The Redwing Mine accident: Lessons learnt and recommendations for the future


Date of issue: 12 January 2024

Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) commends the combined efforts that went into the rescue efforts of the 15 artisanal miners who were trapped underground at the Redwing mine in Penhalonga on the 4th of January 2024 and rescued on the 7th of January following a mine collapse. ZELA advocates for the formalisation of ASM based upon the belief that ASM is a front doorway to empowering resource rich but poor communities to benefit directly from mineral resources.

ZELA implores the government to formalise the ASM sector. Formalization will make it easier for the government to offer capacity building to the miners in a smart and systematic manner. Other African countries like Kenya and Lesotho have formalised the ASM sector through legislative interventions and Zimbabwe can follow suit. The ongoing legal reforms through the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill offers a timely opportunity for ASM to be recognised as a key economic driver and provided with support to ensure that it is done in a way that promotes safety, health, and environmental protection to avoid future disasters. Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) is indispensable to Zimbabwe’s socio-economic growth trajectory. ASM is a major livelihood source with more than 500,000 people directly working as ASMers in Zimbabwe and more than a million indirectly benefiting from ASM activities. Climate change has caused many to shift to ASM activities and the sector is among key climate shock absorbers. Formalization would make it possible for the government to track the mine disaster hotspots and develop early warning systems that are accessible to all miners as a warning mechanism for ASMers of possible accident risks, including seasonal accidents from rainfall.

In addition, we call upon the government, through Fidelity Printers, to apply responsible sourcing practices by actively and consciously buying gold from operations certified for ethical, environmental, sustainable, and labour rights conscious gold production. We also call upon the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) and affiliates to work with ASMers to employ emerging regulatory and legal requirements on corporate and supply chain due diligence and accountability in line with responsible sourcing frameworks to  periodically identify, prevent and mitigate risks of negative impacts of their operations. Mining associations should further advocate for the establishment of provincial and district mining disaster response teams adequately equipped to respond to mine accidents.

The Labour Act (Chapter 28:01) contains stipulations that promote the health and safety of workers tied together with the National Social Security Authority Act (Chapter 20:27)  which  entails that measures should be put in place for Accident Prevention and Workers Safety. Being cognisant of the fact that the miners who were trapped in the collapsed mine were ASM miners, we would like to implore both companies and ASM miners who decide to enter into mining agreements to be mindful of the provisions of the tribute agreements in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act (Chapter 21:05) [herein after referred to as “the Act”]. Great emphasis is placed on the registration of these tribute agreements as per section 280 of the Act to allow the Board to exercise its role of examining suitability of such tribute agreements in terms of section 286 of the Act.

In conclusion, once the investigations on this accident have been concluded and parties found to be in violation of these critical provisions, all parties involved must account for their gross negligence.  If the ASM who were trapped were illegally mining in the said mine, they should also be held to account for their illegal activities. This is meant to enhance accountability to minimize such avoidable accidents especially bearing in mind that a proper tribute agreement would have laid down obligations of parties such as carrying out sufficient development work for sustainability of the operations by the tributer and periodic mine inspections by the grantor. We also urge the government to ensure that all tribute agreements are duly registered, approved, and monitored in compliance with the provisions of the Act, to safeguard the rights and interests of both the grantors and the tributors of the mining claims.

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