Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) talking points: Bubi case study

By Joyce Nyamukunda

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10 November 2017

Key Takeaways

  1. Women are responsible investors in the ASM; Mrs Ncube of Bubi a sponsor forked out her funds to cover for medical expenses for one of the miner who was badly injured. Innovative insurance packages are needed to cushion miners from occupational accidents to avoid depletion of working capital
  2. CSOTs have a one-size fits model, the equity route, where mining companies are closed or badly preforming, community equity is not helpful. Access to reach gold mining claims can be a better option of community empowerment
  3. Its not just about ASM, there are other linkages and opportunities that can be explored in mining. Ngoni a 29 year old is running a thriving catering business in Bubi titled “something fresh”.


In developmental programming, continued assessment to understand the context is important. More so because of the ever-changing environment, if not well aligned with the dynamics, developmental initiatives become irrelevant. An ominous risk to the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association’s (ZELA)’s intervention focusing on promoting responsible and profitable growth of artisanal and small-scale gold (ASGM) mining in Zimbabwe. This project contributes to the Africa Mining Vision tenet on ASM, which seeks to create “a mining sector that harnesses the potential of artisanal and small-scale mining to advance integrated and sustainable rural socio-economic development” available here.

This article shares key highlights of ZELA’s continuous contextual assessment of its ASGM intervention in Bubi done on the 16th of October 2017. Earlier on ZELA shared its understanding of the context captured in a blog 8 things that we must learn about ASM in Bubi available here. For further details follow #ASMinBubi. Key findings include problematic payment mode for gold deliveries from ASM, linkages and diversification hinged on ASM, adaptation of the Community Share Ownership Trust to suit the context, infrastructural development and violence between large and ASM among others.

RBZ should rethink its policy to pay artisanal miners 60% cash in United States Dollars (USD) and 40% in bond notes

Early this year, ZELA team members found out that the despite the problems with the economy, US dollars were in circulation in Bubi available here. However, this visit revealed that the cash challenges have hardly hit Bubi just like the other areas. The Zimbabwe economy is not favorable to business operators and the citizens at large at the present moment. The new policy of paying artisanal miners 60% bond and 40% USD is fueling illicit financial flows and the loss of revenue to the country. Selling through the formal structures has become a disincentive for the miners. At times payments are not instant, miners may get their money after a week. While other shops around the district and across the country are accepting Bond Notes and plastic money, the shops that sell mining inputs are not accepting bond notes only USD are being accepted. This is leaving miners without a choice to go to the black market where they get hard cash in USD. To address some of the issues, government can avail shops that sell mining products in bond notes to the miners.

ASGM should be viewed from the value chain approach

Whilst others are only thinking of benefiting from mining through extracting, others are exploring the linkages being brought by mining. Mining presents opportunities directly and indirectly. Realizing that ASGM is a lucrative business activity in Bubi, 29-year-old Ngoni Mabwe, an entrepreneur saw a different opportunity to mine gold. Ngoni owns a thriving restaurant branded “something fresh”. Just the title of the restaurant, something fresh, it is inviting before even one gets to taste the food. Ngoni employs 9 (gender) people from Bubi through his business. He said that he was inspired to start his business by the activity of mining in Bubi and he saw an opportunity that aimed at providing food to the miners. His business is thriving and bringing in returns. Innovation is key to women empowerment in the ASGM sector; opportunities must be tapped across the whole value chain. Asked about their motive to work for the company, one of the women interviewed said that despite her passion with catering, mining requires a lot of labor, which they cannot invest in. The Africa Mining Vision is one blueprint that has a pillar on promoting linkages, diversification and investments in the mining sector. This has become one of the topical discussions among African countries including Zimbabwe. During the Mine Entra that was held in Zimbabwe in June 2017 the discussion informed the theme of the conference; Exploring linkages in the mining sector.

One size fit all to CSOT does not work

Much as Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) are taken as avenue for empowering poor but resource rich communities, the equity route should not be the only tool in the box.

The community share ownership trusts were established to ensure that the communities benefit from mining. This model has gained so much traction regionally and internationally. However, out of the 61 established CSOTs, only two managed to get share certificates, Gwanda and Umuguza CSOs. Considering that Zimbabwe, like most African countries, grapples with illicit flows, the mining sector being the most affected, communities are shortchanged if the dividend route is the only benefit. Tellingly, the Income Tax Act over-generously allows mining companies to perpetually carry over mining losses. Refer to latest revenue performance data from ZIMRA. Some mining companies may declare low returns resulting in communities not receiving any proceeds from the companies. In areas such as Bubi among others were companies are closing down, communities will never benefit from the scheme. Interactions with the miners in Bubi revealed that it is of great value if communities benefit from mining by having a share of the claims. Some claims are not even in use.

So after noting all these challenges linked with the equity route, it is important to explore other pathways. For instance, communities surrounding Durban mine of Bubi are clear that access to gold claims will transform their lives. The “use it or lose it principle” embraced in the new Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill is commendable. However, without designating special zones for artisanal mining, it is difficult to see how communities can benefit from “use it or lose it principle.” Durban mine is a classic example. Operations were stopped in 2015, Duration gold the owners have recently sold the mine to the Chinese according to some artisanal miners. So, if artisanal miners are not protected from unfair competition from large and small-scale investors, they maybe excluded from benefiting through claims released as a result of the use-it or use-it principle. Therefore, the proposed formalization of artisanal mining should designate special zones for artisanal mining. Other countries in the region that have designated artisanal mining zones include Tanzania and DRC. Uganda is also coming on board.

Poor infrastructure evinces the resource curse

Bubi district has rich gold deposits. It is generally believed by the community that the historically famed `’King Solomon’s mines” are located in Bubi. Rich as it is in gold, the community is not developed with regards to infrastructure. The roads are in shambles. From Bulawayo to Bubi, just after the airport turnoff, the road is stripped. The road that leads to the Vice President’s home Honorable Mphoko is in a bad state. It’s very difficult to access the villages when it is raining. The chineese trucks Interactions with the miners in Bubi revealed that it is of great value if communities benefit from mining by having a share of the claims. Some claims are not even in use.

Conflict between large-scale miners and artisanal miners

Durban in South Africa is known as an area of attraction with opportunities for employment. There are a number of people who have migrated to Durban in search for a better livelihood. When the Xenophobic attacks started, they started in Durban. The main aim being to drive away foreigners whom the South Africans claimed they were taking away their jobs. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, there is Durban mine that has attracted communities from various districts including “mashurugwi” to extract gold. Violence has been experienced in the area over mining claims. The closure of Durban mine has also fuelled some illegal mining activities. The closure has resulted in availability of disused claims. In a bid to make ends meet, the communities are resorting to illegal mining of the claims and this usually happens at night. Villagers around the community who are lamenting of poverty said that they would want a share of the claims to earn a living and sustain their livelihoods. There are groups who had sponsors and would go and mine during the night. The groups would go underground for 7 days without coming out and the sponsors will be providing them with food in the form of bread and drinks. In the end the sponsor would get half of the proceeds. From the 50% share of the group, the sponsor will deduct all the expenses. On top of that the sponsor will buy from the group all that remains at a price of 27 dollars and they sell at 48 dollars.

Artisanal miners are the future

One miner from Nkayi known as “Mahwihwi, Yikho phela” came to Bubi for a living, however this broke up his marriage because of distance. He is part of the people who work for other miners and he only gets enough to spend on food and pay fees for his two kids. In his T-shirt written, “l am the future”, aged 32 he is an illegal miner without access to a claim. A conversation with him and the tour around Durban mine made me reflect on the project I am currently implementing being supported by Irish Aid Programme Funding through Christian Aid Zimbabwe. The project is focusing on formalization of artisanal small-scale mining. Inclusion of the marginalized groups is one topical issue in development programming. Artisanal miners are part of the groups that are marginalized and usually left out. This is because it is difficult to programme with the artisanal miners as they are ever migrating. However, some are willing to be organized and graduate from artisanal mining into small-scale mining once they get the assistance. Artisanal miners around Durban mine asked for assistance from the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association in assisting them to be organized. It also came out that Bubi Small Scale Miners Association (BSSMA) has a good relationship with the artisanal miners in the area. Some members of the association also admitted that they still have an element of artisanal mining and would still want to graduate to become real small-scale miners. Interactions with the artisanal miners around Durban showed that they are soft and civilized people. People from outside like the “mashurugwis” mainly cause violence within the area. However, frustrations of poverty and denied access to the claims are building up anger and pressure on the community.

Health promotion in the ASGM sector

Being cognizance of the social impacts brought about by mining within the community, efforts are being done to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB issues. Due to the migration of people from other areas into Bubi and the thriving mining activities, prostitution is on the rise. Health promotion is being done through placement of placards and posters encouraging people to get screened for TB and tested for HIV. However, there is more to just providing information through such platforms. People might just ignore and may not see the importance. More can be done through campaigns and road shows, which attracts the crowd and also provide entertainment to the people.

Women are responsible miners

Women are also miners in Bubi and a conversation with Mrs Ndlovu revealed that women are responsible in their mining activities and persevere no matter the circumstance. She has a claim in which she has been digging up to 50 meters without finding anything. Other miners would have left the claim without rehabilitating and look for another area. This has resulted in the numerous open pits being left behind in mining areas. In their business they also face challenges. Mrs Ncube narrated one of the challenges she faced in January 2017 in paying for medical expenses for his worker. His worker got injured whilst working at her claim. Despite being given all protective clothing, at times the miners go to work drunk and do not put on protective clothing resulting in injuries. Mrs Ncube had to pay for all the hospital bills in cash, as she has no medical aid for his workers. She paid for a head scan which was 500USD, for him to go for the scan he required an ambulance with support system and this was charged 250USD, she also had to pay for the head scan which was 850USD. This is evidence that women carry out responsible mining activities. There are other thriving large mines that do not even have health insurance for their workers and do not provide that assistance to their injured workers. The miners do not have medical aid insurance. Getting medical aid requires monthly income yet the miners work on a contract basis. It is important for service providers such as Eco sure to offer a flexible medical aid system, which also accommodate the informal miners.

Gold and sacredness

Talk about culture and sacred places; Elitcheni is a mountain in Bubi that has rich gold deposits on top and the surrounding areas. Mrs Ndlovu has a claim at the bottom of the mountain. A python is always seen around and it does not harm people. A certain miner once saw the snake at the center of his claim and he had to preform rituals and it moved away. These rituals are believed to be granting access to the rich gold deposited areas. This tallies well with the myth that mining is associated with sacredness and that this must be respected if one is to prosper. Just close to Durban mine, there is a dam that does not run out of water. It is said that during the colonial era at a place called Mpolompolo, people discovered gold through black ants that would fly around with gold deposits from the ground. This resulted in the white settlers setting up their machines and started extracting gold. One afternoon, the mine collapsed and water came out, machinery and the people collapsed inside. From that day till now, the water does not dry out.

Joyce is the ZELA Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at Zimbabwe Environmental law Association