Miners Federation President Henrietta Rushwaya urged the government to speed up the regularisation of artisanal miners and implement a regulatory and a policy framework that will be monitored and enforced to ensure the artisanal miners are integrated into the formal economy.
There was a call for disaster preparedness in the artisanal mining sector to ensure swift and eﬀective rescue for artisanal miners trapped underground after the initial rescue eﬀort at Silver Moon and Cricket Mine was spearheaded by colleagues of the trapped miners who were ill-equipped for the job.
Zela Director Shamiso Mtisi called for the responsible authorities to examine abandoned mines and secure them to prevent similar disasters from occurring.
People and Earth Solidarity Law Network said the Battleﬁelds disaster underscored the need for access to emergency medical treatment in any healthcare situation in line with the provisions of the constitution. The organisation said this right was not honoured in the wake of the disaster.
Meanwhile as the small scale mining sector’ s contribution to mining increases, calls for the formalization of artisanal miners in the economy are also growing. Small scale gold miners are now the largest producer of the yellow metal upstaging the big producers.
Due to the strong price of gold and its abundance, more and more rural workers in Zimbabwe are turning to artisanal mining to try and eke out a living.
There are also concerns over the “invasions” of abandoned company-owned concessions by “informal” and “illegal” miners which is causing major conﬂicts in rural areas, leading to government interventions in some cases.
There are calls for changes in legislation to acknowledge the growing contribution of artisanal miners to the economy by treating them as miners in their own right rather than illegal operators.
In the mining sector gold produces the biggest export receipts with 33. 2 tonnes of the precious metal produced last year.
However, formalisation cannot exist without education. Uneducated gold miners, if formalised, will continue with their ineﬃcient methods of mining and processing, which cause environmental damage and ﬂuvial pollution.
So there are calls to train and equip the miners with the requisite tools of the trade. Without training artisanal miners’ cooperatives or associations, governments cannot expect that the miners will be converted into adept and responsible miners, who are willing to adopt cleaner, more sustainable practices.
Minex Managing Consultant Emily Hwengwere has called on the government and all other stakeholders to properly regularise small scale mining so that the miners can be able to address health and safety issues eﬀectively.
“Whilst we appreciate the economic beneﬁts of small scale mining, we are particularly concerned about some of the negative impacts artisanal and small scale mining particularly the health and safety issues.
“We are calling on the government and all other stakeholders concerned to properly regularise small scale mining so that we can be able to address health and safety issues eﬀectively,” she said.