Small-scale mining is now the mainstream industry in Zimbabwe. This was inevitable considering the vast mineral wealth Zimbabwe has. Unfortunately, there are still several sticky and grey areas in small-scale mining in Zimbabwe. Safety is still one of the biggest areas of concern. Do you remember the incident that occurred at Ran Mine in Bindura in November 2020? 24 miners were trapped after a gold mine shaft collapsed; only 6 of them were rescued. Other incidents near Kwekwe claimed over 40 lives. Our subject today is the dangers of small-scale mining in Zimbabwe.
Poor Occupational Health And Safety Standards
This stems from several factors. One of them is that small-scale miners usually have inadequate personal protective equipment. I am referring to items such as overalls, work suits, safety shoes, gas or face masks, gloves, and the like. The other issue is poorly done shafts that most likely can cave in or collapse. It is also commonplace for shafts to be poorly lit, ventilated, and so on. The use of manual labour approaches also presents health and safety risks. Miners also get over-exposed to harmful substances e.g. mercury. These factors, and more, place the lives of many small-scale miners in danger. Complications span from health challenges to ultimate deaths.
This is one of the things that scare most aspiring entrepreneurs or business people from entering the small-scale mining space in Zimbabwe. Territorial disputes are almost the norm in most places. Even worse is the fact that in most cases they end in serious injuries or even death. Several reasons lead to such territorial disputes. For instance, most small-scale miners do not have easy access to concessions and mineral rights. This means two or more parties can lay a claim on a portion of land. The other sad thing is the use of political muscle. Even with proper rights and documentation, one can get ejected from a mining concession. So this is a huge cause for concern which makes small-scale mining a high-risk venture.
Environmental Degradation And Pollution
Law enforcement is selective and comprised for the most part. Most small-scale mining activities are done without any environmental impact assessment. This usually leads to zero responsibility on the part of small-scale miners in preserving the environment. There is an area close to where I stay where some houses ended up collapsing. This was due to unchecked chrome mining where people were now extracting chrome from anywhere. There is also irresponsible disposal of waste. This usually results in harmful substances mixing with water used for domestic purposes. Trenches, pits and the like are mostly left open and unsecured. This poses a danger to both people and animals that can fall in unawares. I have also noticed some blasting operations are being done too close to residential areas. This is leading to disturbances to building foundations. There is a lot of environmental degradation and it is posing grave dangers to human and animal life.
There are many organized crime syndicates in small-scale mining in Zimbabwe. I already mentioned the aspect of possibly getting ejected from a mining concession. I have heard of many accounts where after piling ore during gold mining, some group can come and violently take over control. Then some work in cahoots with regulatory authorities to snatch away or sabotage other people’s mining operations. It is also common to be a target when you are known to have or deal with significant amounts of money or precious minerals. A couple of months back there was a car chase close to my neighbourhood after some criminals stole gold at a mining claim. Some people can have their homes targeted as well. So a lot of organized crime is a common feature and danger in small-scale mining in Zimbabwe.
Vulnerability To Exploitation
In small-scale mining, you can be exposed to varying forms of exploitation. This is because operations are mainly informal with no adherence to laws and regulations. This is why miners can be made to work without any health and safety equipment. This is why you can be paid peanuts or none at all with nowhere to go to report. This is also why child labour has become such a concern in small-scale mining. There is no gatekeeping and standards are comprised due to corruption and lack of formalization. The use of political muscle is part of what is being used to exploit people and systems.
Most, if not all, of these dangers, emanate from a lack of formalized operations. Most operations in small-scale mining are informal. This means there is no adherence to laws and regulations. For example, occupational health and safety are seldom prioritized. There are lots of thuggeries and this is worsened by political backing which renders law enforcement useless.