No questions asked policy for artisanal miners: a pulse check
12 November 2017
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Superintendent Chidziva in Mutare shaking hands with an artisanal miner: picture taken by Wellingon Takavarasha, ZIMF CEO.
“A picture says a thousand words.’ This picture is interesting for several reasons. Depending on which angle you may want to look at it. One angle is that formalisation of artisanal mining could be on the cards. A formally dressed government official is seen shaking hands publicly with an artisanal miner, covered in mud, wearing a headlamp, hardly adequate personal protective equipment for a miner coming from a shift. Government perception of artisanal miners could be shifting, from derogatory to respect.
Looking back, a decade ago, government embarked on operation “Chikorokoza Chapera” meaning an end to artisanal mining. Then, government viewed artisanal miners as a menace to the environment, a boon for gold black market and high level of criminality especially wanton violence and murders. Another view point is that the greeting looks like an arm wrestling match that is about to begin. Indicating sustainability challenges around government’s policy or practice position on formalising artisanal mining.
Government is desperate to earn more foreign currency to keep alive the sick economy. Foreign currency is needed to import electricity, fuel, medicines, inputs and tools for industry among other essentials. Expediency could be the major driver of government’s policy position on artisanal gold mining. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is on the record that artisanal miners are the new heroes. Will this last, given the wrestling match that is about to begin. To artisanal miners, its more than economics, it’s about fight poverty, escaping the fangs of unemployment and scarce opportunity for entrepreneurship development. Government, must prove there is much more to its u turn on artisanal mining than the foreign currency card.
How ironic, the depletion of diamonds possibly has a hand in government’s desire to formalise artisanal gold mining. In 2008, operation Hakudzokwe led to the violent dislocation of thousand artisanal miners in Marange. Formal mining started around 2010, diamond exports peaked by volume and value to 14 million carats and U$741 million in 2012 from 1.3 million carats and $29 million dollars in 2009 according to Kimberly Process (KP) rough diamond statistics. Come 2013, diamond production started to wobble. Ever since, the down spiral has been recorded, over 2 million carats valued at $123 million were exported in 2016. In its heydays, Marange Diamond mining pivoted the country’s foreign currency earnings. Undeniably, the fall of Marange diamond production was therefore stressful to government. Incidentally, this elevated the role of artisanal gold miners as the new heroes in terms of foreign currency earnings. Recently, gold production from artisanal and small scale mining has surpassed output of large scale producers.
Despite the unfavourable legal environment for artisanal mining, RBZ boldly pursued the “no questions asked policy.” The Mines and Minerals Act and the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill are silent on artisanal mining. Possession of gold without a legal mining permit or gold buying licence is illegal according to the Gold Trade Act. In addition, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental agency, considers gold as a target for money laundering and terrorism financing if not properly accounted for, “from the mines to the market”
Recently, the gold mobilisation team has been visiting most artisanal gold mining hotspots around the country with the message that the police will no longer arrest artisanal gold miners if they sell their gold to the formal market.
Meanwhile, last week on Wednesday, an artisanal miner appeared at the magistrate’s court in Mberengwa for illegal possession of gold. A charge that carries a maximum sentence of 5 years. RBZ’s “no questions asked policy” only protects artisanal miners at the point of sale, leaving artisanal miners vulnerable on mining sites and when transporting gold to the market.
Getting a mining permit, which protects artisanal miners from the harsh laws is beyond reach for artisanal miners. The costs are unaffordable. In addition to the cost barrier, artisanal miners must deal with a stampede by multiple government institutions regulating the mining sector. Ministry of Mines, police, Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) and local government among others.
On the policy front, a Technical Working Group (TWG) on mining ease of doing business reforms has come up with policy recommendations to formalise artisanal mining through a special permit. There is hope that the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill will be reviewed to enable legal formalisation of artisanal mining through a special permit. Likewise, the Gold Trade Act reform process has commenced. Reforming the law takes time and it is an unpredictable outcome. Lessons can be drawn from the wavering reform of the Mines and Minerals Act which to date failed to materialise in the past decade. The current Minister of Mines, Honourable Oliver Chidhakwa, is determined though to see the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill pass in the last session of Parliament. The clock is ticking and time is running out.
Considering the challenges stemming from legal reform process, RBZ’s “no questions asked policy” is a welcome development. However, some impediments still need to be looked at like inaccessibility of rich and profitable gold claims. The colonial Mines and Minerals Act handed vast rich claims to large scale investors through Exclusive Prospecting Orders (EPOs). Speaking at the 6th edition of the Zimbabwe Alternative Mining Indaba, the Minister of Mines opined that he is negotiating with large scale miners to release some of the claims that they are not going to use in the short to medium term. These negotiations are taking place whilst “the use it or lose it policy” is pending on approval of the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill by Parliament.
To diffuse conflict escalation involving artisanal miners and large-scale miners, artisanal miner and small-scale miners, artisanal miners and farmers, an unintended consequence of “the no questions asked policy” the designation of profitable gold claims to artisanal miners is necessary. RBZ must support artisanal miners beyond “the no questions asked policy” to carter for artisanal miners in its financial packages meant boost gold mobilisation. Market driven solutions to environmental challenges caused by artisanal mining must also be explored. There are opportunities to convert the export incentive into an incentive for environmental rehabilitation for starters. The National Social Security Authority (NSSA) must quicken its pace and offer social protection to artisanal miners. Pensions and workers compensation insurance fund should be availed to artisanal miners.
Getting back the photo which has triggered this conversation. Government avoid the arm wrestling match perception on its interventions to formalise artisanal mining. The African Mining Vision (AMV) which sees “A mining sector that harness the potential of artisanal and small-scale mining to stimulate local/national entrepreneurship, improve livelihoods and advance integrated rural social and economic development” should guide government’s reform agenda. It would be remiss to conclude without another picture of an artisanal miner in Bubi district, nick named “Yikho Phela” meaning that’s why. Artisanal mining is the future, a clear message to government.
Mukasiri Sibanda (@mukasiri) is an economic governance officer. He is interested in mineral resource governance. He blogs at Mukasiri's Blog. Mukasiri works with the Zimbabwe Environmental law Association