27 August 2021
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development has raised concern over the increasing level of mining accidents especially in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector. In its report issued after the fact-finding visits to areas affected by mining accidents, the Committee highlighted that since 2018, mining-related accidents have been on the rise.
Some of these fatalities include the Chinhoyi Eldorado Mine incident, the Battlefield (Kadoma 2019) which claimed 28 Miners, Mazowe Mine incident which claimed eight Miners, Wonderer Mine collapse which trapped 50 Miners and the Nugget Mine collapse which claimed eight Miners. Last year, major accidents recorded include the Esigodini Mine, the Task Mine collapse, at Mutare Premier Mine and the Mazowe Mine acciden
The Committee while appreciating the contribution of the ASM sector to the economic fiscus including creating jobs for millions of Zimbabwe’s citizens noted with concern how in some instances absence of or poor national or sectoral safety and emergence response mechanism and failure to comply with safety and emergency regulations has left a trail of destruction. In some mines, the absence of safety mechanisms is quite visible especially in the medium and small-scale mining sector where some operate without any safety plans or personal protective equipment. At such mines they are primarily worried about maximizing profits, casting a blind eye on the safety and welfare of the miners. In Mutasa South District, it was reported that two mining accident victims left home to extract some ores so that they would buy some food thereafter. Despite serious warnings of the risks associated with such a mission given the fact that their pits were being closed, these Miners did not give up on their escapade.
It has to be acknowledged that over one million people are directly involved in artisanal and small-scale mining and the majority of them are unregistered. In the process, ASM become vulnerable to poor working conditions that disregard mining safety regulations outlined in Statutory Instrument 109 of 1990 on Mining (Management and Safety).
From the probe,these accidents demonstrated that the Mining Inspectors were not conducting the regular physical inspections but, they seemed to heavily rely on desktop reviews. This is also coupled by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development to effectively implement its regulations including conducting regular mine inspections. One of the aspects emphasized is that , if such inspections were being carried out, a lot of accidents could have been avoided.
Corruption between government officials and miners was also singled out as a serious threat which in some situations has seen ASMers dodging mining regulations and more particularly health and safety regulations. This was also recently highlighted by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association in its 7th edition of the mining sector situational report. The organisation noted that sadly corruption in this sector is not limited to Officials from the Ministry but sometimes Security officers who are involved in the illegal mining operations. ZELA highlighted that in 2020, police officers who were protecting a disaster site Ran mine, where 30 artisanal miners were trapped allegedly offered security services by day and by night accepted bribes for people to go into the restricted area to mine for gold. The police are said to have charged US$10 per night. The involvement of state security agents in the mining sector is disturbing. Instead of promoting justice, some unruly security agents work in syndicates with the same criminals.
ZELA does concur with the Committee that minimizing occurrences of such incidences is possible. This can be done by formalizing the Artisanal Small-scale Mining a sector which remains unregulated despite deafening calls by the organisation to formally recognize it. The Ministry of Mines and Mining Development for one reason or another is failing to effectively implement its regulations including conducting regular mine inspections. The Ministry should be responsive, undertake physical and periodic mine inspections in all mining areas and ensure there is adequate Staff expertise to deal with mining related accidents.
This will go a long way in assisting the Ministry to be aware of every mining operation taking place. It will also be effortless for the Inspectors to advise the miners on the risks associated with the mining methods being employed including recommending measures to prevent accidents. If a proactive role is taken by both the Ministry and miners, mine accidents will be reduced while mining sites will become conducive working environments and not death traps.