Do-it-yourself mining in rural areas could trigger grassroots development, say policymakers, community leaders and NGOs. Sadly, those in power often continue to enable crude exploitation of the villages with wealth beneath their feet.
Shady officials, ruling party members, at least one “impersonator”, a war veteran and, in Zimbabwe, a government-linked mafia, obtain mining rights in communities where mineral wealth is found, then partner with foreign companies to get rich together. This happens in spite of progressive policies that are supposed to enable and regulate community-based artisanal mining. A ZAM transnational investigation in three southern African countries shows that lofty promises by the respective governments about “community development” through artisanal mining in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique remain unactioned, while the communities with wealth beneath their feet continue to face dispossession, disease and death.
Commercial mines’ tax payments bring little benefit
According to Mozambique’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Mining, artisanal mining “is an activity that contributes greatly to the employment in rural areas as well as to the development and the socio-economic status of the respective communities.” Its policies, it says, aim for “ongoing legalisation” of local mining associations, along with “designated areas” and “training and resource distribution.” NGOs agree that individual mining income, however modest, helps communities obtain water bore holes, school supplies, transport and other essentials. Such development would improve current mining landscapes in southern Africa, where the fruits of tax payments by commercial mining companies are often still not seen or felt (see “The squandered taxes of Montepuez”).
In the same developmental paradigm, Zambia grants basic artisanal mining rights to all Zambian citizens. Zimbabwe’s outgoing mining minister (1), Winston Chitando, acknowledged earlier this year that artisanal miners, who mine close to 70% of the gold in the country, “contributed significantly to (…) development” while also promising that these miners would be “organised and be able to work (together) with big companies.”
Nevertheless, according to official figures, over a hundred of Zimbabwe’s artisanal miners died last year, in collapsed tunnels, or in frequent, bloody turf wars, or were poisoned by mercury, a toxic chemical used to process the gold, while the proceeds of their work are bought by ruling party officials and their businessmen friends – who often provide the mercury themselves. “They want us to produce as much gold as possible, so they supply us with mercury. We don't know how or where they get it, but mercury is highly priced here,” artisanal miner Chenje Musimwa told the ZAM team.
Over a hundred Zimbabwean miners died last year
In spite of impressive-sounding developmental policies drawn up by their own government, ruling party Frelimo members in Mozambique’s resource-rich Cabo Delgado province also have a tradition of partnering with foreign mining companies (see "The mining licenses are for the generals") to the detriment of the very communities the government purports to support. The ZAM team found that a government-connected consultancy and a Frelimo war veteran with shares in mining ventures, together with another commercial company, appear to have “cheated” two artisanal mining associations who had just acquired a concession of their own “out of their land again.”
A well-connected war veteran
The two associations, called Armando Emiliano Guebuza and 4th October, found their mining concession, which they had formalised by diligently complying with government policies and a legalisation process, suddenly sold off to Canadian FURA Gems. They told ZAM that a local personality, a Frelimo war veteran whom they had brought into their association for his connections in mining circles, and a government-linked consultancy which had promised finance and management assistance to the associations, had pushed through the sale: “We were told to ‘sign, sign, sign’, otherwise we would lose the money (from the sale) as well as the land. We initially thought we would still do mining together, but the truth is that we lost it.”
“We were told to sign, sign, sign”
They were left with the local currency equivalent of US$4,700 from the sale, as well as two tractors, a plough and a trolley, and were advised to “go back to farming.” They ended up hearing on the radio that an auction of rubies by FURA once again made hundreds of millions of dollars for the company and its undivulged “local partners.”
In Zambia, ZAM documented how the mining community of Nkombwa Hill in the country’s northern Muchinga province had been repeatedly cheated out of a concession. After having tried for years to develop their own partnership with a mining company, and having negotiated a good share for the community, local Chief Katyetye told the team that licenses were nevertheless awarded to companies he (or anyone in the villages) had never approved or even been in touch with. The three companies had, however, one trait in common: they partnered with officials in Zambia’s Ministry of Mining. One of the directors at the first company, Xram Traws, was a Ministry-employed engineer called Willy Chilufya; at the second company, African Inkalamo Mining Company Limited, a share was held by what was, according to the documents, a Mining ministry official called “Annie Zulu”; then the same “Annie Zulu” featured as a shareholder again when a prospecting license was given by the Ministry to a third company, called Chiliwe. In one of the transactions, an “impersonator”, who was later arrested, had pretended to represent the community.
An elusive official
“We don’t get any support from the ministry at all”
The real identity of “Annie Zulu” has remained a mystery. ZAM could not find an Annie Zulu either at the Mining Ministry in Lusaka or the Mining Safety Department in Ndola, while Chief Katyetye insists that he kept coming across the name. To date, the Chief has not succeeded in concluding a developmental partnership with a company of his community’s choice.
While Zambia allocates formal mining licenses to any Zambian for less than around six hectares, artisanal miner Cosby Maliti (one of a substantial population of artisanal miners who have established long-term encampments in Mpika, 250 kilometres south of Isoka) told the team he feared that “the government might displace us and allocate the mine to foreign entities,” in their mining area, even if the group holds a formal license. “We don’t get any support from the ministry at all,” he said.
The Zambian government has recently established Regional Mining Bureaus which should bring the Ministry's services closer to the communities, but scarcity of technical staff, limited and sporadic operational funding, inadequate flow of information, and lack of coordination from the ministry headquarters continue to pose problems. In Mozambique, a Cabo Delgado provincial head admitted to having “problems with resources and tools” to assist the artisanal mining sector, while in Zimbabwe, ZAM could not find any plans aimed at supporting artisanal miners at all.
The state mining company has a ’robust security system’
A Zimbabwean state mining company, government-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), said via a spokesperson that it was certainly “prepared to work with artisanal miners” but that “there was as yet no legal framework” as promised by Minister Chitando. The spokesperson, Sugar Chagonda, would not say whether the ZCDC was engaging government on the issue, referring further queries to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development. He added, however, that ZCDC now had a “robust security system” that has resulted in “significant reduction of pilferage of product and assets,” and that ZCDC no longer has “issues with artisanal miners.” Two other major gold mining companies in Zimbabwe, RioZim and Caledonia, completely ignored questions sent to them.
Without government regulation or safety support, the areas with the “wealth beneath our feet”, as the gold, gemstones and other minerals were repeatedly referred to by artisanal miners, remain beset with child labour, violent conflicts, exploitation of women (who are both miners and caterers), high HIV/AIDS prevalence, unplanned settlements with poor sanitation, land, air, and water pollution, deforestation and a host of illnesses of which mercury poisoning is only one.
South Africa: crime has taken over
Recent news reports have highlighted how artisanal gold mining in South Africa has become crime-infested and violent, painting a terrifying picture of the risks of an unregulated artisanal mining sector. In an op-ed in the South African Mail & Guardian published last year, professor of environmental and sustainability law at the University of the Witwatersrand, Tracy-Lynn Field, wrote that the state’s “decades-long failure to nip unregulated and illegal artisanal mining industry in the bud” and its “failure to formalise artisanal mining as a livelihood strategy through appropriate policies and legislative provisions” are to blame for the sector spinning out of control. She called on South African authorities to “speed up attempts to formalise artisanal mining as a livelihood strategy and to hold proper discussions with the mining industry and civil society in this process.”
None of the relevant ministries in the three countries – Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – have responded to questions regarding the uncovered ills in the artisanal mining sector, which were repeatedly sent by ZAM’s research unit since June.
*Chris Kpafumvuti is a pseudonym, allocated to the author for safety reasons.
With ZAM research unit input from Marnix de Bruyne and Evelyn Groenink.
Read all the investigative articles in this series: