Balancing Profits with Environmental Protection in the Gold Mining Sector in Zimbabwe

– We need to ensure increased gold production, but not at the cost of our environment, the  Mines Minister said.

John Cassim

Harare, Zimbabwe – A shadow hangs over Zimbabwe’s economic revival plans as the government, which is banking on a surge in gold production to bolster the new ZiG currency, faces a pressing challenge of environmental degradation caused by the very industry it seeks to promote.

While medium-scale miners have delivered encouraging results, a recent drop in gold from small-scale operations has raised concerns. 

Mines Minister Winston Chitando addressed the issue at a press conference in Harare on Monday during a Gold Mobilisation Teams send-off workshop, where he acknowledged the shortfall but highlighted a more critical factor: the potential environmental damage from unregulated mining practices.

“We need to ensure increased gold production,” the minister stated, “but not at the cost of our environment.”

“We’re working to ensure the ZiG currency is backed by ethically obtained gold,” stated the minister.

The Gold Mobilising Teams will be deployed across the country to assess compliance with regulations and prevent environmentally destructive practices.

The government’s approach goes beyond immediate production concerns. A Responsible Mining Initiative was launched recently by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and plans to empower artisanal miners, but with a strong focus on sustainable practices. 

Training and resources will equip them for responsible mining techniques that minimise environmental impact.

“The responsible sourcing of gold is crucial,” the minister emphasised in a separate side interview. 

The newly developed policy outlines best practices throughout the gold value chain, prioritising not just ethical sourcing and conflict-free mining but also environmental protection.

The path forward demands a delicate balance. Zimbabwe seeks to unlock the economic potential of its gold reserves, but not at the expense of its precious ecosystems. 

By supporting miners with sustainable practices and enforcing responsible sourcing, the government hopes to create a future where gold shines brightly and is not tarnished by environmental degradation.

Peter Magaramombe, Fidelity Gold Refiners General Manager, called on responsible and sustainable artisanal mining in line with the Responsible Mining Initiative.

“Honourable Minister, we make sure that all the gold that we buy correlates with all the relevant laws and regulations. Another important aspect of this definition is to do with sustainable, socially conscious principles,” he said.

Magaramombe reported total gold deliveries, mainly from big mining companies, in the month of April this year were higher by 32% from the March 2024 position of 1.8 tonnes.

The gold production target for 2023 was 35 metric tonnes, but production surpassed it by 32%. The target for this year is 40 tonnes.

While government officials are worried over decreased gold deliveries from small-scale miners, there is a snail pace regarding addressing the environmental degradation the same sector is allegedly causing countrywide.

Several mine accidents have claimed the lives of several artisanal miners owing to poor mining methods.

The most recent mine accident is the collapse of Redwing Mine, run by Better Brands and owned by Pedzai ‘Scott’ Sakupwanya, a ZANU PF legislator. Sakupwanya was accused of facilitating illegal mining activities that led to the disaster.

This was revealed in a documentary titled ‘Toxic Treasures: Unmasking the Gold Mafia of Penhalonga’ by Magamba TV.

Redwing Mine in Penhalonga was closed by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in February 2023, following reports of numerous fatal accidents involving artisanal miners.

The mine reopened, and in January of this year, it collapsed as some artisanal miners were destroying the mine pillars. Fortunately, 15 miners who had been trapped underground came out alive.

EMA has been fighting a losing battle with artisanal miners allegedly refusing to take heed despite the hefty penalties against the mine owners, mine closures for unsound handling of dangerous chemicals, and wilful damage to the environment.

EMA is not just battling with illegal gold miners but with lithium mines too. 

Only a few days ago, BEETEE Mining SYNDICATE, a mining company that is extracting coal at Kalungwizi in Binga, was fined USD 5,000 by the EMA for mining without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Certificate. An additional USD500 ticket was issued for storing fuel in plastic containers. 

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